July 31, 2004

Ron Reagan: The Case Against George W. Bush

Extraordinary...The increasingly unhinged and
incredibly shrinking _resident is toast (politically),
unless, of course, a significant number of us are
toasted (physically), and he can once again proclaim, "Lucky me, I
hit the Trifecta!"

Ron Reagan, Esquire: It may have been the guy in the
hood teetering on the stool, electrodes clamped to his
genitals. Or smirking Lynndie England and her leash.
Maybe it was the smarmy memos tapped out by
soft-fingered lawyers itching to justify such
barbarism. The grudging, lunatic retreat of the
neocons from their long-standing assertion that Saddam
was in cahoots with Osama didn't hurt. Even the Enron
audiotapes and their celebration of craven sociopathy
likely played a part. As a result of all these
displays and countless smaller ones, you could feel, a
couple of months back, as summer spread across the
country, the ground shifting beneath your feet...
Oddly, even my father's funeral contributed.
Throughout that long, stately, overtelevised week in
early June, items would appear in the newspaper
discussing the Republicans' eagerness to capitalize
(subtly, tastefully) on the outpouring of affection
for my father and turn it to Bush's advantage for the
fall election. The familiar "Heir to Reagan" puffballs
were reinflated and loosed over the proceedings like
(subtle, tasteful) Mylar balloons...

Restore the Timeline, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)

The Case Against George W. Bush
By Ron Reagan

September 2004 Issue

It may have been the guy in the hood teetering on
the stool, electrodes clamped to his genitals. Or
smirking Lynndie England and her leash. Maybe it was
the smarmy memos tapped out by soft-fingered lawyers
itching to justify such barbarism. The grudging,
lunatic retreat of the neocons from their
long-standing assertion that Saddam was in cahoots
with Osama didn't hurt. Even the Enron audiotapes and
their celebration of craven sociopathy likely played a
part. As a result of all these displays and countless
smaller ones, you could feel, a couple of months back,
as summer spread across the country, the ground
shifting beneath your feet. Not unlike that scene in
The Day After Tomorrow, then in theaters, in which the
giant ice shelf splits asunder, this was more a
paradigm shift than anything strictly tectonic. No
cataclysmic ice age, admittedly, yet something was in
the air, and people were inhaling deeply. I began to
get calls from friends whose parents had always voted
Republican, "but not this time." There was the staid
Zbigniew Brzezinski on the staid NewsHour with Jim
Lehrer sneering at the "Orwellian language" flowing
out of the Pentagon. Word spread through the usual
channels that old hands from the days of Bush the
Elder were quietly (but not too quietly) appalled by
his son's misadventure in Iraq. Suddenly, everywhere
you went, a surprising number of folks seemed to have
had just about enough of what the Bush administration
was dishing out. A fresh age appeared on the horizon,
accompanied by the sound of scales falling from
people's eyes. It felt something like a demonstration
of that highest of American prerogatives and the most
deeply cherished American freedom: dissent.

Oddly, even my father's funeral contributed.
Throughout that long, stately, overtelevised week in
early June, items would appear in the newspaper
discussing the Republicans' eagerness to capitalize
(subtly, tastefully) on the outpouring of affection
for my father and turn it to Bush's advantage for the
fall election. The familiar "Heir to Reagan" puffballs
were reinflated and loosed over the proceedings like
(subtle, tasteful) Mylar balloons. Predictably, this
backfired. People were treated to a side-by-side
comparison - Ronald W. Reagan versus George W. Bush -
and it's no surprise who suffered for it. Misty-eyed
with nostalgia, people set aside old political gripes
for a few days and remembered what friend and foe
always conceded to Ronald Reagan: He was damned
impressive in the role of leader of the free world. A
sign in the crowd, spotted during the slow roll to the
Capitol rotunda, seemed to sum up the mood - a
portrait of my father and the words NOW THERE WAS A

