President Bush is famous for telling other people that they just don't get it. He lives in the bubble of entitlement and dismisses critics as unpatriotic, uninformed or just plain weird. Now the American people have turned the tables. As the State of the Union speech made painfully clear, it's the president who just doesn't get it.
Standing before the first female speaker of the House in U.S. history, and facing a Democratic Congress elected to protest his handling of the war and save the endangered middle class, the president first repeated the right's favorite misnomer, congratulating the "Democrat" majority. Since "Democratic" is a positive adjective, Rush Limbaugh and company refuse to use it, but prefer the noun form " which conjures up images of individual Democrats like Ted Kennedy. If we keep this up, we'll be forced into even more mindless and ungrammatical territory, like referring to Bush and company as belonging to the "Republic" Party.
But nothing could compare to the parallel universe of rhetorical hypocrisy that followed. Bush dared to instruct the new Congress to "spend the people's money wisely" and not leave problems "to future generations." He talked about how great the economy is, without admitting that there are now two Americas: one that is poor and getting poorer, and one that knows no credo except "enough is never enough."
His plan to fix our broken health-care system confused everyone, by offering people who can't afford health care the opportunity to take a tax deduction for the premiums they can't afford to begin with! It was typical, stale, free-market smoke and mirrors " like health savings accounts. The bitter truth is that the marketplace cannot deliver ethical or affordable health care to all Americans.
We must remember, he said, "that the best health-care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors." The only trouble with this standard applause line is that the only way to get insurance companies and HMOs out of the picture is to make the payer a nonprofit entity, like the government, so that health-care "providers" don't make more money by being health-care "deniers."
Bush again made empty rhetorical gestures toward energy conservation and struck a realistic tone on immigration, which he shares with the new "Democrat" Party. But when it came to the Iraq war, the most deadly and colossal foreign policy failure since Vietnam, the president might as well have been speaking inside a literal bubble. First, he again raised the specter of Sept. 11, 2001, to tell us, as he has so many times, to be afraid, be very afraid.
Even after years of criticism that he has used fear as a form of mind control while gutting civil liberties, torturing prisoners and tapping our telephones, the president was in rare form: "We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us " unless we stop them. "¦ They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent."
And then we heard the great lie once more: "What every terrorist fears most is human freedom." No, Mr. President, what every terrorist hates is the bloody hypocrisy of the West, for we too have preached with threats, instructed with bullets and bombs, and promised salvation to converts while we slaughtered the innocents and the infidels.
The bubble has burst. Bring the troops home, and start waging peace. - Robin Meyers
Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church in Oklahoma City and professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University.