Ochenski: Sins of omission 

Listening to what Bush said, and what he didn't

You could tell President Bush spent days practicing his State of the Union speech because he only stumbled over a few of the big words when he got to the part about science. All in all however, he did a credible, if somewhat emotionless, job of reading the address. But for those who were hoping the speech would live up to its title and provide a realistic assessment of where the nation is at and where it’s going, the president’s remarks, like many of his proffered solutions to the nation’s problems, fell far short of the mark.

Everyone expected Bush to whomp on Iraq and he did—at least to the extent that he once again embarked on what seems more and more every day like a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein. But this is old news. No one needed to be convinced that Saddam is not a nice guy. What the American public was looking for, at least those who even bothered to tune in to the speech, was a compelling reason why, out of all the scumbags in all the nations on earth, eliminating this one bad guy justified going to war. We didn’t hear it because President Bush didn’t say it.

For months and months, the president and his cabinet of aging hawks have screeched about their “undeniable evidence” that Iraq is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. But here, before a national audience focused on seeing that evidence, Bush somewhat less than artfully dodged the question and passed off the delivery of this “clear” evidence to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will ostensibly present it to the United Nations in the near future. In the meantime however, we continue to ship troops and material to the Persian Gulf for what now seems like an inevitable attack—with or without the cooperation of the rest of the world’s civilized nations.

Those who were waiting to see how the President would address the nation’s economy were likewise disappointed. Aside from his continued commitment to funnel even more of the nation’s wealth to the already rich in the form of a $670 billion tax cut, Bush’s speech lacked both substance and ideas. Again, what Bush didn’t say has a lot more to do with the state of the Union than what he did say.

Just a couple short years ago, America was finally looking forward to an era of budget surpluses and paying down the national debt. That surplus has now disappeared, and current estimates of deficit spending are trending toward the $500 billion mark. What this means is that for the next decade—or perhaps even longer—we will be loading massive debt on our kids, denying them the chance to start even. That curly-haired child of 11 will be 21 before we even begin to see black ink on the nation’s budget. But that’s something Bush decided not to talk about.

Nor did the President talk about the long-term effects of his massive military expenditures. The few programs and the piddling amounts of money he pledged to helping Americans pale in comparison to the more than one billion dollars a day he is spending on the military. Take for instance his pledge to provide $450 million for mentors to help schoolchildren. Sounds like a big number until you realize it doesn’t even amount to half of what we spend in one day on the military. His “bold initiative” to fund research into hydrogen-powered cars, to which he intends to dedicate $1.2 billion, comes to about one day’s worth of military spending.

Or how about Bush’s announcement to put $400 billion into Medicare in the next decade? It’s easy to pledge to spend money in the future, when Bush may or may not even be in office, but the more accurate perspective is gained by comparing this promise against the very real military spending of today. And again, what it amounts to is a somewhat less than bold plan to devote a mere 1/10th of what we are currently spending on our military machine to take care of our own citizens’ most urgent health needs. Are these the priorities that will take America forward? I don’t think so.

Bush also avoided discussing any real solutions to what many think is a pending Social Security meltdown. Instead of telling Americans how he would bolster the program that is supposed to provide us with financial security in our old age, Bush focused on a plan to allow younger workers to gamble away their social security payments in the stock market. For many Americans, the 38 percent collapse of the stock market has already devastated retirement savings and necessitated a return to work. The President’s plan to give young workers the opportunity to experience such loss from the vagaries of market performance holds little comfort for an aging, worried, and insecure citizenry.

For those concerned about the mounting effects of global warming and pollution, Bush’s comments amounted to little more than double-speak. Lauding his “Clear Skies” initiative, the President provided no details, but promised to reduce air pollution by 70 percent over the next 15 years. For the ten-year-old suffering from pollution-induced asthma, the hope of cleaner air when he or she makes it to 25 is somewhat less than thrilling.

What Bush didn’t say has as much or more to do with the real state of the Union than what he did say. He didn’t talk about the 2.2 million people who have lost their jobs under his presidency, the 1.3 million who have fallen into poverty, the 19 percent increase in homelessness, or the 1.4 million more who have no health insurance. Nor did he offer a credible plan to address these very real problems.

It may well be that Bush’s “Sins of Omission” will doom what was widely predicted to be the most important speech of his presidency to the annals of mediocrity—and carry his re-election chances with it.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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