the hype, despite the hoopla, most State of the Union speeches
are duds: laundry lists of political initiatives that—even
if sincerely offered—have little or no chance of becoming
reality. Last week, President George W. Bush delivered his
own version of the traditional dud before the first Congress
of his six-year presidency to be controlled by the Democrats.
Yet the Democrats’ slight balance of congressional power has
little to do with their blurry vision and much to do with
the nation’s growing disillusionment.
The nation today has less faith in Bush than ever. His approval
rating is at a new low—as pathetic as Nixon’s was during Watergate—hovering
at around 28 percent, according to some major polls. Scooter
Libby, former top aide to Vice-President Dick Cheney, who
is on trial for lying to investigators about who blew the
cover of a CIA operative, alleges that Karl “Svengali” Rove
framed him. And Senate Republicans are in the early stages
of open revolt against Bush’s disastrous war, with defense
hard-liner John Warner of Virginia joining a resolution that
calls the increase of troops in Iraq harebrained, albeit in
very polite language. All things considered, the prospects
for the Texas dude rancher look grim.
Bush pulled out all the stops when he strode before Congress.
He oozed snake-oil charm as he congratulated House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi for being the first woman in history to capture
the office, the nation’s third highest. His insincerity was
on full display when he morphed from his usual pose as a gun-slinging
strongman into a sensitive guy bent on political cooperation.
And his shysterism was front and center when he offered a
series of insincere and inadequate pro-environment proposals.
Anyone doubting the inadequacies of Bush’s environmental talk
should note that just hours before he spoke, the heads of
10 major corporations (including Alcoa, DuPont, and British
Petroleum) urged the adoption of standards far more stringent
than Bush’s to combat global warming. The chief executives
called for mandatory ceilings on greenhouse-gas emissions,
something Bush will not consider. It is a sad day for Republicans
when a rabid, pro-business president like Bush is upstaged
and outflanked by the core of his GOP constituency. It appears
that it is beginning to dawn on at least some big businesses
that if the planet shrivels up and dies, there will be nobody
to whom they can sell their goods and services. This belated
fit of enlightened self-interest is, of course, welcome. Too
bad Bush doesn’t seem to understand just how much must be
done—and how quickly.
Bush is less interested in the environment than he is in tapping
into the growing sense among his base of militantly Christian
evangelicals and fundamentalists that environmental damage
and global warming pose threats of biblical proportions. Bush’s
inner Rove always tells him to play to his base, to shore
up support among his most faithful. He has been moving in
this direction for about two years, longer than most people
realize. And his tepid embrace of a green agenda more or less
coincides with the point when the issue gained traction among
his most conservative religious followers. Public expectations,
however, are outstripping—have outstripped—Bush’s actions.
If Bush is well behind the curve on environmental issues and
desires, he’s dangerously behind the eight ball when it comes
to Iraq, to which he devoted almost half of his State of the
Union address. He shucked. He jived. He offered the devious
milquetoast sop of convening a bipartisan council on the war
on terror. It is not surprising—but it is nevertheless amazing—that
Bush still perpetrates the lie that the invasion of Iraq had
something to do with attacking the al Qaeda network that attacked
New York and Washington on Sept. 11 and bombed our embassies
and a naval vessel before that.
Bush is delusional and increasingly impotent. His growing
political isolation and irrelevance might be welcome on domestic
issues. But in matters of foreign policy and the war in Iraq,
he enjoys vast powers. His dictator-like tendencies did not
spring out of thin air. Congress for generations set dangerous
precedents by abrogating its authority and responsibility
for policing the president’s ability to wage war. But once
any president has troops on the ground in a foreign land,
the ability to check his will, to reverse his course, to make
things right—to the extent to which they can be righted without
disaster of some sort—is limited.
Our president seems hell-bent on stretching those limits even
further than Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did in Vietnam.
If Bush’s increase of 21,500 troops in Iraq fails, as in all
probability it sadly and tragically will, the stage will be
set for a nasty and divisive confrontation with Congress this
fall—if not earlier. And if the past is any guide, as Bush
slides into even further irrelevance, he will grow all the
Editors of the Boston Phoenix