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From "The Buck Stops Here" to "I Didn't Do It"
July 15, 2003
By Ed Hanratty

President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read "The Buck Stops Here." It was nothing fancy; it wasn't a catchy campaign slogan like "Compassionate Conservative." It wasn't a show of bravado along the lines of "Bring'em On" or "Dead or Alive." It was a simple statement about the structure of our federal government. Our government is multi-faceted and complex, many people and many agencies and departments have unlimited input as to how the government should operate. But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, the buck stops in the Oval Office. When all is said and done, one man is accountable for the thousands of bureaucrats, agencies and advisers: The President of the United States of America.

But I'm starting to think that the current man sitting in the Oval Office has a different sign on his desk. I think that sign reads something along the lines of "I Didn't Do It." Bart Simpson would be proud. What makes it worse, is that he has legions of apologists: from the party faithful, to congressional republicans, a small but influential band of super-soft democrats, and most importantly, a willing and able media bought and paid for by some of his biggest corporate donors. For heavens sake, while the integrity of The Presidency and American Credibility is at stake, MSNBC on Friday ran the following Question of the Day: "The Sausage Smackdown: Did (baseball player Randall Simon) get off too easy?" Granted, it's a welcome relief from the Pearl Harbor-like disaster known as the Laci Peterson case, but it's still doing the American people a great disservice.

I often wonder if Mr. Bush plans on creating a new cabinet position: Secretary of Excuses. The pool of viable candidates would be as deep as the day is long. Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Sean Hannity, Joe Scarborough, Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Frist and Denny Hastert would all posses the necessary qualifications.

There is little doubt that these are tough economic times. Unemployment is at a ten year high. The last time the US lost this many actual jobs, Hoovervilles were being set up across the nation and breadlines were forming in every American city. The American Dollar is failing to hold its own on a consistent basis. Consumer confidence is shaky. There's no reason to be overly optimistic that it's going to get better anytime soon. What does Mr. Bush do? Cut the taxes for the uber-rich. Why should we think that these tax cuts would work when the last ones had no positive economic impact whatsoever? He tried to buy us off in 2001 with $300. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Yet who is to blame for this? Well, how many times does he have to say "I inherited a recession" until we tell him that's not working anymore. President Clinton inherited a much weaker economy than the one Bush did, and that was turned around through balanced budgets and tax cuts aimed at the middle class.

The Administration and its apologists have even gone so far as to blame the Clinton Administration for the September Eleventh attacks. They claim that Clinton was "soft" on terrorism. But if I remember correctly, it was Republican Senators who watered down the 1996 Anti-Terrorism bill. Orrin Hatch called tracing chemical agents used in explosives "a phony issue." Other Republicans complained about the limits it placed on civil liberties and surveillance. Yet, when the so-called "PATRIOT" act was passed, anyone who raised concerns was immediately unpatriotic.

Furthermore, those of us without selective amnesia remember the reaction to President Clinton's targeted air strikes against both Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember the term "Wag the Dog"? How often did we hear that? Remember Trent Lott saying that he could not support the use of force, but stood by the soldiers? Compare that to the reaction that those who voted against the Iraq War resolution received. I don't remember Sean Hannity blasting Lott for aiding and abetting the enemy, do you?

Now we have the latest accountability debacle. The White House is now admitting that it used phony evidence in the 2003 State of the Union Address to a joint session of congress, on national television. Not exaggerated evidence, outright wrong evidence. While the whole world was watching the buildup to the eventual war in Iraq, Mr. Bush told us that Iraq was attempting to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger. This was used by many pundits at the time, along with the ice cream truck sketches and the satellite images of circus tents, as the overwhelming evidence that Iraq was building an arsenal of weapons capable of blowing the entire planet back to the Stone Age. Those of us who didn't lockstep behind the Office were very skeptical at the time and -- no matter how many statues falling you want to show us -- remain as skeptic or more to this day.

So is the President accountable for this snafu? Of course he's not. The official company line is "Blame the Intelligence Community." They provided said information. Now, I'm not President. But if I were, the intelligence that I'd lean on the most would not be from Britain, Israel or Australia. For better or for worse, I'd think that the CIA would be the first and last organization that I would rely on before speaking or acting publicly on any issue. But in the case of the nonexistent uranium, the CIA warned Mr. Bush that there was no reason to believe that the intelligence was anywhere close to suitable to speak of publicly. But Bush turns around and basically says that it matters not, the Brits say so, so it's good enough for me. This is extremely consistent with the line of thinking of the Administration and its army of apologists: If you have two opposing thoughts, take the one that you like, and call it true. Research and facts be damned. Let's Roll.

So once again, America finds herself at a crossroads. We could take the easy way out again. We can continue to give this Administration a free pass. We could just throw a mini-flag on the antenna, play some Lee Greenwood, and act like we won Powerball the next time we get a $300 check in the mail.

Or we can awake from this long slumber and say "Hold it there, partner." We can demand accountability from the White House. We can chose to not take every word slipping out of the Ministry of Information as golden fact and ask ourselves a series of very simple questions:

* Could the economic decisions of the past two years have been handled differently, and if possible, better?

* How have I benefited from the tax cuts? What impact have they had on my state and local taxes?

* Has the White House been completely honest regarding its positions on the use of military force in Iraq?

* Were we blind and deaf to the criticism of the international community leading up to the war?

* If we had devoted as much time to restoring water and energy in Iraq as we did to pumping oil, would our troops be in as much danger?

There are many more issue-oriented questions that one could ask; the list could go on and on. But I do, however, believe that there is one question that Americans will eventually start asking themselves in the coming months: Am I better off now than I was four years ago?

Here's hoping that they can be honest about it.

You may email Ed Hanratty

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