News & Politics

Dead Man Talking

State of the Union -- Bush's address laid it all out in the open: His presidency is finished.
George Bush is hanging by a thread. As he gamed his way through his fifth State of the Union speech last night, it was clear that his is a presidency laying in ruin. Except for a reactionary judiciary that will be his continuing legacy -- pushed past the too-little, too-late efforts of a limp Democratic Party -- Bush has no accomplishments he can look forward to in the next three years.

George is dead, spun-out of spin, yet like his zombie followers, he just keeps on talking.

Gone was the swagger, the big ideas for shaping his corporatist "Ownership Society." As his party enters its Year of the Perp-walk, as many expect 2006 to play out, any semblance of a true politics of opposition will bring down the whole sordid experiment that he represents. We've come light years from the time when the White House's soft-peddle of compassionate conservatism could soothe public concern.

The roid-rage foreign policy that marked his earlier speeches -- focused on the the now infamous "Axis of Evil" -- was replaced last night with the tamer statement that military force could only go so far in the "War on Terra."

He addressed the threat posed by Iran, Axis of evil member and big winner after the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But in doing so, he betrayed his own impotence in facing down Iran's nuclear program. At one point, Bush spoke "directly to the Iranian people," and the best he could come up with was: "We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom."

On the domestic front, there were no grand plans to privatize Social Security, no talk of a major tax overhaul. It was yesterday's thin soup, reheated. He told a country that's becoming increasingly anxious about globalization's impact on the middle class that America needs to be more competitive in a wide-open global economy. The only other choice, as usual, is "the road of isolationism and protectionism."

"We will build the prosperity of our country by strengthening our economic leadership in the world," Bush said. No mention of median incomes dropping every year of his presidency, or of the 71 percent increase in average health care premiums American families have shouldered since he took office. No mention of the 14-cent hike in the price of a gallon of gas announced last week. No mention of the national savings rate going negative for the first time in history even as the Fed raised rates, hiking the cost of debt.

What he did mention, naturally, was making his tax cuts for the wealthiest permanent: "The tax relief you passed has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses and families," he said. It's really his only economic policy. The trillions in debt that Bush has built on those tax cuts? Just one mention of the "plan" to cut the deficit in half by 2009, a bit of voodoo economics that leaves out military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other sleights of hand.

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy," he said. "Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil …" Bush proposed new tax credits and an "Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research" -- laudable ideas if not for the fact that the same promises have turned into giveaways for the energy industry throughout his presidency. This, a day after Exxon announced that it had turned an all-time record profit in 2005.

He told the American people, 46 million of whom are uninsured, that their problem was too much insurance, and that he would beef up his Health Savings Accounts proposal. He said it even as seniors are in a gray revolt, trying to figure out how to maintain coverage under the prescription drug benefit, his last health care scheme.

And he continued to spin out his fantasy of how Iraq is shaping up. Things are going great, Iraqi forces are being trained, and a tolerant, Jeffersonian democracy will break out any day. He has a Plan for Victory.

And Bush was equally deranged in offering his solutions to the real-world problems he talked about: We heard platitudes and Bizarro-World market-based fixes, Wall Street brokers and the insurance companies in their portfolios will mend a broken health care system, lavishing taxpayers' largesse on big agribusiness and energy companies will break our dependency on oil.

That's it. That's all he had. After five years running the country, without a single policy he could point to that hasn't turned out to be a failure, George Bush has only one thing left to say: "My presidency is finished."
Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
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