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January 25, 2004 - There is such a thing as honor.

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Our soldiers who have given everything, the long-unemployed hammered by the "job-loss recovery" - and those who are a bit "different" - get little of any notice.


Something has been bothering me about President Bush's State of the Union speech a few days ago.  I wasn't sure what it was.  Here Colbert King hits on it. 

This is the problem. 

See Empty Words for the War-Torn
Colbert I.  King, Saturday, January 24, 2004; The Washington Post, Page A19

The piece is long but here's the core:


Last Tuesday night was an opportunity for George W.  Bush to eulogize the fallen, a chance for him to tell their families what their sacrifices mean to the nation - a time for the president to help heal broken hearts.  That didn't happen. 

Yes, in his long address to a joint session of Congress, Bush offered a few words of praise for the skill and courage of the men and women in the military.  He delivered a line about "sorrow when one is lost," and shared a self-serving recollection of himself landing on the deck of a carrier in the Pacific Ocean and his Thanksgiving Day fly-in to Baghdad. 

There was also a pledge to supply the troops with all the resources they need to fight and win.  But victims of the Iraq war, as well as their moms, dads, spouses, children, neighbors and friends, deserved more than what they got from the president. 

Instead of a moment of silence for those who have paid the ultimate price, they heard presidential pitches for prescription drugs and a new immigration law, and a denunciation of steroids and gay marriage.  Instead of hearing the president recognize the preciousness of young lives expended far from home, they got a plea to put Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts.  Instead of telling the country why it should remember what the dead and dying stood for, Americans were given an earful on child tax credits, the death tax and cuts in taxes on capital gains.


That's it. 

Perhaps I'm more sensitive to this as I do have a nephew in the Army, a Major at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, out near Barstow.  He trains the guys who go to Iraq and Afghanistan.  And by the way, Wesley Clark used to be in command of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.  Anyway, my nephew deserves better from his Commander-In-Chief. 

Yes, Tuesday was the time to tell U.S. families whose sons and daughters are losing their lives and limbs that their sacrifices still make sense.  Tuesday was the time to explain why we are still getting hammered by a growing budget deficit, and why the military is stretched to nearly the breaking point.  Yes, the families needed "an honest answer as to why young men and women in uniform are expected to fight and die in country dominated by clerics who want our protection as they vie for power and, once they get it, want us gone."

Instead, we got a Bush speech laying the groundwork for his quest for reelection. 

King adds this:


This does not come from a Bush hater.  He rallied the nation after Sept.  11, 2001, and set the right tone for a military response to al Qaeda.  George W. Bush is not the ogre his critics make him out to be.  But if ever the country needed a commander in chief who understands the horrors and wastes of war, it's now.  That kind of president was not on display Tuesday night. 


And that was the problem. 

And maybe that does explain the appeal of people like Senators John Kerry and John McCain, retired general and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and retired General Wesley Clark. 

King quotes a long passage from Kerrys book about his days in Vietnam.  Yeah, the writers at The Wall Street Journal always refer to John Kerry as the "haughty French-looking senator who by the way served in Vietnam."  Funny - just like his three Purple Hearts for his wounds, and his Bronze Star and the Silver Star for gallantry in action.  Real funny. 

The passage, describing how a soldier dies, is graphic.  Click on the link and read it, or buy the book.  The account also appeared in "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War," by Douglas Brinkley, in the December 2003 issue of Atlantic Monthly. 

And yes, a president who has been down in the trenches and seen people die would never have gone up to Capitol Hill in the midst of war and delivered the kind of State of the Union speech that the nation heard Tuesday night. 




Then my friend Phillip Raines commented:


Bush put himself in the shoes of the downtrodden, the wounded, the ones who do the dirty work?  Too much of a stretch for a silver spoon leader, especially one with a mind not up for the depth of his job.  More relevant reviews have pointed out that his acting lessons have paid off and he only fumbled about the letter from the two year old... er, ah, ten year old.  Not a bad stumble for a guy who couldn't get a part in a junior college play without "connections."


Perhaps a little harsh.


