All He Left Unsaid
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On Tuesday night, the wretched specter of Sept.11 returned to Logan airport, departure point for the planes that took down the Twin Towers. Hours before George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union speech, a commercial aircraft had to be emptied, and its passengers re-screened, after a box cutter was discovered in a seat pocket.
During his speech, Bush attempted to tout the actions he has taken to secure the nation against terrorism. He spoke of the Homeland Security Department, increased border patrols, and 50,000 new airport security screeners in place across the country. He failed, of course, to mention the devious Total Information Awareness database that came along with Homeland Security, and he failed to mention how bitterly he fought to keep those 50,000 screeners out of the airports, because they would be federalized workers and thus able to unionize.
So much went unsaid during his speech. That box cutter at Logan, however, spoke volumes.
The first 25 minutes of the Bush speech were dedicated to domestic and economic issues. These are proving to be the Achilles heel of this administration, just as they were the last time a Bush occupied the Oval Office.
Bush began by touting the education reform bill passed several months ago with the help of Senator Ted Kennedy, but failed to mention the degree to which Kennedy has since distanced himself from that bill and the added flaws he never agreed to. He spoke of holding corporate criminals to account, failing to mention the incredible number of Enron executives -- including his beloved Kenny-Boy -- who still walk free and clear across the nation they defiled with their fraud and deceit.
Bush had words of great praise for the trillion-dollar tax cut he foisted during his first year in office, and rattled off a number of demands for Congress to make those cuts permanent. Don't wait one year or three years or five years, he said, but cement those cuts today. He failed to mention the soaring deficits these tax cuts have caused, and likewise failed to mention that the cuts did not one single solitary thing to help this flagging economy.
Bush went on to roll out his new tax cut, aimed at stock dividends, which will once again benefit the wealthiest Americans. He failed to mention how the budget will handle this added stress; likewise, he failed to mention the fact that a number of prominent Republicans, along with virtually every Democrat and a mob of economists, saw this new tax cut concept as essentially flawed and dead on arrival. Every man and woman who wants a job must have one, said Bush. He ignored the millions of jobs that have been lost by Americans since he took office.
After an inordinate amount of praise for his tax cuts, and no mention of how the budget can survive them, Bush went on to rhetorically spend billions and billions of dollars he does not have on hand. He proposed an end to the "marriage penalty," then went on to propose $1.2 billion in spending to develop hydrogen-powered automobiles.
He did not explain how he can afford any of this, and likewise failed to parse the hypocrisy of touting hydrogen cars while his new tax plan provides tens of thousands of dollars worth of write-offs for owners of gas-guzzling SUVs.
Another $450 million will go to a mentor program for children whose parents are in prison; $600 million will go to another drug treatment program. A whopping $15 billion will go to the noble cause of mitigating the catastrophic AIDS crisis in Africa, but not a word was spared to explain where this money will be found. The mother of all financial boondoggles, the Ballistic Missile Shield, got its due to no one's great surprise.
At one point during the reading of this fiduciary laundry list, Bush demanded fiscal responsibility from the government. A roving camera caught House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi bursting into laughter when that line came across.
Using a raft of semantics, Bush proposed that Medicare be moved into the HMO system, with newly minted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist smiling from the crowd. He failed to mention how much HMOs loathe caring for senior citizens. He proposed the development of cleaner energy technology while increasing energy reliance at home, but failed to explain that this was code for the despoiling of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
The faith-based initiative earned a return appearance in the Bush speech, with much talk of compassion and service. He failed to describe the degree to which such a program will annihilate the absolutely necessary separation between church and state. The federal government will be offering services to those Americans who "deserve" attention, and the rest will be left to the whims of religious institutions.
To be sure, this was a generalized list, filled with hyperbole and great praise for the failed economic plans of the last two years. Upon arriving at the subject of foreign policy and war, however, Mr. Bush shifted gears. In every way, his delivery became more dynamic, his voice more like a man standing before a congregation of the faithful. Nearly every line was met with crashing applause from his Republican allies arrayed before him.
Bush spoke of liberating Afghanistan, but failed to mention that this was done with the overwhelming approval and support of the international community. He spoke again of chasing terrorists across the globe.
"The war goes on," said Bush, "and we are winning."
He listed a number of al Qaeda agents who had been detained without providing much in the way of specifics, and stated that some 3,000 suspected terrorists were under arrest and many more have been dealt with: "Put it this way," said Bush. "They are no longer a problem."
He failed to describe the premises upon which those 3,000 were detained, and likewise failed to mention that in the process of rendering those others "non-problematic," his war in Afghanistan sent more civilians to their deaths than were lost on Sept. 11.
The last 20 minutes of Bush's speech were dedicated almost exclusively to the looming conflict in Iraq. He leveled a damning finger at Saddam Hussein, accusing him of hiding anthrax, VX, botulinin toxin and other terrible weapons. He failed to provide an iota of evidence to back up these assertions, and on a number of occasions trotted out "evidence" that had been debunked by the UN inspectors and the CIA.
Bush raised the dire threat of a nuclear-capable Iraq, but failed to note that the nuclear inspectors in Iraq have given that nation a totally clean bill of health. He likewise failed to mention that his administration and the Pentagon have approved the use of nuclear weapons in Iraq as mainstream tactical battlefield tools.
Bush on several occasions linked Hussein directly to al Qaeda, painting at one point a picture of 19 hijackers directed by Hussein commandeering aircraft and loading them with chemical or biological weapons. He offered no proof of this. He failed to mention that Hussein is a secular dictator who has spent the last 30 years crushing Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq; failed to mention the death threats levied against Hussein by al Qaeda; and failed to mention the absolute fact that Hussein would never be so stupid as to give weapons or aid to blood enemies. Were he to do so, he would find those weapons immediately turned against him.
Bush failed to mention how the American economy could handle the billions of dollars needed to support the war, the inevitable oil shock that would come as a result of the war, the billions more needed for his missile shield, the billions needed to push his new tax cut through, the billions needed to make his old tax cut permanent, and the billions needed to pay for the new programs he proposed.
Bush failed to explain why so many admirals and generals, including Generals Zinni and Schwartzkopf, have spoken about the recklessness of this war plan. He failed to mention the inevitable blowback of terrorism that America would suffer should this war take place, especially if it takes place with a "coalition of the willing" that does not include a UN sanction.
At no time, and in no way, did George W. Bush mention the name Osama bin Laden.
State of the Union speeches are political events, filled with pomp and circumstance and tradition. When a President proposes new policies and new challenges, and backs those proposals up with beneficial actions, the politics of the speech are worth their weight in gold. As the elder Bush discovered, after his empty speech of 1992, baseless rhetoric with no follow-up is as the crack of doom.
Bush cannot afford the domestic policies he has proposed, and charts a deadly path to war abroad. There was so much left unsaid during this speech. Those empty spaces may prove, in the end, to be his downfall.
William Rivers Pitt is the author of "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in May 2003 from Pluto Press. He teaches high school in Boston, MA. Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.