Comment: Fool Me Twice

"Fool me once, shame on you," says a wise political
maxim. "Fool me twice,
shame on me." In his State of the Union address, President Bush will perpetrate a
consumer fraud that makes his feint to the center in the 2000 campaign seem like
truth-in-advertising.

You'll recall that the kinder, gentler Bush of the campaign postured moderate
and sought, with success, to steal the Democrats' clothes. He, too, cared about
children, women, poor people, minorities, abused HMO patients, trees, and so on.
It worked just enough to neutralize Gore's advantages on all these issues. Bush,
as president, then went blithely on to appoint a hard-right administration.

Now Bush is basking in stratospheric approval ratings courtesy of September 11
and the Afghan war. But he remains vulnerable on domestic issues. So in the
January 29 State of the Union address, we will get Spurious George: The Sequel.
This big-lie strategy is the work of political guru Karl Rove. Look for a lot of
Americans to be fooled twice.

The big theme is to be Economic Security. ("Economic Stimulus" didn't quite
play. Even the most gullible commentators didn't buy the idea that retroactive
corporate tax cuts would cure the recession.) So the repackaging will attempt to
wrap the Bush economic program in the halo effect of the war. What exactly does
Bush mean by Economic Security? Here, according to White House press office
advance leaks, are the highlights:

  • Reduce the Income Gaps between the Haves and the Have-Nots. No, this is not
    a typo. But everything about the Bush program does the opposite. His tax and
    budget program enriches the Haves and cuts money to help the poor and the working
    middle class. Child care, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, college aid, and
    other services for the working poor are all dwindling. Corporations are shifting
    health costs to employees, thanks to Bush's lax regulatory climate. The
    Republicans resist unions and minimum-wage laws. Bush's failure to address the
    recession leads to higher joblessness and stagnant wages. Does the man think the
    voters are total fools?

  • Reduce Reliance on Foreign Oil by Enacting a New Energy Policy. This
    is code for drilling in Alaska and more tax breaks for the oil companies. The one
    decent thing Bush has done here is to put federal backing behind development of
    fuel cells. But in general, the administration's approach leads to more reliance
    on oil. With U.S. reserves declining, this by definition means more foreign oil.
    Bush opposes even modest conservation measures. For the definitive rebuttal, see
    "Energy Forever" by Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins on page 30.

  • Promote Job Security through Trade by Renewing the President's
    Trade-Negotiating Authority. Come again? The job growth of the 1990s was the
    result of technological breakthroughs that raised productivity and of Bill
    Clinton's improved fiscal climate, which lowered interest rates. Trade had
    little to do with it. On the contrary, our chronic trade deficit actually costs
    the economy at least two million net jobs.

  • Increase "Health Security" by Expanding Health Insurance Coverage and
    Lowering the Cost of Prescription Drugs. The sheer chutzpah of the man is
    breathtaking. People are losing health coverage. HMOs are cutting coverage even
    for the nominally insured. Bush has resisted every serious measure to expand
    insurance, and his budget underfunds stopgaps like the federal children's health
    program and Medicaid. Public-health outlays took a back seat to corporate tax
    cuts. Bush's program for voluntary drug-discount cards is a joke. Republicans, in
    bed with the pharmaceutical industry, have blocked Democrats' plan for serious
    cost controls, expanded drug benefits, and HMO regulation.

  • Reauthorize Welfare Reform. The 1996 welfare reform was saved by full
    employment. Some states, thanks to reduced welfare rolls, used part of the new
    federal block grant to offer improved child care and opportunities for former
    welfare recipients to attend community college. But these success stories are
    evaporating, and Bush's budget is too stingy to make up the difference.
    Meanwhile, new people are coming onto the rolls, while those who have hit the new
    five-year limit are on the street. So "welfare reform" needs not just
    reauthorization but overhaul.

    Will the voters applaud the themes and get rolled on the details?
    If you buy this preposterous story of how to attain economic security, shame on
    you.

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