George W. Bush was authoritative and articulate in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. It was a tough, assertive and no-nonsense speech, a declaration of war against Medicare, Social Security, working and middle class Americans of this and future generations, the wisdom of our NATO allies and the United Nations, the professionalism of the weapon inspectors, and, of course, our old ally and friend, Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Bush said, "Jobs are created when the economy grows; the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest." Spend, yes; but in a global economy where corporations build manufacturing facilities all over the world, investing in corporate stocks underwrites job loss at home as much as, if not more than, it results in job creation.
Once again Bush used fraudulent math to disguise the fallacy of his economic argument. "Ninety-two million Americans will keep – this year – an average of almost $1,100 more of their own money," he boasted. Yes, if the Bush administration gives an $11,000 tax break to one person and gives nine people nothing, the average tax break for those ten people is $1,100. But in reality, one person is getting it all. That equation describes the essence of the Bush tax policy; it’s a shell game, a scam.
It’s the same with senior citizens and Medicare. Bush won our sympathy with bold words: "Health care reform must begin with Medicare, because Medicare is the binding commitment of a caring society." He then lied, calling a nationalized health care system one that "dictates coverage and rations care." But it is precisely the current system of private insurance companies and HMOs that dictates coverage and limits care – and that’s why we need health insurance reform.
Bush then promised senior citizens lower costs for pharmaceutical drugs, but with a catch. To get this benefit, seniors must leave Medicare for private HMOs and other insurance plans. The wealthy can afford that (they already have private plans to supplement their basic Medicare coverage). With Bush’s plan, they will reap additional savings on pharmaceutical costs. Meanwhile, the majority of senior citizens, dependent upon Medicare, will be left with the high pharmaceutical prices in a public system stripped of its universal application and its government support. The $400 billion that Bush proposes to pump into the system will not go into the universal Medicare program; it’s simply a government subsidy to the pharmaceutical companies and private insurance companies that will prosper under Bush’s misnamed and bogus Medicare reform.
In his discussion of Social Security, Bush led with another lie. "We must offer younger workers a chance to invest in retirement accounts that they will control and they will own," he said. But those accounts already exist. The problem is that most workers don’t have the income to afford them, and those who can afford them lost their shirts in the crashing stock market. With his plan to privatize Social Security, as with his tax cuts and his war on Medicare, Bush advocates war on the social contract that guarantees all Americans a basic package of compassion and care.
Eloquently, Bush promised that "we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents, and other generations." But the Congressional Budget Office estimates a $199 billion deficit this year and $145 billion for 2004, totals that do not include the cost of the Iraqi War or the loss of revenue that will result when the rich get their tax relief. This is a debt that will be assumed by our children, as will the hatred for America that will blanket the world (but most especially within Arab and Muslim countries) if we abandon internationalism for an essentially unilateral might-makes-right, militaristic foreign policy.
Some of what Bush proposes won’t fly. More sensible Republicans are already registering their dismay at Bush’s Medicare plan. Says Iowa’s Charles Grassley, who chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over Medicare reform, "We need to strengthen Medicare, first by adding prescription drug coverage that’s available for all seniors, not just those that switch into managed care."
On Iraq, Bush threatens the UN with a new deadline for war and touts accusations (Iraq’s interest in African uranium and nuclear technology) that contradict the testimony of the UN weapon inspectors. His criticism of their professionalism, while they are in Iraq doing their work, is essentially a stab in the back. His allegation of an Iraqi-Al Qaida alliance remains unproven, though the secular tyrant Saddam and the fundamentalist fanatic bin Laden now have mutual anti-American interests as a result of (as distinct from the cause of) Bush’s militaristic policy.
But the weapon inspectors are doing their job; Iraq is effectively contained. Bush’s pressure on Saddam, one could argue, is working. But Bush doesn’t want a diplomatic success; he wants war. When he said, "Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom of the security of the American people," he sounded like a wanna-be military dictator, ignoring the power of Congress to declare war and the will of the American people to support it. Even in the Wall Street Journal, prominent Republicans have taken out an ad protesting Bush’s policy. In the UN and among our NATO allies, opposition to Bush’s foreign policy remains strong.
There is a growing realization that far from being a prudent conservative, George W. Bush is a power-hungry reactionary, bent on consolidating power regardless of constitutional constraints, military risk, and public opinion. Extremism in defense of power is more than a vice, it’s tyranny. What’s needed is a united front of principled conservatives, liberals and progressives to protect the Constitution and contain the anti-democratic political and military ambitions of the Bush administration, ultimately removing it from power. Only then can a rationale discussion of politics or priorities occur.
Marty Jezer lives in Brattleboro, Vermont and is the author of Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel and The Dark Ages: Life in the U.S. 1945-1960. More articles by Jezer can be found at his website: http://www.sover.net/~mjez/. He welcomes your comments: firstname.lastname@example.org