The comparison underscored something important.
And the guy on the stool, Lynndie, and her grinning
cohorts, they brought the word: The Bush
administration can't be trusted. The parade of Bush
officials before various commissions and committees -
Paul Wolfowitz, who couldn't quite remember how many
young Americans had been sacrificed on the altar of
his ideology; John Ashcroft, lip quivering as, for a
delicious, fleeting moment, it looked as if Senator
Joe Biden might just come over the table at him -
these were a continuing reminder. The Enron creeps,
too - a reminder of how certain environments and
particular habits of mind can erode common decency.
People noticed. A tipping point had been reached. The
issue of credibility was back on the table. The L-word
was in circulation. Not the tired old bromide liberal.
That's so 1988. No, this time something much more
potent: liar.

Politicians will stretch the truth. They'll
exaggerate their accomplishments, paper over their
gaffes. Spin has long been the lingua franca of the
political realm. But George W. Bush and his
administration have taken "normal" mendacity to a
startling new level far beyond lies of convenience. On
top of the usual massaging of public perception, they
traffic in big lies, indulge in any number of
symptomatic small lies, and, ultimately, have come to
embody dishonesty itself. They are a lie. And people,
finally, have started catching on.

None of this, needless to say, guarantees Bush a
one-term presidency. The far-right wing of the country
- nearly one third of us by some estimates - continues
to regard all who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid
(liberals, rationalists, Europeans, et cetera) as
agents of Satan. Bush could show up on video
canoodling with Paris Hilton and still bank their
vote. Right-wing talking heads continue painting
anyone who fails to genuflect deeply enough as a
"hater," and therefore a nut job, probably a
crypto-Islamist car bomber. But these protestations
have taken on a hysterical, almost comically desperate
tone. It's one thing to get trashed by Michael Moore.
But when Nobel laureates, a vast majority of the
scientific community, and a host of current and former
diplomats, intelligence operatives, and military
officials line up against you, it becomes increasingly
difficult to characterize the opposition as fringe

Does anyone really favor an administration that so
shamelessly lies? One that so tenaciously clings to
secrecy, not to protect the American people, but to
protect itself? That so willfully misrepresents its
true aims and so knowingly misleads the people from
whom it derives its power? I simply cannot think so.
And to come to the same conclusion does not make you
guilty of swallowing some liberal critique of the Bush
presidency, because that's not what this is. This is
the critique of a person who thinks that lying at the
top levels of his government is abhorrent. Call it the
honest guy's critique of George W. Bush.

The most egregious examples OF distortion and
misdirection - which the administration even now
cannot bring itself to repudiate - involve our
putative "War on Terror" and our subsequent foray into

During his campaign for the presidency, Mr. Bush
pledged a more "humble" foreign policy. "I would take
the use of force very seriously," he said. "I would be
guarded in my approach." Other countries would resent
us "if we're an arrogant nation." He sniffed at the
notion of "nation building." "Our military is meant to
fight and win wars. . . . And when it gets
overextended, morale drops." International cooperation
and consensus building would be the cornerstone of a
Bush administration's approach to the larger world.
Given candidate Bush's remarks, it was hard to imagine
him, as president, flipping a stiff middle finger at
the world and charging off adventuring in the Middle

But didn't 9/11 reshuffle the deck, changing
everything? Didn't Mr. Bush, on September 12, 2001,
awaken to the fresh realization that bad guys in
charge of Islamic nations constitute an entirely new
and grave threat to us and have to be ruthlessly
confronted lest they threaten the American homeland
again? Wasn't Saddam Hussein rushed to the front of
the line because he was complicit with the hijackers
and in some measure responsible for the atrocities in
Washington, D. C., and at the tip of Manhattan?

Well, no.

