HOW DO YOU SAYquagmire in Swedish?
Watching George W. Bush unreel his penultimate State of the Union speech Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of that great scene in the Woody Allen classic Bananas. Presidente Esposito, the bearded, delusional leader of the fictional Central American Republic of San Marcos, having assembled the masses before him, decrees that henceforth the official language will be switched from Spanish to Swedish, citizens will change their underwear every half-hour, and — by the way — those Jockey shorts now must be worn outside your pants so they can be checked.
And, so, President Bush, with his job-approval ratings now at a Nixonian 28 percent, with the budget busted and public confidence squandered on his endless war in Iraq, with a smiling Nancy Pelosi over his shoulder reminding us that his catastrophic policies have lost him the Congress, now wants to change the subject. No direct mention of Iraq came until a full 40 minutes into his speech; 3,200 words deep into the text, to be exact. Take off your cammies, America, and strap on your undies.
You can hardly blame Bush for wanting to skirt such a disagreeable subject. His speech came on the heels of a weekend that cost the lives of nearly 30 U.S. soldiers — not to mention the 137 Iraqis killed during the 24 hours leading up to his speech by death squads operating under the umbrella of the U.S.-backed Baghdad government. Nor, apparently, should we pay attention to his own Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of the Iraqi debacle, when he told the Senate (just a few hours before Bush’s speech) that the war was in “dire” condition and that Iraq was in danger of becoming a “failed state.” Nor did the president want us to much ponder the ongoing desertion of members of his own party — from Norm Coleman to John Warner — paddling furiously away from his sinking policy in Iraq.
The only explanation for Bush’s aberrant performance is that his much-promised-but-now-forgotten expedition to Mars had actually already succeeded and the prez was delivering his address live from the red planet. Who else but a space case would believe that after six years of arrogantly snubbing absolutely everybody and anybody, governing as if he were, indeed, the swaggering unelected caudillo of a one-party state, Bush was now ready to sit down and solve the problems of health care, energy and immigration with a Democratic Congress?
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I don’t put much faith in the Dems, but one thing I know for sure is that with the ’08 presidential campaign already vigorously under way, they’re not about to throw any legislative lifelines to the drowning current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The domestic programs proposed by Bush this week are, in any case, so cockeyed that they would receive little serious attention even in a much more hospitable bipartisan atmosphere. The health-care [sic] plan put forth by Bush on Tuesday is a preposterous and ultimately empty scheme that wouldn’t insure one additional American among the current 45 million uncovered. Under it, for example, an uninsured family earning $40,000 a year would get a $2,200 tax break; that is, if it spent the average $12,000 it now takes to purchase a standard medical policy.
But I digress. Why dignify the president’s domestic proposals with any serious analysis? They are calculated merely to distract us from Iraq and have no more reality than his manned missions to Mars. Thanks to his own hubris and that of his closest advisers, Bush has rendered it impossible for any more business-as-usual during the rest of his term so long as the issue of Iraq remains unresolved.
Just ask the Democrats who were tone deaf enough to believe that, having won the midterms, they would coast along just dandily with their dainty hand-basket of campaign-promised applets, their atrophied half-measures on student loans, the minimum wage and stem-cell research. No way. Democratic voters, much like a growing number of Republicans, have one overriding and immediate concern: how to get out of Iraq. The Democrats I heard interviewed just before and after the president’s speech still sounded out of sync with the popular consensus. A synthetically smiling candidate Clinton was on MSNBC saying that while she was “heartsick” and “regretful” over the way the war turned out, “we are,” she said, “where we are in Iraq” and therefore . . . therefore . . . well, she couldn’t really complete the sentence. Bush may be incapable of using the word “mistake” when it comes to Iraq. But the Clintonista Democrats have just as much trouble uttering the word “withdrawal.”
Not long after you have read these words, all memory of Tuesday’s speech will be washed away by fresh reports of car bombings, IEDs and casualty counts. The majority of Americans opposed to the war will mount proportionally. The only political voices from either party that will get much attention from the public will be those bold and clear enough to point to the most practical and the most immediate way out.?