But what were others saying?


Of all the writers who regularly defend Bush the most curious is Andrew Sullivan, who has been behind Bush all the way - even if Sullivan is a gay Catholic fellow.  He's hardly ever wavered, and now he seems to have hit a wall.  It was that speech.

See Back Words
Andrew Sullivan, The National Review, Wednesday, January 21, 2004

This whole piece on last week's State of the Union address is interesting, and ends with this:


What especially amazed me was the lack of any recognition that job growth is lagging economic growth.  There was no statement of concern for those still struggling in the economy, no rhetoric of empathy.  That surprised me.  It leaves a huge opening to the Democrats, who will argue that the president is out of touch.  Indeed, John Kerry immediately made that criticism in New Hampshire.  Doesn't 43 remember 41?  It's extraordinary he didn't make even a token statement of empathy with those whom the recovery has yet to carry along. 

On the deficit, Bush proposed no real change.  A continuation of the tax cuts, the creation of personal savings accounts within Social Security (with no attempt to explain how this will be paid for), and a vague pledge to restrain the increase in domestic discretionary spending to 4 percent over the next year.  If you're a fiscal conservative, that's hardly reassuring.  It suggests a president who believes the country faces no fiscal problems at all right now--or at least none that can't be solved by more tax cuts and more spending increases.  His insouciance is alarming. 

But, more profound, the president revealed his deep suspicion of human freedom.  Yes, he says he supports it.  But in every instance - even charitable and religious institutions - he believes that government needs to get involved.  He wants to maintain the Patriot Act intact; he wants to extend the war on drugs to steroids; he wants to prevent gay couples from having the ability to form their own families and be treated equally under the law.  He suggests not a single government program to be cut. 

On social issues, he shifted to the hard right: abstinence programs rather than contraception; an assault on gay couples and families; and millions of dollars in order to subject children to mandatory drug testing in schools.  This is not Reaganism.  It isn't Gingrichism.  It's Big Government Moral Conservatism: fiscally liberal and socially conservative.  It will please the hard right and the base.  And it will alienate libertarians and moderates. 

It struck me as a speech that comes out of a political cocoon, from a president who doesn't grasp that he is in fact politically vulnerable, and who intends to run not on what he plans for the future but on what he has done in the past.  That's a high-risk strategy.  We won't know how high a risk until the Democrats produce a nominee.


Well, I'm not sure that extending the war on drugs to steroids sits very well with Bush's new best buddy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Bad move.  And the quarterback of the Patriots, on his way to the Super Bowl, was in the audience.  What was Bush thinking? 

And here's Sullivan on his website:


I was also struck by how hard right the president was on social policy.  $23 million for drug-testing children in schools?  A tirade against steroids?  (I'm sure Tom Brady was thrilled by that camera shot.)  More public money for religious groups?  Abstinence only for prevention of STDs?  Whatever else this president is, he is no believer in individuals' running their own lives without government regulation, control or aid.  If you're a fiscal conservative or a social liberal, this was a speech that succeeded in making you take a second look at the Democrats.  I sure am.



It's tough being a gay Republican Bush supporter. 

And Bush did say this: "Our Nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.  The outcome of this debate is important - and so is the way we conduct it.  The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight."



If gay people have dignity and value in God's sight, why are we unmentionable?  Why are we talked about as if we are some kind of untouchable?  Why in three years has this president not even been able to say the word 'gay' or 'homosexual'?  The reason: because Bush will not confront bigotry outright.  He wants to benefit from it while finding a formula to distance himself from it.  That's not a moral stand.  It's moral avoidance.  Still, the good and important news is that the president hasn't endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.  The Family Research Council is mad as hell.


I'd say this Sullivan fellow is conflicted. 




I watched the State of The Union Speech last week.  It was the expected defense of the war on terror, saying the United States would "never seek a permission slip" to defend itself.  Yep, preemptive, preventative war is our duty now.  Anywhere, at anytime.  Heck, after all the terrorists "declared war on the United States - and war is what they got."  And of course, the threat of another September 11-style attack has not gone away. 