As Bush's former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill,
and his onetime "terror czar," Richard A. Clarke, have
made clear, the president, with the enthusiastic
encouragement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and
Paul Wolfowitz, was contemplating action against Iraq
from day one. "From the start, we were building the
case against Hussein and looking at how we could take
him out," O'Neill said. All they needed was an excuse.
Clarke got the same impression from within the White
House. Afghanistan had to be dealt with first; that's
where the actual perpetrators were, after all. But the
Taliban was a mere appetizer; Saddam was the entrée.
(Or who knows? The soup course?) It was simply a
matter of convincing the American public (and our
representatives) that war was justified.

The real - but elusive - prime mover behind the
9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, was quickly relegated
to a back burner (a staff member at Fox News - the
cable-TV outlet of the Bush White House - told me a
year ago that mere mention of bin Laden's name was
forbidden within the company, lest we be reminded that
the actual bad guy remained at large) while Saddam's
Iraq became International Enemy Number One. Just like
that, a country whose economy had been reduced to
shambles by international sanctions, whose military
was less than half the size it had been when the U. S.
Army rolled over it during the first Gulf war, that
had extensive no-flight zones imposed on it in the
north and south as well as constant aerial and
satellite surveillance, and whose lethal weapons and
capacity to produce such weapons had been destroyed or
seriously degraded by UN inspection teams became, in
Mr. Bush's words, "a threat of unique urgency" to the
most powerful nation on earth.

Fanciful but terrifying scenarios were introduced:
Unmanned aircraft, drones, had been built for missions
targeting the U. S., Bush told the nation. "We don't
want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," National
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice deadpanned to CNN.
And, Bush maintained, "Iraq could decide on any given
day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a
terrorist group or individual terrorists." We "know"
Iraq possesses such weapons, Rumsfeld and
Vice-President Cheney assured us. We even "know" where
they are hidden. After several months of this mumbo
jumbo, 70 percent of Americans had embraced the
fantasy that Saddam destroyed the World Trade Center.

All these assertions have proved to be baseless
and, we've since discovered, were regarded with
skepticism by experts at the time they were made. But
contrary opinions were derided, ignored, or covered up
in the rush to war. Even as of this writing, Dick
Cheney clings to his mad assertion that Saddam was
somehow at the nexus of a worldwide terror network.

And then there was Abu Ghraib. Our "war president"
may have been justified in his assumption that
Americans are a warrior people. He pushed the envelope
in thinking we'd be content as an occupying power, but
he was sadly mistaken if he thought that ordinary
Americans would tolerate an image of themselves as
torturers. To be fair, the torture was meant to be
secret. So were the memos justifying such treatment
that had floated around the White House, Pentagon, and
Justice Department for more than a year before the
first photos came to light. The neocons no doubt
appreciate that few of us have the stones to practice
the New Warfare. Could you slip a pair of women's
panties over the head of a naked, cowering stranger
while forcing him to masturbate? What would you say
while sodomizing him with a toilet plunger? Is keeping
someone awake till he hallucinates inhumane treatment
or merely "sleep management"?

Most of us know the answers to these questions, so
it was incumbent upon the administration to pretend
that Abu Ghraib was an aberration, not policy.
Investigations, we were assured, were already under
way; relevant bureaucracies would offer unstinting
cooperation; the handful of miscreants would be
sternly disciplined. After all, they didn't "represent
the best of what America's all about." As anyone who'd
watched the proceedings of the 9/11 Commission could
have predicted, what followed was the usual
administration strategy of stonewalling, obstruction,
and obfuscation. The appointment of investigators was
stalled; documents were withheld, including the full
report by Major General Antonio Taguba, who headed the
Army's primary investigation into the abuses at Abu
Ghraib. A favorite moment for many featured John
McCain growing apoplectic as Donald Rumsfeld and an
entire table full of army brass proved unable to
answer the simple question Who was in charge at Abu

The Bush administration no doubt had its real
reasons for invading and occupying Iraq. They've
simply chosen not to share them with the American
public. They sought justification for ignoring the
Geneva Convention and other statutes prohibiting
torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners but were
loath to acknowledge as much. They may have ideas
worth discussing, but they don't welcome the rest of
us in the conversation. They don't trust us because
they don't dare expose their true agendas to the light
of day. There is a surreal quality to all this:
Occupation is liberation; Iraq is sovereign, but we're
in control; Saddam is in Iraqi custody, but we've got
him; we'll get out as soon as an elected Iraqi
government asks us, but we'll be there for years to
come. Which is what we counted on in the first place,
only with rose petals and easy coochie.

