Dubya's True Colors

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"Redefining the role of the United States from enablers to keep the peace to enablers to keep the peace from peacekeepers is going to be an assignment."

You cannot say the Bush II years will not have entertainment value. The above quote about....well, about who-knows-what comes from a pre-inauguration interview George W. granted to The New York Times. Usually, when the Prince of Midland mugs the English language you can suss out what he meant to say. But this remark was a humdinger. Many more are to come.

It will be as if Norm Crosby, the Friars-generation comedian whose stock-in-trade was malapropisms, has moved into the Circle-Like-Thing Office. Sure, environmental protection will suffer, the labor unions will be under assault, abortion rights will be threatened, health and safety regulations will be undermined, corporate money will continue to flood the political system, the Pentagon will throw tens of billions of dollars down the national-missile-defense rathole, affirmative action programs will be targeted, plans to turn Social Security over to Wall Street will be hatched, and tax-cuts-for-the-rich will remain the holy grail. But Bush will keep us in stitches.

Asked by U.S.A Today what he would feel upon assuming the presidency, Bush replied, "It'll be hard to articulate." You betcha.

Actually, Bush's appointment to be CEO of U.S. Government, Inc. will make life easier, in a way, for Democrats and left-of-center sorts.

Six years ago, as Newt Gingrich was about to assume control of Congress as the Speaker of the House, I asked Representative Barney Frank what that meant for congressional Democrats.

"This will be great," he said, his glee only half-in-jest. "It's more fun and easier to be in the opposition."

It was plain what he meant. With the Republicans wielding power, the congressional Democrats, facing a common enemy, would be unified. Rather than bicker among themselves, as they had during the first two years of the Clinton presidency (wasting the opportunity to achieve major gains in health care reform and campaign finance reform), they would be able to fixate together on the evil Newtites. No longer in charge, the Democrats could shoot poison darts at the GOPers and not have to bear responsibility for the tough job of governing. And, perhaps more importantly, it was not crucial that they resolve internal conflicts within the party -- the longstanding tensions that Clinton exacerbated rather than salved.

In the U.S. political system, there are two main parties, one (the Republicans) is the party of capital, the other (the Democrats) is the party of capital but with a few asteriks. Those asteriks cover the unions, environmentalists, abortion-rights advocates, and civil rights community. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are largely subsidized by corporate dollars. But they also claim to be the party of those who question the laissez-faire perogatives of Corporate America. That does lead to uncomfortable confusion -- within the party, and among progressives outside the party who attempt to fashion a relationship with the party.

Clinton embodied the party's dissonance. He pushed for a minimum wage; he pissed off unionists by crusading for Nafta, GATT, no-conditions trade with China, and globalization.

He fought GOP attempts to rollback environmental regulation; he disappointed enviros by doing little on global warming, alternative energy, and automobile fuel efficiency.

He battled for abortion-rights and modest gun control, but he angered liberals by pushing welfare reform, expanding the death penalty, and pressing for a crime bill that trampled civil liberties.

He expanded the federal health insurance program for low-income children; he and Hillary botched health care reform by proposing a cockamamie plan designed to win the support of the business community (which predictably shot it down), and the numbers of uninsured grew.

He passionately spoke in favor of campaign finance reform (on occasion); he never made it a legislative priority and, moreover, employed campign finance practices that mocked the current law.

He supported a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty; he handed the military a big budget raise.

He expanded the earned-income tax credit which helps the working poor, defended affirmative action ("don't end it, mend it") and won an increase in education funding; he dropped his race initiative, he wimped out on his promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military, and he signed off on a deal with the Republicans that resulted in Medicaid cuts.

He used U.S. military force to restore a democratically-elected, leftist president in Haiti; he turned his back on the Rwanda genocide.

He authorized bombing campaigns that hit civilian targets in Iraq, Sudan, and Serbia; he assisted the peace process in Northern Ireland.

He balanced the budget as the economy (until lately) roared; for much of his tenure wages for average workers remained flat and the rich-poor gap increased.

He demonstrated a masterful sense of politics; he left his party, which had controlled Congress when he arrived in Washington, in the minority.

No doubt, this list leaves out important items. But it has been a dizzying eight years. And then, of course, there was the Mess. No wonder it was hard for many Democrats and progressives to maintain a relationship with this guy.

And it was not just tough for the libs. Several times during the Clinton Administration, the Democratic Leadership Council, the corporate-cozy wing of the party, was on the verge of kicking Clinton, a founding member and past president, out of their "New Democrats" club. But -- as one has to do with the weather in San Francisco -- all they needed to do was wait. Clinton would return to his New Democrats roots, and they would be crowing again that they were writing the agenda.

But the never-ending debate about Clinton and his politics created rifts among liberal and progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party. Is he friend or foe? Compatriots found themselves on different sides of that question. Environmentalists argued with each other as to how much they should support Clinton and, then, Al Gore. So, too, did unionists. (Such internal squabbling did not occur within the abortion-rights and African-American communities, which stuck with Clinton until the very last dog.) One extension of this debate was the Ralph Nader campaign.

