Tempest at the top 

Debates reveal dubious character of Bush, Cheney

The presidential and vice-presidential debates of the last week opened the eyes of millions of citizens to the harsh reality of who is running this country and why. President Bush looked and sounded anything but presidential in his debate with challenger Sen. John Kerry.

Meanwhile, the duel between Vice-President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards revealed the stark contrast in their perceptions of reality—with Cheney still living in the make-believe world where Iraqis greet American “liberators” with flowers and Halliburton is just a simple company striving to do good. Voters attempting to discern truth from lies in this tempest at the top need only overlay the Bush-Cheney fiction with the grim realities of the daily news.

When President Bush debated Sen. Kerry, his handlers specifically demanded that the television networks not show any “cutaway” shots. Fortunately, the networks refused the presidential mandate and, after watching the debate, it was easy to see why the Bush people wanted to censor the cameras. Throughout the ordeal, President Bush presented the world with the perfect image of a petulant, spoiled child, grown used to kid-glove treatment from the legions of yes men with whom he surrounds himself and distinctly disturbed to be challenged.

As one wag put it, President Bush came to a 90-minute debate with about 10 minutes worth of material. That material, for what it’s worth, was the same old gunslinger rap we’ve heard endlessly since 9-11. “Bringing Democracy to the Middle East” is just the latest excuse for why we’re killing and being killed every day in Iraq. The threatened weapons of mass destruction simply never existed—sort of like President Bush’s command of the English language. In a mass slaughter of syntax, logic, and presentation, Bush tried to portray himself as a “hard working” leader, but could barely put whole sentences together, much less a convincing argument.

His opponent, Sen. Kerry, had no such difficulties with either the language or the logic. His presentation, which was articulate, thorough, and laced with proven facts instead of dreamy fiction, stripped the president’s rhetoric to the bone and left Bush confused and mumbling.

But don’t take my word for it, here is the transcript of one of Bush’s fine examples of presidential oratory: “My concerns about the senator is that, in the course of this campaign I’ve been listening very carefully to what he says, and he changes positions on the war on Iraq. It’s a—changes positions on something as ff—fundamental as what you believe in your core, in your heart of hearts is right for—in Iraq. I—you cannot lead if you send mexed miss—mixed messages.”

Only days earlier, Bush himself told an audience in Springfield, Ohio, that: “You’ve got to be able to speak clearly in order to make this world a more peaceful place.” That would explain, I suppose, why we’re running out of troops, ammo, and money as we wage war all over the world.

Dick Cheney, in his debate, did not suffer from Bush’s crippling linguistic disabilities and photogenic shortcomings. Although he is arguably one of the most disliked figures in modern politics, Cheney did a remarkably good job of keeping his trademark sneer off-camera during the debate. Relying on his considerable experience, Cheney dodged, obfuscated, or ignored the real issues as only a seasoned Washington insider could. He stuck unerringly to the administration’s position on war, war, and more war, leaving anyone who watched this powerful though seldom-seen vice-president in action with a much better idea of who is actually calling the shots at the White House.

The reality, however, is far different than the picture painted by either Bush or Cheney. This week Paul Bremer, the former head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq, put the White House on the defensive by announcing that the U.S. had “paid a big price” for having insufficient troop levels to control the chaos that swept Iraq after the U.S. invasion.

Combine that with the latest in a series of high-level reports on Iraq’s lack of weapons, and the fictions continue to unravel. Iraqi oil didn’t “pay for the war” as promised. Why we went into Iraq, why Americans are dying, and why it’s necessary to plunge our country into enormous deficit spending all await answers from a silent White House.

Closer to home, the administration’s chest-pounding claims of making America safer seem weak indeed when even the most basic of “Homeland Security” measures—like providing sufficient flu vaccines for the populace—are falling apart. Now, health providers across the country are wondering who should get the limited vaccine—the young, the old, the rich, the poor? Sooner or later, those hard decisions will have to be made, because there is only half as much vaccine available as our population needs, and total uncertainty of how much may be available in the future.

Or how about energy costs? Remember, we were supposed to have plenty of affordable energy after Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force got done divvying up the nation’s remaining reserves. Instead, while the big energy companies rake in enormous profits, Americans have to face grim decisions of whether to heat or eat, to get medical attention or pay the utility bills. And every day they pour their hard-earned dollars into the gas tank as oil exceeds $51 a barrel and gas hits $2 a gallon.

Meanwhile, the protests against the Bush administration are mounting. Prior to Bush, who can remember the last time there were active demonstrations in Montana against a sitting president? Yet, right here in good old Missoula, 3,000 Montanans spent last Sunday at a Dump Bush rally—that’s 5 percent of the city’s total population!

Bush and Cheney are desperately trying to ride out the tempest at the top in a cracked and fragile teacup, savagely weighed down with their own lies and distortions. Come November 2, if we’re lucky, that teacup may just sink.

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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