This Möbius reality finds its domestic analogue in
the perversely cynical "Clear Skies" and "Healthy
Forests" sloganeering at Bush's EPA and in the
administration's irresponsible tax cutting and other
fiscal shenanigans. But the Bush administration has
always worn strangely tinted shades, and you wonder to
what extent Mr. Bush himself lives in a world of his
own imagining.

And chances are your America and George W. Bush's
America are not the same place. If you are dead center
on the earning scale in real-world
twenty-first-century America, you make a bit less than
$32,000 a year, and $32,000 is not a sum that Mr. Bush
has ever associated with getting by in his world.
Bush, who has always managed to fail upwards in his
various careers, has never had a job the way you have
a job - where not showing up one morning gets you
fired, costing you your health benefits. He may find
it difficult to relate personally to any of the nearly
two million citizens who've lost their jobs under his
administration, the first administration since Herbert
Hoover's to post a net loss of jobs. Mr. Bush has
never had to worry that he couldn't afford the best
available health care for his children. For him,
forty-three million people without health insurance
may be no more than a politically inconvenient
abstraction. When Mr. Bush talks about the economy, he
is not talking about your economy. His economy is
filled with pals called Kenny-boy who fly around in
their own airplanes. In Bush's economy, his world,
friends relocate offshore to avoid paying taxes. Taxes
are for chumps like you. You are not a friend. You're
the help. When the party Mr. Bush is hosting in his
world ends, you'll be left picking shrimp toast out of
the carpet.

All administrations will dissemble, distort, or
outright lie when their backs are against the wall,
when honesty begins to look like political suicide.
But this administration seems to lie reflexively, as
if it were simply the easiest option for busy folks
with a lot on their minds. While the big lies are more
damning and of immeasurably greater import to the
nation, it is the small, unnecessary prevarications
that may be diagnostic. Who lies when they don't have
to? When the simple truth, though perhaps embarrassing
in the short run, is nevertheless in one's long-term
self-interest? Why would a president whose calling
card is his alleged rock-solid integrity waste his
chief asset for penny-ante stakes? Habit, perhaps. Or
an inability to admit even small mistakes.

Mr. Bush's tendency to meander beyond the bounds
of truth was evident during the 2000 campaign but was
largely ignored by the mainstream media. His untruths
simply didn't fit the agreed-upon narrative. While
generally acknowledged to be lacking in experience,
depth, and other qualifications typically considered
useful in a leader of the free world, Bush was
portrayed as a decent fellow nonetheless, one whose
straightforwardness was a given. None of that "what
the meaning of is is" business for him. And, God
knows, no furtive, taxpayer-funded fellatio sessions
with the interns. Al Gore, on the other hand, was
depicted as a dubious self-reinventor, stained like a
certain blue dress by Bill Clinton's prurient
transgressions. He would spend valuable weeks
explaining away statements - "I invented the Internet"
- that he never made in the first place. All this left
the coast pretty clear for Bush.

Scenario typical of the 2000 campaign: While
debating Al Gore, Bush tells two obvious - if not
exactly earth-shattering - lies and is not challenged.
First, he claims to have supported a patient's bill of
rights while governor of Texas. This is untrue. He, in
fact, vigorously resisted such a measure, only
reluctantly bowing to political reality and allowing
it to become law without his signature. Second, he
announces that Gore has outspent him during the
campaign. The opposite is true: Bush has outspent
Gore. These misstatements are briefly acknowledged in
major press outlets, which then quickly return to the
more germane issues of Gore's pancake makeup and
whether a certain feminist author has counseled him to
be more of an "alpha male."

