Bush prepares U.S. for war and tax cuts
|||Excerpts of President Bush's State of the Union address|
Oratory is one of President Bush's strong points, and it was upon oratory that Bush relied most strongly to make the points and build the backing he needed with his second State of the Union speech.
He chose to put his domestic remarks ahead of foreign policy, perhaps because he doesn't wish to repeat the fatal mistake of his father winning a war and then losing an election to an opponent whose slogan was "It's the economy, stupid."
Yet the first half of the speech rang strangely hollow, partly because little of it was news and partly because of eager anticipation for how, exactly, Bush would choose to prepare the nation for war.
It was almost strictly upon oratory, and not new information, that Bush sought to rouse Americans for what clearly is coming soon. He spent several minutes reviewing, in uncomfortable detail, why Saddam Hussein is the dictator Americans love to hate. Using information that has been reported many times before, he outlined Saddam's practice of torture, his links to terrorists, his use of chemical weapons, his total failure to comply with the disarmament agreements he made when Iraq surrendered following the first Gulf War.
"If war is forced upon us," Bush said, "we will prevail." Americans have little doubt about which side will win this war; what they have doubted is that war is truly warranted. We'll leave it to opinion polls to determine whether Bush's oratory worked to change that.
But Bush has yet to answer this question: Will Americans be safer as a result of war with Iraq?
The risk of war
It's possible that a successful invasion will bring democracy, and then prosperity, to Iraq and then more broadly to the Middle East. It's also possible it will turn long and bloody, cause greater instability and reinvigorate terrorists.
While continuing last night to vow resistance to blackmail, Bush has failed to face squarely a very dangerous situation in North Korea. In first rhetorically threatening the North, and then promising that he has no intention of attacking; in first refusing to negotiate with the North and then meekly offering to, Bush has engaged in the kind of classic appeasement that will only embolden Kim Jong Il.
One of the reasons so few allies are signing on to help Bush in Iraq has been his ill-considered rhetoric: You did not hear last night about a certain terrorist leader who is "wanted dead or alive," nor did you hear the words "axis of evil."
Most of Bush's domestic agenda is already in the hands of Congress, already much discussed in the media, and thus old news.
We already know that Bush feels he can rejuvenate a struggling economy with tax cuts that chiefly benefit the rich, because such a policy, he says, will create jobs. It didn't work when President Reagan did it, and so far, it's not working now, as unemployment continues to rise.
Bush didn't mention that he presides over an economy that is either in jobless recovery or poised for a second dip propelled by war jitters and rising oil prices into recession. Investor confidence is further eroded by a quiet watering down of the reforms that followed the Enron and WorldCom scandals.
Three items in Bush's speech got our own figurative standing ovations:
- $1.7 billion to develop clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles. We've already said that Hawai'i should be in the forefront of this next technological wave.
- $600 million over three years to supplement drug treatment, although it appears that part of this will go to church-run programs.
- $15 billion over five years ($10 billion of it in new money) to battle AIDS in Africa.
But much of the State of the Union was not described by Bush. While his domestic security measures may have made us safer from terrorists, they certainly have eroded our privacy and due-process protections. He also has mounted an attack on reproductive rights, ordered federal funding for the building of churches and opposed a university's attempt at racial balance all backed by judicial appointees who support this rollback.
The environment has become the latest endangered species under Bush, as he has renewed his call for Arctic oil drilling, sped up logging in national forests, eased pollution controls for power plants, rejected new fuel-efficiency standards (while offering a tax break for SUVs), allowed coal producers to increase dumping in streams, reduced EPA fines of polluters by 64 percent, halted funding for several superfunds and continues to shun a policy adopted by all other industrialized nations, the Kyoto global warming protocol.
In sum, Bush's rhetoric was masterful but what he said was vintage Bush.
Correction: President Bush delivered his second State of the Union address yesterday. An previous version of this editorial was incorrect.