Fate of the Nation

George Bush gave the first speech of his re-election campaign Tuesday night -- and his speechwriters crafted a discourse mostly of shortish sentences and short words, which the president is less likely to mangle than long ones.

It was Christmas in the first half of the State of the Union -- little “compassionate conservative” gifts designed to purchase a better image for a president with declining poll numbers. But once unwrapped, the bright and shiny packages turned out to contain a lot of sawdust. Prescription drugs for seniors sound good, don‘t they? But to get them, older folks have to give up Medicare and are forced to join HMOs, which give humans substandard medical treatment barely on par with the kind Fido receives from your average pet clinic.

How about the $600 million for drug treatment? Well, spread over three years, that works out to $200 million a year (compared to the $20 billion already programmed to be spent on the failed war on drugs), or about $4 million per state (given the number of people on drugs in California, that’s barely enough to pay their gas mileage to get to the treatment facility). And, by citing the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge as the one example of successful drug treatment, Bush signaled that the money will largely be used as political patronage for his “faith-based initiatives,” which buy off greedy churches to get them to support his re-election.

And what about the $10 billion in new money for global AIDS? Just last year, Bush forced the man who‘s now the Republicans’ new Senate leader, Bill Frist, to cut back his $500 million global AIDS package so the president wouldn‘t be upstaged when he announced an insulting $200 million proposal. Tuesday night’s promise works out to $2 billion a year, or 0.005 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget (in other words, chump change -- and a far smaller percentage of the gross national product than many poorer countries already give to fight AIDS around the world). That‘s less than the $2.5 billion that the U.S. should be contributing to the U.N.’s Global AIDS Fund based on our population and wealth. Moreover, a White House fact sheet accompanying the speech says that only $1 billion will go directly to the U.N. fund -- the rest will go to subsidize purchases from U.S. pharmaceutical and medical industries and to church-run programs abroad.

You had to sit through this campaign boilerplate of promises-on-the-cheap to get to the meat of the speech: Iraq. When Bush said to the Iraqis, “Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country,” I couldn‘t help thinking about the leaked report from a special U.N. task force calculating how many Iraqi casualties would result from an invasion (the report is available at www.casi.org.uk). The report says a there could be 500,000 civilian casualties -- 100,000 wounded or killed, another 400,000 hit by disease after the bombing of water and sewage facilities and the disruption of food supplies. Saddam is, of course, a sanguineous dictator, and his people would be better off if Saddam croaked tomorrow. However, forgive the Iraqi people for concluding that a U.S.-led war is not exactly in their best interest.

The Democrats in the chamber -- including the presidential candidates Lieberman, Edwards and Kerry, as well as Hillary Clinton -- all stood with the GOPers to applaud Bush’s most bellicose declarations. Senator Joe Biden, asked on Fox if the Democrats would support Bush if the country goes to war, chirped, “I will -- and I certainly hope so.” The congressional Democrats, of course, had just been reading this month‘s memo from the infernal trio of James Carville, Bob Shrum and Stan Greenberg, in which the overpaid consultants once again advised the Dems to shut up on foreign-policy criticism of Bush to win the next election.

The post-speech analysis on the tube was predictably gushy. Bill Kristol approvingly noted on Fox that it was “pretty close to a declaration of war.” On CBS, Bob Schieffer came to the same conclusion. On the point in Bush’s speech in which the Texas sheriff came out in Bush, when he proclaimed of the terrorists that many “are no longer a problem for the United States,” MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews said Bush revealed “almost giddy readiness to kill.”

The best TV moment came on Nightline. Old Squirrelhead Ted Koppel had on a trio of foreign correspondents who unanimously said that Bush’s pitch on Iraq would not convince anyone outside our shores. Where Bush proclaimed that the world “has been waiting 12 years for Saddam to disarm,” the BBC‘s Justin Webb told Koppel, “If it’s been 12 years already, what‘s the hurry now?”

And that’s the central question -- and one that Bush‘s speech glaringly failed to answer.


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