On Native Ground
WHAT PRESIDENT BU.S.H ISN'T TALKING ABOUT
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- While President Bush's State of the Union addresscontained the predicted amount of saber-rattling against terrorists, therewere a few surprises in his speech. The surprises came in the things hedidn't say.
The president offered a noble summation of what he called "thenon-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on thepower of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equaljustice and religious tolerance."
Never mind that most of these things have been under siege by ourown government since the Sept. 11 attacks. Our friends at the Website"Media Whores Online" (http://www.mediawhoresonline.com) pointed outsomething that something was conspicuously missing from that litany inPresident Bush's speech; not once did he utter the word "democracy." "Could it be that Dubya and his speechwriters shy away from thesubject, knowing that they have no moral authority with which to promotedemocratic ideals either in this country or to the rest of the world?"asked MWO the day after the president's speech. "Considering democracy's prominence in (Ronald) Reagan's, George H.W. Bush's and (Bill) Clinton's SOU's -- not only as an 'American value' but one that peace in the world depends on completely -- Bush's refusal to address it was a disturbing development in itself." Considering the way he got to the White House, it may be just aswell he doesn't. But that would presume that President Bush realizes thathe didn't really win the 2000 presidential election and that is simply justtoo big a leap in logic to make. There was another word that went unmentioned in the president's speech -- "Enron." He did allude to it in a statement that just may be the first sign that he realizes how much damage the economic and political scandal brought on by the energy company's collapse: "Through stricter accounting standards and tougher disclosure requirements, corporate America must be made more accountable to employees and shareholders and held to the highest standards of conduct." It's fairly amazing to hear a conservative Republican utter asentence like that. It would be even more amazing if President Bush heldhis own administration to that standard by coming clean on exactly how muchinfluence Enron had in putting together the administration's nationalenergy policy. The Nation's Washington correspondent, John Nichols, pointed outaccurately in his "Online Beat" column at http://www.thenation.com: "AsBill Clinton illustrated year after year, State of the Union talk comescheap." The name "Osama bin Laden" wasn't mentioned by the president. Instead, he threatened North Korea, Iran and Iraq -- an "axis of evil," he called them -- with a possible attack for "threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction." President Bush painted a picture of triumph in Afghanistan, butonce again, there were a few details missing. The ostensible justification for bombing Afghanistan was to get binLaden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Both are still on the loose. The newAfghan leader Hamid Karzal, sitting in the gallery next to First Lady LauraBush, was loudly cheered. Too bad he barely controls Kabul and if his luckruns true to form, Karzal will be murdered within a year like every otherAfghan leader that sucks up to the West. There are still warlords and hundreds of thousands of armed menrunning around the country with weapons and the country is falling back tothe anarchy that existed before the Taliban took over. Opium production isback in business, and the new Afghan government is still conducting publicexecutions, amputations and stonings in accordance with sharia Islamic law.The difference is the executions and amputations won't be done at thesoccer stadium in Kabul anymore and they'll use smaller rocks for thestonings. And President Bush certainly wasn't going to mention that the U.S.bombing campaign killed more than 4,000 Afghan civilians, or more peoplethan were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. Or that there are still millionsof refugees. Or that Afghanistan now has more mines and unexplodedordinance per square mile than any nation on earth. Of course, the longer that bin Laden and Mullah Omar are on theloose and the quicker that new targets can be found, the longer the "war onterrorism" can last. And President Bush is going to need this war if hewants the Republicans to control Congress and himself to get reelected in2004. While the president sounded almost Clintonesque in calling for extended unemployment benefits and health care coverage for the jobless, added prescription drug coverage to Medicare and strengthening Head Start and other early education programs, he offered no details on how these things would be implemented or how they would be paid for. They also run directly counter to his avowed policy priorities such as coming up with $48 billion more for defense spending and providing more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. In other words, the Republicans still need a war because they can'tcampaign on domestic issues and expect to win. Even the timid oppositionoffered by the Democrats may be enough as the Enron scandal unfolds andAmericans see how a group of powerful corporate leaders could have suchtremendous clout with elected officials. How much clout? Enron paid noincome tax four of the last five years and would stand to get $254 millionin tax rebates if the "economic stimulus" plan approved by the House GOPbecame law. No one apparently mentioned the potential $254 million giveaway toEnron in all the post-speech analysis. But the silence can't last forever,and President Bush and the Republican Party must realize this.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).