Political scientist Robert Tucker once derisively labeled Ronald Reagan’s ideals-driven foreign policy mixed with a certain (think Lebanon) timidity about maintenance of American troops abroad as "Carterism without Carter." More recently, Lee Harris advocated a return to the good old Cold War days where a friendly dictator was far more precious to Washington than "democracy" and warned that the Bush Doctrine could quickly wobble and veer into "neo-Carterism."
George W. Bush dreams every night of being a new, better Ronald Reagan. Nobody, so far, is saying his presidency is Carteresque. But after reading the latest State of the Union, I have to conclude that Bush is either a newer, badder Carter, or else someone on the Bush speechwriting team is playing a cruel joke on the rest of us.
Carter was a smart, intense, detail-oriented guy who had religious faith and personal integrity. This ruined him as President, while making him a very busy and useful ex-President. George W. Bush is a dull, fun-loving, big picture guy with unwarranted faith in himself and about as much integrity as one would expect from a guy who ran several companies into the ground in an era where everyone else was making money. As paraplegic Iraq war vet Tomas Young said to me not long ago, Bush revealed his true capabilities when he traded Sammy Sosa back in 1989.
Perhaps Bush gets a bum rap on the Sosa deal. Maybe he is not all that dull; Lord knows there are plenty of fireworks in Iraq and Afghanistan these days, even Iran and Venezuela are sparking, and our young George has had more than a bit to do with that. Integrity-wise, perhaps Bush just hangs with a lousy crowd, what with the Abramoffs, the Scooters, and the Cheney-Rumsfeld gang. As Barbara probably repeated ad nauseum when he was a child blowing up frogs and what not, it’s not his fault.
Hearing parts of this week’s State of the Union and reading the President’s speech, it is alarmingly clear that what we have here is a real live Carter, with everything except Carter’s ethics, core values and love of country. The futuristic sci-fi ravings, the long-term predictions and exhortations, the values-laden language — more than ever — screamed Carter. Or, more accurately, Carter on drugs.
The Carter Doctrine itself comes to mind, that hurried regional theorem of permanent Pentagon "protection" of "our" oil supplies in the Middle East. Never trust the free market, nosirreee. Wouldn’t be prudent, not for Carter and his elite set of energy, security and banking advisors, nor for George W. Bush and his posse.
Every President since Carter has implemented the Carter Doctrine, in one way or another. George W. Bush’s long-term military basing in a politically divided Iraq to support a range of future interventions in the region is the 1980 Carter Doctrine, on 1990’s crack, or perhaps 21st century meth. What’s not to like?
In Carter’s 1980 SOTU address, he said, "In response to the abhorrent act in Iran, our Nation has never been aroused and unified so greatly in peacetime. Our position is clear. The United States will not yield to blackmail."
Bush said in his 2006 SOTU, "The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."
Carter said in 1980, "The crises in Iran and Afghanistan have dramatized a very important lesson: Our excessive dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our Nation’s security. The need has never been more urgent. At long last, we must have a clear, comprehensive energy policy for the United States."
And just this week in his SOTU, Bush said, "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. …So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative…"
If this isn’t nutty enough, Bush does a Carter with his discussion of "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass." Huh? Has Georgie been slurping down too much of the Armageddon Kool-ade, hallucinating about a nobly savage world after next, a world of energy from dried leaves, stalks and switch grass?
Bio-diesel/bio-ethanol happy talk misses the point that the market isn’t driving this energy research — massive government subsidies are. Of course, like his political predecessors, good old George has never met a subsidy or tax funded initiative he didn’t like. Especially when it helps out his corporate friends and those exceptionally handy red states.
Carter and Bush both embody a strange combination of futuristic fantasy and luddism. But perhaps I’m not being fair. In Carter’s 1980 SOTU, he also made these fine points:
… we will continue to reduce the deficit and then to balance the Federal budget….we will continue our successful efforts to cut paperwork and to dismantle unnecessary Government regulation…we must use the decade of the 1980’s to attack the basic structural weaknesses and problems in our economy through measures to increase productivity, savings, and investment….
Bush said last week, that if he gets the spending reforms he wants, he will, "… save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." Good timing! Secretary of the Treasury John Snow warns two weeks ago that we need to raise the debt ceiling again in March 2006, this time to well above $8.184 trillion. That $14 billion savings is definitely going to be a lifesaver, given it represents a whole .17% of the debt held by this country. That’s "point" 17, with a "P."
Well, I just can’t tell you how impressed I am.
What really amazes me is how many Republicans are singing the praises of George W. Bush, and one of his "greatest speeches ever." Make that Republicrats.
Carter closed his 1980 SOTU with this:
Together as one people, let us work to build our strength at home, and together as one indivisible union, let us seek peace and security throughout the world. Together let us make of this time of challenge and danger a decade of national resolve and of brave achievement.
Our neo-Carter in the White House, a hero for the Republicans and apparently unstoppable by the Democrats (because secretly they really, really, really like him!), echoed Carter with his own closing words:
We will lead freedom’s advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward — optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of the victories to come.
Brave achievement and victories to come. National resolve, and we all move forward, optimistic, faithful and confident. Give me a break.
I like technology as well as the next guy. How about this for a SOTU? Forget moving forward. Let us fast-forward to a time of limited government, a new entrepreneurialism in thought and industry, and real constitutional republicanism.
The path America is on leads inexorably to imperial collapse and ruin. I only hope that when we gain back our country, and find her a nation that threatens no one and truly graces the rest world by her example, we won’t be burning leaves or composting switch-grass to keep warm.
Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com, hosts the call-in radio show American Forum on Saturday nights, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com. To receive automatic announcements of new articles and upcoming guests on her American Forum radio program, click here.