Having gotten away with such witless falsities,
perhaps Mr. Bush and his team felt somehow above
day-to-day truth. In any case, once ensconced in the
White House, they picked up where they left off.

In the immediate aftermath and confusion of 9/11,
Bush, who on that day was in Sarasota, Florida,
conducting an emergency reading of "The Pet Goat," was
whisked off to Nebraska aboard Air Force One. While
this may have been entirely sensible under the chaotic
circumstances - for all anyone knew at the time,
Washington might still have been under attack - the
appearance was, shall we say, less than gallant. So a
story was concocted: There had been a threat to Air
Force One that necessitated the evasive maneuver.
Bush's chief political advisor, Karl Rove, cited
"specific" and "credible" evidence to that effect. The
story quickly unraveled. In truth, there was no such

Then there was Bush's now infamous photo-op
landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and his
subsequent speech in front of a large banner
emblazoned MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. The banner, which
loomed in the background as Bush addressed the crew,
became problematic as it grew clear that the mission
in Iraq - whatever that may have been - was far from
accomplished. "Major combat operations," as Bush put
it, may have technically ended, but young Americans
were still dying almost daily. So the White House
dealt with the questionable banner in a manner
befitting a president pledged to "responsibility and
accountability": It blamed the sailors. No surprise, a
bit of digging by journalists revealed the banner and
its premature triumphalism to be the work of the White
House communications office.

More serious by an order of magnitude was the
administration's dishonesty concerning pre-9/11 terror
warnings. As questions first arose about the country's
lack of preparedness in the face of terrorist assault,
Condoleezza Rice was dispatched to the pundit arenas
to assure the nation that "no one could have imagined
terrorists using aircraft as weapons." In fact,
terrorism experts had warned repeatedly of just such a
calamity. In June 2001, CIA director George Tenet sent
Rice an intelligence report warning that "it is highly
likely that a significant Al Qaeda attack is in the
near future, within several weeks." Two intelligence
briefings given to Bush in the summer of 2001
specifically connected Al Qaeda to the imminent danger
of hijacked planes being used as weapons. According to
The New York Times, after the second of these
briefings, titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack
Inside United States," was delivered to the president
at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in August, Bush
"broke off from work early and spent most of the day
fishing." This was the briefing Dr. Rice dismissed as
"historical" in her testimony before the 9/11

What's odd is that none of these lies were worth
the breath expended in the telling. If only for
self-serving political reasons, honesty was the way to
go. The flight of Air Force One could easily have been
explained in terms of security precautions taken in
the confusion of momentous events. As for the carrier
landing, someone should have fallen on his or her
sword at the first hint of trouble: We told the
president he needed to do it; he likes that stuff and
was gung-ho; we figured, What the hell?; it was a
mistake. The banner? We thought the sailors would
appreciate it. In retrospect, also a mistake. Yup, we
sure feel dumb now. Owning up to the 9/11 warnings
would have entailed more than simple embarrassment.
But done forthrightly and immediately, an honest
reckoning would have earned the Bush team some respect
once the dust settled. Instead, by needlessly
tap-dancing, Bush's White House squandered vital
credibility, turning even relatively minor gaffes into
telling examples of its tendency to distort and evade
the truth.

But image is everything in this White House, and
the image of George Bush as a noble and infallible
warrior in the service of his nation must be
fanatically maintained, because behind the image lies
. . . nothing? As Jonathan Alter of Newsweek has
pointed out, Bush has "never fully inhabited" the
presidency. Bush apologists can smilingly excuse his
malopropisms and vagueness as the plainspokenness of a
man of action, but watching Bush flounder when
attempting to communicate extemporaneously, one is
left with the impression that he is ineloquent not
because he can't speak but because he doesn't bother
to think.

