It seems a long time ago that President George W. Bush landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier and infamously strutted around in a flight suit before an enormous “Mission Accomplished” banner. In fact, it was a long time ago, four years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and more than 3,000 dead American troops. Yet, in his State of the Union address this week the president seemed to have lost track of those years and implored Congress, now controlled by Democratic majorities, to continue to pour tens of thousands of troops and billions more in deficit spending down the black hole of Iraq and give his plan “a chance to work.”
It’s fair to say Bush’s big speech to the nation was nothing of the sort. Instead, it was merely a bit of cheap theater by a sad little man, a man whose mouth now seems permanently set in a downturned frown as he stares his own political mortality in the face and considers the grim assessment of his failed presidency historians are likely to render.
Like a man going down in quicksand, Bush desperately grasps for something, anything, to help hold him above the sucking sands. Confusing his own legacy with the future of this nation, Bush tells us “America must not fail” in Iraq. But it’s too late for that. Bush has already failed in Iraq, though he would be the last to admit it, and America has paid a terrible toll for following this self-proclaimed “war president” down a bullet-riddled, blood-soaked, dead-end street.
Most State of the Union speeches focus on the condition in which we find our Union. Common topics usually include the health and welfare of our citizens, the vitality of our commerce, the education of our children and the condition of the environment upon which all life depends. The yearly address by the president to Congress should set the stage for their new term by recognizing our advances, addressing our shortfalls and bringing hope for the future to all of our citizens. Yet this State of the Union address contained little substance and even less hope, just the hollow words of a hollow man.
For the 47 million Americans with no health insurance, Bush offered up a plan that, even by the White House’s own optimistic projections, would at best slice a couple million off the top and do nothing for the rest. Here, in what used to be called the richest nation on Earth, we apparently have higher priorities for tax dollars than taking care of the citizens who pay them.
Nor did Bush address the welfare of Americans. While the ruling elite and top CEOs rake in millions upon millions, most working Americans have seen their real wages stagnate or go down when inflation and the upward-spiraling costs of basic necessities such as utilities, fuel and food are taken into consideration.
Or how about the usury of credit card companies? Did the president talk about reining in what is a growing tide of elderly credit card debt? Did he set forth a plan that would tie credit card rates more closely to the prime rate? He did not. We have become, under his administration, a nation in which the strong and rich prey upon the weak and poor, with even more frightening projections for the future.
Likewise, the education of our children is a topic you might expect to hear addressed in a State of the Union speech. Some discussion of the outrageous debt with which we saddle those who are lucky enough to go to college would have been timely. Is it right that a typical college graduate from a mid-level university should be handed $20-30,000 in debt at the same time they get their diplomas? Of course not. But a plan, or even a promise, to relieve that debt was absent from his speech, lost in the mish-mash of foreign affairs which, apparently, President Bush feels are more pressing than taking care of our own.
Pre-speech spin from the White House promised “bold and innovative concepts” on energy. But what we got was lip service to alternative fuels and a goal to cut gasoline use 20 percent by 2017, nearly 10 years after Bush will have left office—just another problem to be off-loaded on those who follow.
Nor did he offer solutions for arguably the biggest problem facing this nation and the world: global climate change. We are wracked by drought that dries our rivers, shrivels crops and sets forests ablaze as temperatures soar into the triple digits. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, as are the polar ice caps and continental glaciers. Meanwhile, disease and insects creep northward from the equator, bringing a host of problems to the temperate regions. But apparently none of this was important enough to be seriously addressed by the “Decider-in-Chief.”
Instead, what we got was another blast of war rhetoric from a guy who was, after all, the head cheerleader at Yale.
Gimme a “W”…gimme an “A”…gimme an “R.” What’s that spell? WAR! WAR! WAR!
But here, too, there were no hopes for a better future—nor even a realistic appraisal of current conditions. Back in the heady “Mission Accomplished” days, we were told that U.S. forces had triumphed completely in our blitzkrieg, securing Iraq in a breathtakingly short time as tanks roared across the sands and jets and helicopters pounded down bombs and bullets from the air.
Now, however, the president’s plan is to send in another 21,500 troops to “secure Baghdad.” That’s right, secure Baghdad. Forget about the rest of the country and its seething sectarian violence, Americans are now fighting and dying in a vain attempt to control a thousand yards out from the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
No, this State of the Union speech was a sad little speech by a sad little man whose time in the sun has come and gone—he just doesn’t know it yet.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.