Bush Discredits Everything — Including the Bushes
by Jack Kenny
by Jack Kenny
Help us, Lord! Is there anything George W. Bush has not yet discredited? Perhaps, in a perverse sort of way, he has succeeded in not discrediting his father. Indeed, the longer Bush '43 carries on his fanatical war, redoubling his efforts when he has forgotten his aim, and "grows" the national debt, the more credible Bush '41 looks by comparison. But the same kind of comparison makes Carter '39 look like a tower of competence and Dukakis "00" appears a prophet before his time.
Do you remember what Michael Dukakis said when he stood before the delegates and the nation to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 1988? He said the election would not be about ideology, but about competence. He then proceeded to get buried by the most ideologically driven campaign in memory. But four years later, the chickens came home to roost. At the convention in Madison Square Garden that first nominated Bill Clinton, New York Governor Mario Cuomo gave an interview in which he said that Republicans were supposed to be good at two things: waging war and managing money. They still looked pretty competent when it came to war, he conceded, but even after the much publicized "biggest tax increase in American history" the "borrow and spend" Bush administration, with its $200 billion and $300 billion deficits, was giving the lie to the Republicans' claim to "fiscal conservatism."
So today we have George the son (Spare us, O Lord, George the Holy Ghost) with deficits far exceeding those of his father. (As I have said before, money doesn't grow on trees in Washington, but deficits grow under Bushes.) And this president, Lyndon Baines Bush, along with Defense Secretary Donald "Strange" "McNaRummy" (to borrow Maureen Dowd's nickname for the defense chief) has created his own little Vietnam in an ill-conceived invasion and poorly planned occupation of a country that was neither attacking nor threatening to attack us. We are the aggressors in the war we are in with no idea of how or when we're going to get out. That leaves us to wonder what claim the Republicans have left to any competence at all.
It would be bad enough if this Republican president had merely devalued, as Nixon did, the currency. But he has a more all-encompassing reverse Midas touch. He devalues and discredits everything he touches. He has even devalued "values" as an issue for Republicans. Republicans got that cute idea a few election cycles ago. They stopped taking seriously, if they ever had, their own rhetoric about fiscal responsibility, reducing the size of government, yadda, yadda yadda! They decided the issue to beat the Democrats with was "values," sometimes called "family values." Nobody could quite tell you what that meant, but if you complained of its ambiguity, Republicans of the "Poppy" Bush variety, circa 1992, would tell you it was because you weren't looking at it in the right "thousand points of light." Four years earlier, Dukakis had complained about that verbal evasion.
"The issue (or the question) was housing and he's talking about a thousand points of light," Dukakis complained in the first of their two debates. "I don't even know what that means!" (Whoever played Dukakis in a Saturday Night Live debate said it even better: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!")
As we know, "Poppy" and the Republicans lost that '92 election, but never mind. You can blame it on Ross Perot (as though those Perot voters would have voted for Bush!). But the "values" theme has endured. As someone said of the difference between Reagan and the Democrats, Reagan understood that while congressional politics is largely about who gets what, presidential politics is essentially a debate about who we are and what we cherish as a people. Values matter.
So what do we value as Americans? What do we cherish, according to the "values" the Republicans uphold? Well, forget frugality or a responsible handling of the people's money. There may be a few Republican "deficit hawks" left in Congress, but they are very few and at the presidential level, the party is being run by triple-digit deficit lovers and deficits-don't-matter dingbats. We used to hold more or less loosely to the value of peace and to the belief we would go to war only "as a last resort." Forget that, too.
How about the ethical treatment of prisoners? Torture is something the Japanese did and the Chinese, surely the Vietnamese and, of course, the Russians. But not America, right? America is humane, decent and respects fair play, right? Well, okay, let's not carry this "values" thing too far.
The U.S. Senate last week attached an amendment to the mammoth ($440 billion) defense appropriation bill, outlawing the use of "cruel and inhumane" treatment of prisoners captured by the United States in our ongoing, and apparently endless, "war on terror." It was sponsored, appropriately enough, by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a former Navy pilot who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for several years. One of the reasons why so many military men favor humane treatment of the prisoners we capture is that it increases the chances that our own military personnel will be treated humanely when they are captured by the enemy. The measure passed the Senate 90-9. The House version of the appropriation bill has no such provision.
But the Bush administration apparently believes at least an occasional use of torture will enable us to extract information from prisoners that may save American lives. So George W. Bush, our great "values" president, the "compassionate conservative," the champion of "life" (as long as it doesn't get in the way of our compassionate and conservative mortars and rockets, bombs, tanks and planes) has threatened to veto the defense bill if it reaches his desk with the Senate amendment attached. Oh, my!
That is quite a threat, coming from a president who, in his nearly five years in the White House, has yet to veto anything. He has never seen an appropriations bill too pork-laden for him to sign. He has never met a blatantly unconstitutional measure like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that he would not sign. But give him a defense bill banning the use of torture and the Maximum Leader will find his veto pen, and compassion be damned!
What a wonderful statement to the world. What a wonderful tool for propaganda! Won't this be a marvelous way for America to win "hearts and minds" for Democracy in the Arab world. What an ingenious way to remind the world that what Lord Acton said of men is also true of nations: "Power corrupts men; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
October 13, 2005
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.
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