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Demanding Truth from Power


It was disturbing to see so many members of Congress in both parties clamoring to get Bush’s autograph on their copies of his State of the Union—not because it was such a dishonest speech that did such a disservice to this country, and not because they should have been handing him subpoenas instead. Rather, my concern arises from the habit Bush has developed following the signing of any document. Typically he goes home, talks to his lawyers, and issues a “signing statement” the next day radically altering what he has just signed. Bad as that speech was, it could get a lot worse.

 

Of course the state of our union is what it is regardless, and Bush had almost nothing to say about it. He claimed our economy was thriving, a claim fairly well debunked by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb’s Democratic response. But, for the most part, when the president got at all specific in his speech, he proposed new initiatives and said little or nothing about the past six miserable years. In the seventh year of his presidency, he proposed balancing the budget in five years and reducing gasoline usage in 10 years. The president mentioned “courage” a lot, but wouldn’t it have been more courageous to have admitted that similar rhetoric over the past six years has been followed by actions that have taken us in the opposite direction, and wouldn’t it have been more courageous to have set goals for the next two years?

 

During most of the speech, the president avoided specifics. His rhetoric was so vague and his changes of topic so swift that he was closer to listing issues than discussing them. Some more detail on his various proposals was posted on the White House website, but it didn’t always add much. For example, immigration reform “without animosity and without amnesty” turned out to mean that immigrants would have to pay a “meaningful penalty” before they could become citizens.

 

Bush began by congratulating Nancy Pelosi repeatedly on becoming Speaker of the House. He had nothing special to say to the large man seated to Pelosi’s right. Vice President Dick Cheney had been in the news earlier that day when the prosecutors in the trial of his former chief of staff claimed that Cheney had played a central role in exacting retribution against a whistleblower who exposed one of the main lies that took us into the war, a lie made during Bush’s State of the Union speech four years ago. Somehow the announcers on NBC failed to mention that or to make note of Bush’s record low popularity, and while their affiliate had filmed it, they did not reveal any awareness of the fact that eight state senators that day had introduced a resolution to impeach Bush and Cheney into the state legislature in New Mexico. (A state can begin impeachment by sending a petition to Congress.)

 

Bush began his speech and jumped immediately to warning us about “determined enemies,” but did not immediately make clear who they were. Then he said our government needed to spend our money wisely, solve problems rather than leaving them to future generations and be faithful to our troops. (Apparently the NBC announcers were right when they said that we were in for drastic changes.)

 

Schemes And Lies

 

The wonderful economy was the first topic Bush tackled, and he opened with a coded attack on restoring any value to the minimum wage, claiming that the economy would stay wonderful “not with more government, but more enterprise,” the idea being that the minimum wage is bad for business. Of course, this is a blatant lie, but that didn’t stop both sides of the aisle from cheering, as they did 62 times in 49 minutes, according to NBC.

 

Then Bush proposed balancing the federal budget (three years after he leaves office if we don’t throw him out ahead of schedule). Now, Bush has drastically increased the government’s single largest area of discretionary spending: the military and war. He would propose a significant increase in the size of the military later in the speech. And Bush has slashed taxes for the very wealthiest and for corporations. How will he balance the budget? Well, he won’t, of course. But he might move in that direction in two ways: first, by cutting useful programs and second, by keeping massive amounts of money off the books. The Iraq war, for example, is off the books. Bush has already planned an “emergency” supplemental request for Iraq War funding in 2008—and this despite a law passed by Congress requiring that by 2008 the war costs be part of the standard budget. Congressman Jim McGovern, one of the bravest members in the House, told me just a couple of days ago that members of Congress should vote “no” on the supplementals for the war this year and in future years, but he made clear that he intended to ignore the president’s violating the law by proposing a 2008 supplemental.

 

Bush did indicate one area where he would reduce funding: earmarks, something that suddenly concerns him with Democrats in charge.

 

Bush’s second topic involved his second big lie of the evening, an oldie but a goodie: He claimed that Social Security was threatened and in need of salvation. Topic three, education, brought lie number three: the No Child Left Behind Act has improved our kids’ education and allowed greater local control of schools. Topic four, health care, began with Bush announcing that private health insurance is the best system for most people (whereas the elderly, the disabled and poor children should be covered by the government). Actually, if you look at this country and many others, the best thing for everyone is clearly single-payer health care.

 

Bush proposed a number of solutions to the health care crisis in this country, beginning with tax cuts (though still not indicating how he would balance the budget, and not stating whether the tax cuts would increase every year along with the inevitably rising cost of private health insurance). Bush listed a half dozen other Band-Aid solutions to the lack of health coverage. He got applause for each idea, even “better technology.” Maybe that’s finally the explanation of why we have this insanely complex and inefficient health care system: It’s for the multiple applause lines.

