t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 21 January 2004 ***********It took a little less than a half hour for George W. Bush to taint the 215th State of the Union address with a bald-faced lie about Iraq. It was, in the end, merely an accent in the symphony.
The nonsense began in this order: The economy is growing stronger. The tax cuts are working. Public schools are flourishing. The Patriot Act is excellent. Everything is rosy in Afghanistan. The people of Iraq are free. Throughout the vacuous peroration were more shooting-fish-in-a-barrel applause lines than has ever been heard in any major speech in American history. “I love God! I love soldiers! I love America! I love freedom!” went the drumbeat. Once upon a time, we had standards.
Let’s take a few of these in order.
• The Iraq lie came when Bush claimed that David Kay’s weapons inspection teams had found materials and equipment to construct weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In point of fact, Kay and his people found no such thing, just as the denigrated UNMOVIC inspectors likewise found no such thing. The promised 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 1,000,000 pounds of sarin and mustard and VX nerve agent, the 30,000 munitions to deliver this stuff, the mobile biological weapons labs, and the uranium from Niger that so disgraced the last State of the Union speech Bush gave, somehow failed to turn up. Bush dared, in the speech, to claim that “No one can now doubt the word of America.” Unfortunately, a vast majority now doubts the word of the American President. Perhaps this failure is a matter of syntax. According to Bush, once again, we should be looking for ‘nucular’ materials. Maybe the inspectors just misread the package labels in Tikrit.
• Iraq is now free, and the only people killing American soldiers are lingering defenders of Saddam Hussein. In fact, most of the insurgents against the American occupation despise Hussein. They are nationalists defending their country against a force they see as usurpers. As for freedom, it is not nearly on the table. Shia, Sunni and Kurd tremble on the edge of explosive civil war, and the American administrators are using spit and baling wire to keep the lid on. Meanwhile, pipe dreams about a power transfer become less tenable by the hour.
• According to Bush, it is “condescending” to suggest that democracy can never take root in the Middle East. There are two bitterly amusing facets to this one. First, it is axiomatic that true democracy can never be brought anywhere effectively at the point of a gun without razing the existing society completely to the ground, as was done in Japan and Germany. If Bush had suggested we grind every aspect of culture and infrastructure to powder in the Middle East, a necessary aspect of the plan proposed, that particular bit of applause would have been muted. Second, the main reason why democracy will have a hard time in the Middle East is because it has been viciously repressed in places like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia under the American direction of a number of people at the speech – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle specifically – while they worked in other administrations.
• Afghanistan is apparently a wonderland of freedom where the children are learning and all is well, according to Bush. The fact that the Taliban is reforming there in strength, that the warlords are once again dominant, that the opium industry is flourishing, that civilians continue to be killed by American bombs, and that women are again being oppressed, never made it into the speech. For the second year in a row, the name ‘Osama bin Laden’ went completely unmentioned.
• The tax cuts are working, and the economy is sound because of them. In fact, there are two million fewer jobs in America than when Bush took office. The tax cuts, which promised 300,000 new jobs a month, never reached a third of that goal. Whatever new jobs have been created pay far less than the ones which were lost. Bush demanded that Congress make the cuts permanent, apparently taking Karl Rove’s advice about “Sticking to principle.” The transcript of the meeting discussing the second round of tax cuts, revealed recently by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, had Bush openly questioning the policy of giving government money to rich people again. In that meeting, he was basically shouted down by the people who purportedly work for him, and the cuts went through. It appears they won another argument about this, putting the Commander in Chief in his place.
• The math in this speech was pretty specious. Bush praised the No Child Left Behind bill, which he underfunded by $7 billion, and asked for a whole new program called ‘Jobs for the 21st Century.’ He wants to make the tax cuts permanent. He wants to spend federal money to shore up the energy grid. Simultaneously, he wants to continue to pour money into the occupation of Iraq, an action that has cost nearly $200 billion already. Yet he promised to cut the budget deficit in half within five years. Recent poll numbers suggest Bush will be in retirement in five years, however, so he won’t be around when the incredible inaccuracy of these numbers become apparent.
• Gambling Social Security in the stock market is back on the table. Never mind that his Enron buddies blew a wide hole in the markets a couple of years ago; had Social Security been invested in the markets then, it would have been completely gutted. That, perhaps, is the rub. When the stock market takes a beating, the money lost by investors doesn’t just disappear. It is adjusted upwards into the holdings of the richest 1% of investors, who have enough capital to survive a downturn and have money on hand to scoop up devalued stock on the chance it retains value later. This 1% owns a disproportionally massive majority of all the stocks traded on the markets. If Social Security cash is fed into the markets, it is ripe for the poaching. Besides, it rids Bush of the pesky need to provide seniors with safety-net funding better used by the Pentagon, Halliburton and other close friends.
• The sops thrown to the most extreme elements of the Republican party were many and varied. If children are to be taught sexual education, they must be taught only abstinence, because clearly teenagers will never have sex again and shouldn’t learn about protecting themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancies. The Massachusetts judges who decided, using the clear language of the law, that there is no aspect of the constitution denying same-sex marriages were attacked. Bush dismissed their decision as “arbitrary,” and threatened a constitutional amendment to defend marriage against the queer onslaught. In doing this, Bush says he is defending the “sanctity” of marriage. Once upon a time our office-holders defended the law, and left the defense of sanctity to ministers. His faith-based federal funding concept is back on the table again. Bush said that religious groups are denied federal money “because they have a cross, or a Star of David, or a crescent on the wall.” Actually, George, it’s because the separation of church and state is clearly outlined in the constitution you want to revise to keep gay people from enjoying the same human rights as straight people.
We could go on in this vein, but you get the idea. This speech was, in the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, a nest of gibberish. Columnist Paul Krugman of the New York Times holds the opinion that this was deliberate. “Karl Rove and other insiders must know all this,” wrote Krugman in a Tuesday editorial titled ‘Going for Broke.’ “So they must figure that once they have won the election, they will have such a complete lock on power that they can break many of their promises with impunity. What will they do with that lock on power? Their election strategy — confuse the middle, but feed the base — suggests the answer.”
The best moments in the speech came from a completely unexpected realm. Bush’s people salted the room with young soldiers resplendent in their uniforms. The cameras flashed to them every time Bush pledged his undying respect for them, and every time he said matters in Iraq are going famously well. The soldiers reacted with dead faces, muted clapping, and about as much enthusiasm as one might find in the waiting room outside a proctology clinic.
One soldier in particular, a young African American man, summed up the night. Bush was waxing rhapsodic about a letter he received from a ten year old girl named Ashley Pearson. Ashley, it seems, asked Bush to tell the soldiers she loved them. As Bush slogged through the saccharine, the camera found this soldier. When Bush was done with Ashley, and the room rose yet again to applaud, this soldier visibly rolled his eyes, laughed in obvious disgust, clapped once, and sat back down. The other soldiers with him showed no emotion whatsoever.
The troops know the score. Believe it. Hopefully, by now, the American people do as well.
***********William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of truthout.org. He is a New York Times bestselling author of two books – - “War On Iraq” (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and “The Greatest Sedition is Silence,” now available at from Pluto Press and “Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism,” available in August from Context Books.