Bush tanks 

Three more years of running on empty

Crushed and rejected abroad and awash in scandal and discontent at home, it’s no wonder President Bush’s approval rating is free-falling in the latest polls. While he hasn’t attained the historic lows of Montana’s last governor, he doesn’t have far to go. For a guy who started out his second term bragging about the “political capital” his election victory put in his tank, it looks like he’s now running on empty.

Take Bush’s trip to Argentina last week, for instance. Bush went down to get 34 Latin American leaders to endorse a new hemisphere-wide free trade agreement. He was not warmly welcomed by our normally friendly neighbors to the south, to say the least. Instead, Bush was greeted by tens of thousands of peaceful protestors and thousands of angry, violent protestors who clashed with the massive police cordons necessary to protect the American president from the enormous and growing number of people who viscerally hate him.

Meanwhile, his arch enemy Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist leader of Venezuela, rode into town on a train with thousands of supporters to “bury” the free trade agreement and confront Bush on what Chavez says are the president’s intentions to overthrow his government and regain control of Venezuela’s oil.

The outcome, in a nutshell, is that Bush got smoked. There was no adoption of a free trade agreement and even the spinmeisters in the White House had a tough time trying to wring a positive outcome from a total loss. As noted in an editorial in this week’s New York Times: “After President Bush’s disastrous visit to Latin America, it’s unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can’t afford an American government this bad for that long.”

How bad is our American government right now? Well, the chief of staff for the vice president is under indictment for lying to Congress and prosecutors and resigned last week. Meanwhile, presidential adviser Karl Rove, who has been called “Bush’s Brain,” is still under investigation for his part in the underhanded scheme to leak the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame as punishment for her husband’s refusal to validate the Bush administration’s phony claims about Iraq receiving “yellow-cake uranium” from Nigeria.

As the investigation proceeds it may well shine the light of day on the role played by Vice President Dick Cheney, whom the Times editorial called “the dark force behind many of the administration’s most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation.” When you’re president, the last thing you need is one of the nation’s papers of record calling your right-hand man “the dark force.”

Yet it seems America is indeed in the grip of dark forces these days. While the United Nations is investigating prisoner abuse by the U.S. military yet again, Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner in the Vietnam War, is trying to get a no-torture policy passed in Congress. In Central America this week Bush bluntly stated: “We do not torture.” But back home, good old Dick Cheney is making a liar of the president by fighting McCain on the no-torture policy.

Normally, a Republican-dominated House and Senate would be working hand-in-glove with the Republican presidency to advance a unified agenda. But not now. Republican candidates are openly shunning appearances by Bush, fearing his low approval ratings may harm them. And no wonder: last week’s polls found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans, besides reviling Bush’s leadership, now doubt the president’s personal integrity—until now a strong point for Bush.

As the corruption and scandal of the administration and the Republican Congress are finally exposed, any semblance of cohesiveness is vanishing. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was forced from his leadership position by an indictment for political money-laundering. Meanwhile, over in the Senate, his counterpart Bill Frist is being investigated for insider trading. And when the Republican political leadership disintegrates, their blatant contradictions become even more ludicrous.

Last week the Senate voted to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and low-income energy assistance. This week, they’re going after food stamps. Montana’s own Conrad Burns, who must know the dire challenge Montanans face with heating bills this winter, defended his vote to cut home-heating assistance by saying it was fiscally responsible. That may have carried some water in the old days, but Sen. Burns, like so many of his Republican allies in Congress, voted the same week to toss another $50 billion into the fiscal black hole of Iraq. Did he think no one would notice?

Perhaps Conrad and his cronies also think no one will notice that under the benighted Republican leadership of this president and Congress, the national debt has now ballooned to more than $8 trillion—about $27,000 in debt for every man, woman and child in the nation. Meanwhile, fully 52 percent of discretionary dollars now go to the “defense” budget for the sole remaining superpower on Earth.

Or how about Bush’s idea to use the U.S. military for taking care of homeland problems like flu pandemics and natural disasters? Besides ringing of Banana Republic-style martial law, the whole idea is at direct odds with governors and their control of state national guard troops. Montana’s Gov. Schweitzer came unglued at the idea and accused Bush of trying to pull a “coup” on the states by placing their National Guard troops under federal control.

Make no mistake, our country is in crisis right now. It would be a great time for some enlightened leaders to get us out of this mess. But instead, our president and Congress are pulled over to the side of the road—their reputations and rhetoric shot and their credibility level on empty.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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