 

It was in discussing immigration that Bush first mentioned “terrorists” in his speech, and in claiming that the U.S. is too dependent on foreign oil that he touched on them for the second time. His very brief mention of global warming (which he called “global climate change”) was immediately drowned out by his third reference to terrorists. Now he dug into the topic of 9/11, and spoke as if he had been doing something about those attacks ever since, something connected to the war on Iraq and the “war on terror.” He insisted that we “must take the fight to the enemy.” It’s not clear how he could be so certain of that when NBC kept insisting that the Democrats needed to make friends with the Republicans, and not take any fight to them.

 

Bush claimed credit for four supposed incidents of preventing terrorist attacks on Americans, including Britain’s scary toothpaste bombers. These claims have been debunked, but Bush needed something positive to say before he turned to the topic of Iraq. He encouraged us to fear al-Qaida. There would be no “the only thing we have to fear” comments for this president.

 

Iraq And The Truly Big Lie

 

Bush’s transition from 9-11 to Iraq was far from subtle. He claimed that Shia resisters to the occupation of Baghdad were part of the same evil forces as the “Sunni extremist” al-Qaida. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor anyone else stood up and interrupted to point out that Iraqis did not attack America on 9/11 and only began resisting the occupation after their nation was occupied.

 

Although the Iraq War is widely known to be making Americans less safe, Bush claimed that we needed to build democracies in the Middle East for our security. Everybody cheered. They cheer whether they agree or not, which probably helps them to avoid thinking about whether each applause line is honest or not.

 

Bush went on to claim falsely that the civil war in Iraq began with the bombing of the Golden Mosque. This changed things for us, he said, but we can’t leave our friends at risk. Our what? If we had friends in Iraq, why would Bush propose, as he did next, to send another 20,000 Americans?

 

Finally, for this proposal, the cheering was limited and Pelosi did not join it. But NBC zoomed in on Peter Pace for the duration, so you couldn’t see the Democrats not standing. “Our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options,” Bush said, referring presumably to the replacements of the commanders he’s tossed out for opposing his plan.

 

The truly big lie of the night had yet to come. Bush claimed that if American troops leave Iraq, violence will escalate and quite possibly lead to a regional war—the goal of “the enemy.” This is a bizarre prediction, given that most of the current violence is directed against the occupation. Bush warned that Iraq would become a training ground for terrorists if American troops left.

 

Then Bush addressed the American public instead of the Congress and said to us, referring to last November’s election: “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Well, according to NBC, I voted for bipartisan harmony and politeness, and that usually ends in failure. So, it’s just possible that Bush is wrong. In fact, when we voted in 30 new Democrats and not a single new Republican, we may have been voting precisely for Bush’s failure.

 

“I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way,” Bush said, disgracefully trying to connect support for his plan to good will toward the service men and women he wants to send into this illegal and disastrous war, and shamelessly pretending that his escalation is a done deal before the first branch of our government, which has the power to prevent it.

 

Then Bush proposed adding 92,000 troops to the Army and Marines over five years and creating a “volunteer civilian reserve corps,” apparently to further expand the military by providing non-combat troops.

 

Before he was done, Bush dishonestly threatened us with Iranian nukes, claimed to have been working diplomatically for disarmament in Korea and pretended his policies were helping to reduce AIDS in Africa. He proposed a program to combat malaria that will probably meet the signing-statement-like fate met by past AIDS-fighting proposals.

 

Bush ended by pointing to four people in the audience as models for us all: a basketball player who made so much money he could give a little away, a businesswoman who made so much money she could give a little away, a guy who saved someone in a New York subway and an Iraq vet. Of course, the only one of these heroes whom people can go out and emulate is the vet, but the families of the Iraqis he killed in his brave fight were not present to share their thoughts. And Bush’s non-serving daughters were nowhere to be seen.

 

Iraqi victims were also absent from Webb’s response. While Webb focused on the war and its costs, he made no mention of the estimated 655,000 Iraqis we have killed. Apparently they don’t count for either party in Congress.

 

Webb’s response was clearly written beforehand, because he said he hoped Bush was serious about wanting to rebuild New Orleans, when in fact Bush didn’t have the decency to mention New Orleans.

 

Webb’s remarks pointed in the right direction, but they were vague. He asked Bush to end the war and suggested that Congress would do so if he didn’t. Bush will never end this war unless compelled to do so by Congress cutting off the money, and probably not even then.

 

This is why we are marching on Saturday and lobbying on Monday, to demand that Congress investigate Bush’s fraud and end this war by cutting off the money. Those two steps lead to one inevitable conflict that goes by the name “impeachment.”  See: http://www.unitedforpeace.org

 

 

David Swanson is co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, Washington director of Democrats.com and a board member of Progressive Democrats of America.

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