If you didn’t watch the Republican National Convention, you didn’t miss much. Most of the convention speakers before the president spoke from the same biased script: Republicans are strong on defense; Democrats are not. Republicans are macho action figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger; Democrats are “girlie-men.” George Bush is resolute; John Kerry waffles. For four days viewers across the nation saw the worst face of partisan politics, an event carefully orchestrated to demean John Kerry and to convince voters that only George Bush could keep them safe.
After listening to the closing speech of the third day, Dick Cheney’s angry Kerry-bash, independent voters may well have wondered, “Do Republicans think we don’t get it? Do they believe that we have some how missed their core message that Bush is steadfast and Kerry is a flip-flopper?” Some independents may have concluded that the convention was so determinedly negative because Republicans had nothing positive to talk about.
For this reason, there were high expectations when Bush stepped onto center stage at Madison Square Garden, as it was widely anticipated that he would deliver a positive message, his vision for America. Instead, Bush continued the negative attacks on Kerry and presented not a plan, but a pastiche of doctrinaire conservative ideas and well-worn Bush-campaign themes wrapped in faux patriotism. As the first “MBA President” George Bush should be expected to know what a plan is—a vivid definition of an attractive future that provides the step-by-step details of how we get from here to there.
In foreign affairs Bush provided no semblance of such a plan. First, he had the nerve to compare our post-war situation in Iraq to our occupation of Germany after World War II, and himself to President Truman. (To paraphrase former Senator Lloyd Bentsen, “I knew Harry Truman, Mr. President, and you’re no Harry Truman.”) He offered the same simplistic prescription for Afghanistan and Iraq: “We will help new leaders to train their armies and move toward elections and get on the path of stability and democracy as quickly as possible,” completely ignoring the anarchy in both. Bush maintained that our “success” in these countries would send “a message of hope” throughout the Middle East. This is not just an inadequate plan, it is a delusion; the failure of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan has spawned terrorists and earned us the dubious status of most-hated nation.
Bush’s “new” strategy for the war on terrorism is based upon the same arrogant unilateralism that has been a hallmark of his administration. Apparently, Bush and Republicans, in general, have given up on the United Nations, and the idea of coalition building, because it makes them look like “girlie-men.” Real men go it alone.
For his domestic plan, Bush offered an omelet made of broken promises, old ideas, and new slogans. The cornerstone was once again tax cuts, reframed as “tax relief.” For four years the president has stubbornly argued that no matter what problems faced America, tax cuts were the cure. By now, most Democrats and Independents understand that when Bush talks about tax relief, he actually means “tax inequity”—abandoning the historic American philosophy of tax fairness in favor of tax privileges for the rich and powerful. Bush proposed more tax cuts—masked as tax “incentives” and “credits”—without saying how they would remedy the serious economic problems facing the nation such as loss of three million decent jobs, erosion of worker benefits, and a staggering increase in poverty.
The Bush “solution” to a crisis where 45 million Americans are without health care was a call for tax cuts for those who purchase their own insurance, an additional tax break to those able to pay for these policies. Of course, what the president did not say was that his proposal would undermine the troubled health-care system as it would give employers another excuse to refuse to pay their share of insurance costs.
Bush again proposed privatizing Social Security and restructuring educational benefits. (He had the nerve to declare his “No Child Left Behind” program a success when most commentators feel that it has done more harm than good.) In each case this would provide still more privileges for the rich and powerful, and further weaken an important element of the social safety net. It’s ironic that while Bush’s proposed foreign policy emphasizes homeland security, his domestic policy results in homeland insecurity.
Bush’s speech concluded a convention that will long be remembered for its hubris and hate. Gone was any pretense that the president strives to be “a uniter, not a divider.” Gone was any attempt at civility, any notion of reconciliation across class, culture, or party. The Republican Party, which talks so frequently about values, has adopted the moral philosophy that the ends justify the means; everything is permissible so long as you win. In this mean spirit, Bush is waging a campaign based on patriotic rhetoric, lies about his accomplishments, benefits for the rich and powerful, and negative attacks on did present his plan for America—a demolition plan.
Berkeley resident Bob Burnett is working on a book about the Christian Right.