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Reality Check III
May 17, 2002
By Michael Shannon

If September 11th had been nothing more than a gorgeous late summer day even the most staunch Republicans would by now be realizing that George W Bush would be in mortal danger of having One Termer stamped on his resume. It is only because of the perfectly understandable tendency of an aroused and aggrieved people to rally around their political leader that has saved him to this point from being clearly seen as inept as he truly is. That cloak of protection however is wearing thinner by the day.

How Do You Define Conservatism? There were very few of us on the non-Republican side of the political spectrum that had any faith in the credibility of the first half of Mr. Bush's campaign slogan: "compassionate conservatism". The vast majority of his executive decisions, as well as the various pieces of legislation proposed since he has taken office, do nothing but support that skepticism. Lately though it is those who actually bought into that cheap sloganeering that have been coming around to the fact that this is not a man who has strong beliefs in a conservative based political philosophy. Rather he is a man who believes only in those actions and policies which support the rich and powerful interests from which he was born and bred and to whom he owes his entire professional and political existence.

The first real eye opener for those on the right came when Mr. Bush announced protectionist tariffs in favor of American steel companies -- a major no no for those who place undying faith in the wisdom of open and free markets. However, it was the signal from the White House that Mr. Bush was ready to sign a grotesquely bloated farm bill which has just recently worked its way through Congress that really got the conservative crowd questioning their boy's legitimacy. No one put their shocked indignation more forcefully or more eloquently than that well known borderline libertarian, and big time Bush apologist, Andrew Sullivan, who commented that this bill is a "shameless, unjustified, vast handout to rich corporate farmers" approved by "a spineless president, who recently seems like the kind of guy who never saw a big government spending bill he didn't want to sign". Ouch.

Thank you Andrew, I couldn't have said it any better myself.

Mutiny on the Potomac. This rumbling on the right has manifested itself in more places than on websites and editorial pages. It boiled to the surface recently in the halls of Congress. What was so startling about it was that this time it was not a domestic issue but rather one of the most explosive issues facing the international community that rocked the Republican boat.

In vote of 94-2 in the Senate and 352-21 in the House of Representatives the members of Congress not only passed resolutions of support of Israel in their fight against the tyranny of terrorism, they publicly defied the President on a matter of the utmost importance.

While some will argue -- with much validity -- that these resolutions were non-binding and merely a headline grabbing effort, they were also more than that. There was a time not so long ago when dissent was supposed to stop at the water's edge. When it was clearly understood that members of the opposition were not supposed to criticize a President's conducting of foreign policy too harshly -- particularly during times of overseas hostility involving American troops -- for fear that it would show our enemies a less than united front. By voting so lopsidedly in favor of Israel when the President was struggling to maintain at least the appearance of impartiality the Congress let the world know that presidential pronouncements aside, they will vote as they damn well please.

What is even more surprising about all of this is that the entire process was initiated by a Republican, Tom DeLay, of Texas of all places.

I can only imagine that Lyndon Johnson -- a master of riding herd over a recalcitrant Congress -- must be rolling over in his grave that a member of the president's own party would so publicly buck him on such a marquee issue.

Might Does Not Make Right. The American experiment has been built upon two fundamental and irrevocable principles: First, governments draw their power from the consent of the governed and secondly, a just and honorable society is one whose actions are defined by a clear and concise framework based squarely on the rule of law. It is this latter tenet that has been so shamelessly violated by the announcement by the Bush Administration that the United States is nullifying the Clinton Administration's signing of the treaty creating the International Criminal Court.

While this change of heart flies directly in the face of both long established precedent as well as basic common sense -- the damage to our national credibility if every time we change Presidents we have to renegotiate every treaty the United States is party to is incalculable -- but that doesn't seem to have caused the Bush team much trouble at all. As quoted by CNN, one senior administration official said the removal of the signature "removes any argument that if you sign a treaty, you are obligated to it." He's right. Why would anyone think that just because we signed the darn thing that we were going to pay any attention to it? This unnamed official goes on to say, "Some people think it is not possible to unsign a treaty under international law, we think it is wrong, and we just did it."

That statement is the geopolitical equivalent of, " It's my ball and if you don't play by my rules I'm going to take it home".

The administration's central complaint against the Court is that it would curtail the ability of the United States to conduct military operations on a worldwide basis. It would take a much more learned legal mind than mine to explain the nuances of the treaty's many clauses so pardon me if I am being naive by asking; wouldn't our soldiers and their political leaders be shielded from charges being brought against them as long as they adhered to the already well established rules of war? Or would that be asking too much?

Dancing with Arafat. We need to clarify a central point here. As is plainly evident from the above, the Bush administration is arrogant and unabashedly unilateralist. And Mr Bush himself may very well be guilty of waiting far too long to fully engage the power of his office specifically and the assistance and influence of US government in general in the matter of the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. The Bush team is also undeniably guilty of gross hypocrisy in that they insist that the Israelis negotiate with a man, Yassir Arafat, whom if he had perpetrated one tenth the violence against Americans and our interests that he has against the Israelis would be summarily branded as an enemy of the state with no questions asked. Mr Bush is further guilty of permitting himself to be made to look totally ineffectual by his repeated public insistence that the two parties take actions that neither has any intention of taking, and then failing to do anything about it when they don't. Not to mention the vacillation from one position to the next which so muddies the message that no one is exactly sure what the message is.

All these transgressions however are ephemeral in nature. They involve flaws of judgment, strategy and execution. What Mr Bush is not guilty of is the endorsement, either tacit or direct, of murder. Only those twisted, vile men who permit their children to be so immersed in a climate of hatred that they willing go forth to their deaths believing that the wanton slaughter they commit will further their cause, are guilty of that. These futile sacrifices are not only a despicable waste of the lives of the those who actually strap belts of explosives to their bodies but the very future of their entire society they so misguidedly seek to advance.

It is a shame that our present government does not appear up to the challenge of convincing these people of the egregious error of their ways.

Summary. As your grandmother used to say; actions speak louder than words. Mr Bush may have given a good speech or two in the months immediately following the events of last September but the bloom has most definitely come off the rose. It is now all too apparent that not only is he in way over his head but that that fact doesn't seem to bother him all that much.

It is imperative that we have a change of leadership if we are to meet the daunting challenges of the days and years ahead. We have six months to prepare for that change to begin.

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