And by the way, we did the wimpy UN's work, because, after all, we "enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein - and the people of Iraq are free."  Man, those UN guys are useless fools - although they may be of help in the coming months if we have to set up actual elections in Iraq to form a government there - so we can haul ass out of that sorry sand trap before the Republican Convention in New York City in September.  (Those uppity Iraq folks don't seem to like our inspired idea of the new government being established by local committees made up of people WE choose to be on those committees.  Ingratitude!)

And if you think things are going badly in Iraq?   Wrong.  We're just mopping up a bit - "Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters.  Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows.  These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious continuing danger.  Yet we are making progress against them.  The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell."

Yes he does.  Fine. 

And we had to have this war because of those nasty weapons of mass destruction.  Bush has the real facts: "Already, the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations."

No real weapons, nor real programs - just "related activities" - but close enough.  I guess.  Why not?  

Here's a curious item that explains why not. 

Threat Of Terrorism
Charley Reese, January 19, 2004



You know, I'm sure, that the Bush administration has greatly exaggerated the threat of terrorism.  Those who employ the tactic of terrorism do so because they are weak.  They have no army.  They have no great popular following. 

Osama bin Laden was a crank living in the mountains of Afghanistan with only a small following in the Islamic world - until George W.  Bush elevated him to world celebrity status. 

It's true that bin Laden knocked down the World Trade Center towers and struck the Pentagon - or at least we're pretty sure he was behind those attacks.  He was able to do that because his 19 people were lucky and because our immigration screening, our intelligence, the FBI and the airport security system were all sloppy. 

To the extent that these attacks roused the federal government from its previous apathy and sloppiness, he did us a favor, though at the terrible cost of about 3,000 lives.  But that attack was not justification for a "war on terrorism."   A war on bin Laden, yes; a war on terrorism in general, no. 

In the first place, there aren't that many terrorists in the world.  You can check with the State Department's annual report on terrorism if you doubt me.  In the second place, most of the world's terrorists are local guys with local beefs against local folks.  All the time the Irish terrorists were bombing and shooting the British, Great Britain never felt the necessity of declaring a worldwide war on terrorism.  It went after the Irish terrorists. 

When bombs were going off in Paris some years ago, the French didn't say everyone must fight terrorism.  They went after the guys who were planting the bombs.


Yeah, but everyone knows the French are wimps.  And maybe the Brits are too.  Too damned timid to do the real job - go after terrorists everywhere, on any issue?  Maybe so. 

Then this:


Our problem is with bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization.  We should have concentrated on that instead of declaring a global jihad against terrorists everywhere in the world. 

The problem with doing this is that it commits us to an unending war.  It is a war in which there is no way to define victory.  When you go to war against a country, when you occupy it and its government surrenders or collapses, you know you won the war.  But terrorists don't have a country.  They don't have a government.  They don't have an infrastructure. 

Terrorists, in fact, operate like criminal gangs.  You kill some of their "soldiers," and they recruit more.  You kill a gang leader, and another guy takes his place.  Israelis, who are far more ruthless than we are, have been killing terrorists for more than 50 years.  Have they solved their terrorism problem?   No.


But wait!  Isn't Ariel Sharon a "man of peace" (Bush) and Israel safe now, or will be safe when the finish the big wall to keep the evildoers out?  

And as it seems Bush "commits us to an unending war" then at least we have something to do.  And folks will gladly join us. 


"Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better.  And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible - and no one can now doubt the word of America."

Of course.  Well, we did find the "activities."  Just like we said.  Sort of. 

And then there is this from an editorial in The Baltimore Sun


Mr. Bush boasted that he had made the world a safer place, cautioned that danger still lay in wait, and called on Americans to stay the course. 

Maybe, instead, the president should level with the American people. 

If it's not clear what, exactly, this war was about, how can anyone know when its goals have been achieved?   Clearly, there is good reason for the United States to remain engaged in Iraq, now that the country is so much in danger of disintegration.  But with what means?   And toward what end?  

