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Blogging Bush (continued)

Among other things, Bush said that "the policy of the United States [is] to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Is that all? The problem with a goal this sweeping, as weíve all seen, is that this president does not mean it as glittering rhetoric ó he means it as something he actually intends to do. And though he said his march for freedom is "not primarily the task of arms," that has not exactly been the experience to date.

The way Bush attempted to tie this to his legislative proposals was cynical and creepy. "In Americaís ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence," he said. And how does he plan to accomplish that "ideal of freedom"? By building "an ownership society" ó a concept that will most definitely include your "retirement savings." Uh, oh. Here comes the assault on Social Security ó a system whose finances will be solvent for decades to come if itís just tweaked a bit. But no. Bush wants to give us all a chance to gamble our retirement away on the stock market.

Despite Bushís narrow re-election victory and low approval ratings, he is treating his second term as a ratification of everything heís done to date, and as a mandate to do more of the same. Even Tim Russert, usually more sycophant than cynic, criticized Bush for his already-notorious Washington Post interview of last weekend, in which Bush said that last Novemberís election was all the accountability he needed for his grotesquely irresponsible Iraq policies.

What we can hope for, I suppose, is that Bushís hubris, already bursting at the seams, will trip him up as his second term gets under way, forcing him to be a very different sort of president than he might like. Second-term-itis ruined Richard Nixon, and it nearly destroyed Ronald Reaganís presidency as well. (I would invoke Bill Clinton, but Iím not sure that hitting on interns comes under the heading of second-term-itis.)

Unfortunately, unlike the situation with Nixon and Reagan, Congress isnít going to stop Bush. Only he can stop himself.

Late afternoon

Disquiet on the right. Maybe we can hope that conservatives will slow Bush down. Peter Robinson, writing for National Review Online, was less than thrilled with Bushís speech. He explains: "Bush has just announced that we must remake the entire third world in order to feel safe in our own homes, and he has done so without sounding a single note of reluctance or hesitation. This overturns the nationís fundamental stance toward foreign policy since its inception."

Indecent disrespect. Thereís a lovely phrase in the opening to the Declaration of Independence that I think gets at much of what is wrong with Bushís presidency. Thomas Jefferson writes that "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" compels him and his fellow revolutionaries to explain why they are separating themselves from the British monarchy.

During the presidential debates, John Kerry made this very point, saying that when a president takes military action, "youíve got to do it in a way that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people, understand fully why youíre doing what youíre doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

A decent respect to the opinions of mankind, in other words. But Bush and his allies on the right sneered and smirked, accusing Kerry of sucking up to the French. Bush twisted Kerryís quote around into a cheap applause line: "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people." Thatís not what Kerry said, but never mind.

Today the Guardian reported on the results of a BBC poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries that revealed deep distrust of the United States under Bush, and that suggested negative opinions of the White House are beginning to harden into negative opinions about the American people as well. According to the poll, 58 percent said they "expected Bush to have a negative impact on peace and security," as opposed to just 26 percent who "considered him a positive force." The countries were a disparate bunch, ranging from Turkey and Brazil to Germany and France.

In the United States, the political conversation, aided by a fearful and compliant media, has become so dishonest and corrupt that itís impossible even to discuss such things and be taken seriously. (Just ask Pat Buchanan; see below.) Try talking about this on Fox or MSNBC and you would be accused of appeasement, and our international critics would be portrayed as the "Axis of Weasels." Letís have another round of freedom fries, baby!

But that kind of superficial pap canít paper over the reality that Bush has destroyed our standing in the world, which is the single-worst thing heís done during his four years in office. I think the fact that Bush didnít actually win in 2000 gave us a lot of slack, making it easy for the world to despise Bush, but not the American people. Now, though, weíve actually elected him, and we have to face the consequences of our decision.

Early evening

Dial "Z" for reality. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carterís national-security adviser, absolutely ate Walter Russell Meadís lunch on The NewsHour tonight. Of course, Mead was at quite a disadvantage: itís not easy being an idealist when youíre the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Barry Crimmins should revise his book to Never Accept a Fellowship Named After a War Criminal. Meadís biggest problem, though, was that he really didnít have a coherent answer for Brzezinskiís critique of Bushís "I Am the World" speech.

"If it was to be taken literally," Brzezinski said, "it would mean an American crusade throughout the entire world." Mead responded by saying that Bush may very well mean what he says (a view I share, with considerably less happiness about that prospect than Mead evinced). Mead pointed to remarks by Cheney that suggest the White House is already gearing up for its next foreign military adventure ó this time in Iran, possibly using Israel as a proxy. Brzezinski replied that such an action would be "destabilizing." To say the least.

Brzezinski characterized Bushís speech as a repackaging of his old ideas in new containers. Instead of "fear," Bush is now talking about "freedom." Instead of "terrorism," itís now "tyranny." But when he pronounced Bushís goals "vacuous," Mead differed with him.

That led to an exchange over China. What, Brzezinski wanted to know, could Bush possibly do about China and its horrendous human-rights record? Mead started to say something about how the Bush administration could encourage Chinaís dissidents. Brzezinski, obviously disdainful, cut him off. "We need to deal with the North Korean bomb. We need China for that," he said. End of discussion.

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Issue Date: January 28 - February 3, 2005
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