George W. Bush promised to "change the tone in
Washington" and ran for office as a moderate, a
"compassionate conservative," in the
focus-group-tested sloganeering of his campaign. Yet
he has governed from the right wing of his already
conservative party, assiduously tending a "base" that
includes, along with the expected Fortune 500 fat
cats, fiscal evangelicals who talk openly of doing
away with Social Security and Medicare, of shrinking
government to the size where they can, in tax radical
Grover Norquist's phrase, "drown it in the bathtub."
That base also encompasses a healthy share of
anti-choice zealots, homophobic bigots, and assorted
purveyors of junk science. Bush has tossed bones to
all of them - "partial birth" abortion legislation,
the promise of a constitutional amendment banning
marriage between homosexuals, federal roadblocks to
embryonic-stem-cell research, even comments suggesting
presidential doubts about Darwinian evolution. It's
not that Mr. Bush necessarily shares their worldview;
indeed, it's unclear whether he embraces any coherent
philosophy. But this president, who vowed to eschew
politics in favor of sound policy, panders nonetheless
in the interest of political gain. As John DiIulio,
Bush's former head of the Office of Community and
Faith-Based Initiatives, once told this magazine,
"What you've got is everything - and I mean everything
- being run by the political arm."

This was not what the American electorate opted
for when, in 2000, by a slim but decisive margin of
more than half a million votes, they chose . . . the
other guy. Bush has never had a mandate. Surveys
indicate broad public dissatisfaction with his
domestic priorities. How many people would have voted
for Mr. Bush in the first place had they understood
his eagerness to pass on crushing debt to our children
or seen his true colors regarding global warming and
the environment? Even after 9/11, were people really
looking to be dragged into an optional war under false

If ever there was a time for uniting and not
dividing, this is it. Instead, Mr. Bush governs as if
by divine right, seeming to actually believe that a
wise God wants him in the White House and that by
constantly evoking the horrible memory of September
11, 2001, he can keep public anxiety stirred up enough
to carry him to another term.

Understandably, some supporters of Mr. Bush's will
believe I harbor a personal vendetta against the man,
some seething resentment. One conservative
commentator, based on earlier remarks I've made, has
already discerned "jealousy" on my part; after all,
Bush, the son of a former president, now occupies that
office himself, while I, most assuredly, will not.
Truth be told, I have no personal feelings for Bush at
all. I hardly know him, having met him only twice,
briefly and uneventfully - once during my father's
presidency and once during my father's funeral. I'll
acknowledge occasional annoyance at the pretense that
he's somehow a clone of my father, but far from
threatening, I see this more as silly and pathetic. My
father, acting roles excepted, never pretended to be
anyone but himself. His Republican party, furthermore,
seems a far cry from the current model, with its
cringing obeisance to the religious Right and its
kill-anything-that-moves attack instincts. Believe it
or not, I don't look in the mirror every morning and
see my father looming over my shoulder. I write and
speak as nothing more or less than an American
citizen, one who is plenty angry about the direction
our country is being dragged by the current
administration. We have reached a critical juncture in
our nation's history, one ripe with both danger and
possibility. We need leadership with the wisdom to
prudently confront those dangers and the imagination
to boldly grasp the possibilities. Beyond issues of
fiscal irresponsibility and ill-advised militarism,
there is a question of trust. George W. Bush and his
allies don't trust you and me. Why on earth, then,
should we trust them?

Fortunately, we still live in a democratic
republic. The Bush team cannot expect a cabal of
right-wing justices to once again deliver the White
House. Come November 2, we will have a choice: We can
embrace a lie, or we can restore a measure of
integrity to our government. We can choose, as a
bumper sticker I spotted in Seattle put it, SOMEONE

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Posted by richard at July 31, 2004 11:42 AM