Good riddance to all that. With Bush and his gang in power, the picture becomes much clearer. His transition team is dominated by corporate lobbyists. His pick to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martinez, has little experience in housing. Gale Norton, his designated Secretary of the Interior, refused to concede during her confirmation hearings that there is a strong scientific consensus that holds global warming is under way and is dangerous -- which undeniably there is. ("There is beginning to be more of a consensus" that global warming is occuring, she said, in a hedging manner, adding there is "still disagreement as to the causes and the long-term future.")

The stench of Big Energy wafts over the new adminsitration. Bush's first choice as labor secretary was an enemy of unions. This is all more reminiscent of the Reagan years than Bush I -- with the exception that there are blacks in the front row and the treasury secretary is unethusiastic about his boss's craving for supersized, trickle-down tax cuts.

And thank god for John Ashcroft. That selection shows Bush does not have Clinton's talent for muddying the waters. By picking Ashcroft, Bush undermined his dominant theme.

Even Barbara Walters could see that. A few days before Bush inherited his father's old position, Walters asked him, "Did you really expect [Ashcroft] to be as much of a lightening rod?" Bush replied, "Yes, I did." Ka-runch! Walters had him in her trap: "You really did? And you did it anyway, even though you talk about wanting to unite?"

A snared Bush could only say, "That doesn't mean we can't unite the nation once we put somebody in place who can do the job as [AG]." He looked foolish, for would-be uniters do not shove lightening rods up the backsides of their opponents.

With Ashcroft, Bush also forced his party to return to Insensitive Island. Bush's comrades were placed in the position of defending a man who praised a magazine (Southern Partisan) that has published apologia for slavery, celebrated the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and hailed Klan leaders; a man who recently met with a leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens (a racist group that believes African-Americans are intellectually inferior to white Americans and that opposes interracial marriage) to discuss the plight of a CCC member imprisoned for conspiring to kill an FBI agent; a man who cravenly and opportunistically blasted Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, a prominent African-American jurist, as "pro-criminal" in order to derail his nomination to the federal bench; a man who has been an unrelenting opponent of abortion rights and several common forms of contraception; a man who fought a voluntary desegration plan in his home state of Missouri; a man who, as governor, vetoed legislation aimed at boosting voter registration among blacks; and a man who proclaimed at Bob Jones University that America is "unique among the nations" and "the place where mankind has had the greatest of all opportunites to approach the potential that God has placed within us," because "we have no king but Jesus."

It was delicious to watch the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee guide Ashcroft through the black waters of his extremism. They nodded approvingly when Ashcroft disingenuously maintained he considered Roe v. Wade a matter of "settled law." Then why has Awshcroft tried numerous times to change the law established by that decision?

In rushing to Ashcroft's assistance on the Southern Partisan front, Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, noted that many politicians have given interviews to Playboy and Rolling Stone, both of which contain ads and articles of explicit sexual natures. Was he suggesting that being interviewed by Rolling Stone was equivalent to hailing a magazine that publishes racist articles that attack blacks, Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Asians?

Regarding Ashcroft's remarks at Bob Jones U., Hatch noted there was an outpouring of praise for Senator Joe Lieberman's religious bent when he was named to the ticket by Vice President Al Gore. Hatch groused, "It's almost as if it's OK for a liberal, but not for someone who is a conservative." But Lieberman never declared, "In America, we have no king but the God of the Old Testament." (Imagine if he had!)

Hatch had to dissemble, for it was not Ashcroft's religiousity that was in question; it was his intolerant fundamentalism. His remarks at Bob Jones U. were offensive, for they implied that those Americans who do not worship Jesus do not share in the responsibility for whatever it is that makes this nation so special. They also were dumb comments. There are plenty of Jesus-worshippers in Mexico, Ireland, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands and a great many other lands. Why has God not granted these countries the "potential" he has "placed within" the United States? Can it really be said that in the United States "we have no king but Jesus," but that is not so in El Salvador?

And outside the committee room, Mindy Tucker, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign, said of Ashcroft's meeting with the CCC leader, "This is a normal constituent casework case." Normal? How often does the tough-on-crime Ashcroft meet with racists to discuss helping a fellow accused of conspiring to kill a federal agent?

True colors are being shown. After years of Clinton the chameleon, that is somewhat refreshing. Indeed, the price may be high for such clarity. But let's credit Clinton's legacy with the fact that he has caused many to yearn for simpler, if not clearer, politics. (Again, see Ralph Nader -- that is, the millions he motivated.)

The new guy, though he has tried to bill himself as a New Republican, has done a good job so far of drawing stark and familar lines -- and of living up (or is it down?) to the not-so-high expectations.

"I'm not pessimistic for the long run," Bush said recently. "Quite the contrary. I'm very optimistic for the long run of the country. I just don't know the definition of short and long run yet."

Here's one definition: short run is four years; long run is eight years. Let's hope for the short run.

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