Most of my friends joined the vast majority of Americans who did NOT watch President Bush’s State of the Union address. They were the smart ones. I know the civic-minded among us believe it valuable to hear what our presidents have to say. But here’s what it comes down to: Everyone I know who watched the speech was disgusted. Everyone. Meanwhile, those who used the time to tune their skis, be with their families, or even just hit the local pub didn’t miss Bush’s war-mongering jive and wound up a lot happier and a lot less stressed than those of us who wasted a good hour of our lives in front of the tube.
If you’re into horror movies, the Bush speech was about as scary as anything that’s hit the screen lately. First, we are to believe that the world is packed with people who wish to do nothing more than completely destroy our country. If you can accept this premise, then the drastic measures advocated by our president might bring you some consolation while you’re working on your bomb shelter. Bush uses classic propaganda techniques of the pre-WWII Nazi Party to whip Americans into a terrified frenzy that enemies are lurking everywhere and the only way we can survive is to be, as those pre-war Germans liked to say, “über alles.” Only this time, it’s not the Fatherland that must be “over all,” it’s America.
Ironically, in targeting nations for his threatened unilateral military actions, Bush reached back not only to the techniques, but also to the vernacular of the Second World War, and labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, as an “axis of evil,” a term once used to describe our then-enemies, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Some would dismiss this particularly nasty label as hyperbole, but it is impossible that Bush’s speechwriters and political advisors could have overlooked the reference—or what it would mean to WWII veterans. It was an intentional ploy to drag deep fears to the surface and get old, gray heads nodding for anything this war-bent president might want.
In an increasingly tense world, Bush’s speech tossed gasoline on every flickering fire around the globe and promises to reap horrible consequences, not just for Americans at home, but for those who travel or do business abroad. The recent kidnapping of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan is but the tip of the iceberg, as our Dr. Strangelove president rings in the return of the Ugly American throughout the world. Just ask yourself how WE would react if, say, China decided to send special forces teams into OUR country to disrupt OUR government and assassinate or kidnap OUR American citizens? Let me put it succinctly: We’d be pissed, mad as hell, ready to lash out at whomever we could. Of course, we wouldn’t be foolish enough to take on a powerful, well-armed military, so we’d take out our frustrations and anger on tourists, business people, journalists, missionaries, or just about anyone associated with the nation we believed was responsible for the intervention in our national affairs. It is highly likely this is exactly how others will feel, even though those who take the hits will not be those responsible for President Bush’s rash actions. As anyone who has ever experienced it knows, kicking hornet’s nests is not a good way to keep from being stung, but Bush proposes we kick hornet’s nests all over the globe.
Backing up the fear and violence embodied in his speech, Bush released his proposed budget to Congress this week. The “guns, not butter” budget plunges our nation back into deficit spending, raises the level of defense spending to unprecedented levels (over a billion dollars a day), and slashes vital domestic programs. Can there be any doubt in anyone’s mind that the military-industrial complex is back in the saddle and gunning for business? If so, just check out the reaction on Wall Street. It is no surprise that military stocks are up, up, and up some more. And why not? Our lame Congress couldn’t even come up with the rational argument that since we are no longer facing divisions of Russian tanks and thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles, it might be a good idea to reprioritize existing military spending to address the new threats, rather than spend money we don’t have. But no, like bobbing-head dogs in the rear window, they nod to whatever new military spending Bush says we need. This isn’t the “price of freedom” we’re talking about, this is the price we will now pay, just as we have with Enron and the rest of the energy mob, to shovel billions of taxpayer dollars to Bush’s military buddies. And it will cost us in healthcare, education, and Social Security, the very pillars of our nation that are being neglected so we can build more weapons.
Is this unpatriotic? Not at all. True patriots don’t just stand by and nod, they stand up for what is best for their country in the long term. It has taken our nation decades to crawl our way out of deficit spending and begin (only begin, mind you) to pay down the national debt. We have only very recently acted to responsibly pick up the tab for past spending that otherwise will be loaded on the backs of our kids, their kids, and generations to follow. But now, with Bush’s super tax cuts for the rich, a siphoning away of America’s wealth into the war machine, and a curt backhand to the chops of anyone who doesn’t agree with our policies, we are falling back into old and very bad habits. Ever since Bush’s speech, one phrase from a ’70s song has been running through my head: “You been slippin’ into darkness—pretty soon you gonna pay.” Ironically, symbolically, and appropriately enough, the name of the band that cranked those lyrics was “WAR.”
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.