Iraq is in a mess right now, with ethnic groups warily vying for power, thousands of people demonstrating against American policy, and attacks on U.S. soldiers continuing all the while.  Washington has asked the United Nations for help in fixing Iraq, though no one listening to Mr. Bush last night would have guessed that. 

The Army is stretched to the breaking point, but Mr. Bush talked about fighting terror by spreading democracy from Iraq throughout the Middle East.  How many troops will that take?   How much conflict lies ahead?   And isn't it strange to wage war against terror by attacking a country that had no links to America's terrorist foes?  

"The word of America."  Mr. Bush put the credibility of his nation on the line; the price of deceit, if deceit there is, will be enormous.


People can be so negative. 

Folks like us.  They always will. 




Oh, and as a former member of the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation, I did notice there was no mention of the environment.  Just as well.  Given the views of this administration it really was best Bush said nothing.  But that's for another issue of this magazine.




And this took place between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary election. 


Yes, there are those Democrats, who really want to unseat Bush.


Kerry won Iowa and Edwards did surprisingly well.  Howard Dean didn't do so well, and then got a bit out of control.


I tried to follow what was aid about all this.


The general consensus?  The man who runs the country, who makes almost ever decision in the White House, Karl Rove (Cheney makes the rest and the two of them tell Bush what to say), is probably worried because this was supposed to be a George Bush versus Howard Dean race, where Dean would be buried in a Bush landslide - because it was so easy to make Dean out to be an unstable, manic fool.


That's harder with Kerry, who can debate pretty well and knows his stuff.  And Edwards is a genuinely nice man, so GWB would have to lose his trademark smirk.  And Clark might make things uncomfortable for Bush - the military business. 

The oddest comment?  Someone somewhere pointed out Kerry and John McCain are best friends, and Kerry could ask McCain to be his running mate.  Bush would be outgunned so to speak, by two angry real military men and wouldn't dare put on that flight suit again.  Kerry-Clark or Clark-Kerry would do, but McCain would pull in disaffected Republicans.  No.  I don't think so. 

A few pundits pointed out Kerry will be ripped apart by the press now, just as the liberal press (assuming there is one) ripped apart Gore last time.  They just don't like him.  He's far smarter than most folks in the press and isn't bothering to pretend he's not.  They'll get him.  It's take-down time.  (See Election Notes this week.)

And everyone agrees Dean's speech after the results on Tuesday night was the kiss of death.  As James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal put it -


... Indeed, when he should have delivered a graceful concession speech, he went on a tirade instead and succeeded only in scaring the hell out of everyone.  "At his post-caucus rally Monday night, Dr.  Dean looked more like Howard Beale, the angry anchor in 'Network,' than 'Marcus Welby, M.D.,' " the New York Times observes dryly. 

You really have to see it - or hear it - to believe it.  The Drudge Report has a 13-second MP3 clip of Dean listing the various states where he plans to campaign, followed by a scream that Drudge transcribes as follows: "YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!"  FoxNews.com and the Times have video.  And the Western Front blog links to an audio clip of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, who sounds just like Dean.


A friend said to me this was clearly a manic break.  The man is toast. 

And Dick Gephardt is gone now.  Well, his attack ads on Dean, and Dean's counterattacks on all who attacked him, didn't do anyone any good. 

Gephardt  had the labor endorsements - all those unions.  And we see now that the labor movement is not just dead, it's decomposing, as several have said.  The endorsements didn't matter, from labor or from anyone else. 

So a rather stiff but good, wise man came in first.  He may not play in the southern states, but he's a pretty good choice against Bush.  In second place was a truly nice man, Edwards, with solid ideas and a good heart.  He used his moment in the spotlight to talk about our "moral obligation" to help the poorest Americans.  Good Lord, what is this - 1968?   Well, that was a good year.  (See this week's Book Notes.)

Oh, and my conservative friend told me no one would vote for Edwards because before he entered politics Edwards was a trial lawyer.  He won money for people badly injured by defective products.  And my friend said anyone who is so against American businesses would be rejected by anyone with any sense. 

On to New Hampshire.  


So much for the state of the union.