Some Things Just Don’t Work Out

"I will restore honor and integrity to the White House" was a slam-dunk of a statement after the Clinton second term and Mr. Bush ran hard on it.

It’s possible he hadn’t yet sat down with Tom DeLay to get a feel for what Tom was up to over on K-Street, but not probable. Tom was a confidant. Which means that George Bush didn’t see anything morally unsound or dishonorable in auctioning off access to lawmakers and, in fact, making that access singularly Republican.

Which is an interesting, if somewhat pragmatic, definition of honor and integrity.

Bushcampaign20001"I’m a compassionate conservative" was another of those misty-eyed statements that are hard to get a hook into. But what most of us thought he probably meant was that he had a place in his busy schedule and, perhaps even in his heart, for those who were caught out there on the edges of society. Not that he actually knew any of those people personally. But you don’t necessarily have to be a fisherman to know the smell of fish when you come across it.

After a mere two months in office, President Bush proposed cuts in the already modest funding for child-care assistance for low-income families. He further asked for cuts in funding for programs designed to investigate and combat child abuse and wanted cuts in an important new program to train pediatricians and other doctors at children’s hospitals across the U.S. More recently, he answered the needs of the Katrina-devastated poor by cutting their Medicaid benefits.

Compassionate conservatism with a vengeance.

Bushcampaign20002"I’m a uniter, not a divider" presumably meant that he, along with Tom DeLay and the less effective but equally partisan Bill Frist, planned to erase any distance between the levers of power and the levers of commerce–get all those things close, where we can keep our fingers on ’em. By insisting that the lobbyists of K-Street in Washington hire only Republicans for staff positions, DeLay fulfilled the president’s campaign promise to unite rather than divide.

For the first time in political history, lobbyists were thus united with their legislative targets by a system that not only made for easy Republican access, but disciplined lobbyists who favored Democrats.

“Bring ‘em on,” along with the slightly premature “Mission accomplished” and the vice-president’s statement in June of last year that the Iraq insurgency “was in its last throes,” all provide an insight into the isolation of this administration.

Foolish and premature bragging is merely an example of a few additional things that just didn’t work out.

Which would be all right, something we could live with and adjust to, if only the mistaken judgements were somewhere on the president’s horizon. But they’re not. Tonight it will once again become clear that they’re not, that all of those slogans, promises and challenges were just mouthwash, not to be taken seriously.

George F. Will’s column today, titled The State of Our Cynicism, points out something that caught me off-guard, surprised me. Today is the 1,050th day of the Iraq war. The 912th day of American Rosietheriveterparticipation in World War II was D-Day. I lived through that war as a young kid and remember Victory Gardens, gas and food rationing, Rosie the Riveter in defense plants, taxes, Victory Bonds and the absolute focus of a country at war. We gave all that, freely, generously and in good faith, along with our drafted young soldiers.

All this war has asked of us is our young men. This war is on a credit-card and we worry about gas prices rather than gas rationing.

President Bush stands before Congress tonight, spelling out his vision of the State of the Union, 138 days beyond D-Day in a war that promises not to have such a day. He will talk of honor and integrity, perhaps even the compassion of his conservatism.

But it’s a different conservatism than I knew through seventeen presidencies. This new conservatism, that even has its own lexicon, this neo-conservatism, squanders things. Education, health, money in the bank and a nation without debt, all of them conservative goals throughout my life, are out the window.

Idealism, fiscal responsibility, truth, fairness, regard for others, bi-partisanism and the good will and faith we once had in one another to see ourselves through have all been marked down in this bargain-basement sale of a government. The price-tag shouts convenience over character, take it before it’s gone, no payments until your children grow up and everybody’s doing it.

There’s not much of a standing-ovation in that.

See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.

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