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Santa's Report Card

Bush: the Year in Review

by SAUL LANDAU

"I’m very proud of my gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed, sold me this watch."

–Woody Allen

"They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not; they have hands, but they handle not; neither speak they through their throats."

–Psalm 115 (written for Bush supporters?)

The Bushies will light the White House Christmas tree and buy family members expensive gifts they don’t need. No Monica lurks in the Oval Office waiting to offer him kinky pleasure. The adoring Harriet Miers gives virtual blow jobs — "you’re the very best, sir" ­ but no actual "playing around."

The pious Bush, however, is deaf to thousands of daily demands that he be impeached and tried as a war criminal for waging an illegal and very bloody war against Iraq. Bush has fought back in speeches that repeat the same discredited fairy tales he used to get the country into war, vaguely linking the invasion and occupation of Iraq with the terrorist threat to the United States.

December polls show a tiny bump in his approval ratings as men, whites and Catholics bought some of his message. The majority, however, continue to give him failing grades for his performance at home and abroad. His close friends and family, not known for their heightened sensitivity, care little about approval indices. For them, W delivered more than they ever expected. From the disgustingly rich, the Elmer Gantry contingent, the neo con ideologues and followers of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plus homophobes and anti-abortion fanatics, Bush got an A+.

They did not take points off Bush’s grade for prevaricating the nation into war, which has cost the lives of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Nor did they take off points for W’s economic performance. In October, the US deficit grew to record levels as imports continued to exceed exports ­ W’s version of the benefits of free trade.

The Bushies don’t take seriously such banalities; nor do they worry about the fact that as a result of W’s ignorance and arrogance, the rest of the world sees the USA with hatred and contempt.

A December 3 Al Jazeera story reported that a University of Maryland-John Zogby poll in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco showed that 81% of the respondents believed that the Iraq war had brought "less peace" to the Middle East.

Do the nation’s elite to whom W gave major tax reductions fret over Bush’s bizarre military spending? Should we expect those on the very, very right to denounce W for erasing the centuries-old line that separates church and state? Actually, they would rather have church charity replace government as the place where the poor seek help.

Do Bushies find it morally reprehensible that W promised to leave no child behind and left many, to rebuild New Orleans and didn’t? In 2000, after all, he swore not to engage in nation building and did not rebuild Iraq after he broke it.

Even Daddy Bush (41) must chuckle when W periodically announces, "I’m the Commander in Chief." In May 2003, el Comandante costumed himself in a jump suit, landed on an aircraft carrier and declared "Mission Accomplished." As if!

In more sedate settings, W dons tailor-made gabardines, wrinkles his face and issues stern, snarling declarations: "As long as I’m commander in chief, we’re not going to cut and run in Iraq." The Bush consiglieri (Brent Scowcroft and James Baker) must shake their heads over such imprudence, but W has fortified their immune systems against such intrusions by the money they made from his non-stop tax cuts.

Daddy Bush might have felt some shame after the 9/11 attackers struck and "the leader" read My Pet Goat to second graders for seven minutes. For hours afterwards, in a tizzy aboard Air Force One, W didn’t know what to do. His parents failed to teach him how to respond to other peoples’ crises.

In August 2005, when Katrina hit, the maximum jefe remained at his ranch for five days despite desperate pleas from hurricane victims; then he visited the stricken area from above, in an airplane.

"Above it all," was also how the members of the Commission to investigate the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 judged the Administration. As Derrick Z. Jackson reported (Chicago Tribune December 12), the Commission in early December "gave the Bush administration an F for coalition detention standards. The U.S. has not engaged in a common coalition approach to developing standards for detention and prosecution of captured terrorists. Indeed, U.S. treatment of detainees has elicited broad criticism and makes it harder to build the necessary alliances to cooperate effectively with partners in a global war on terror."

On the front of protecting citizens from disaster, Bush also received a universal F. Those with memories will recall how said: "Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job," during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, when Michael Brown, the shlemiel he named to run FEMA, had totally botched the relief operation. He also named incompetents and ideologues to run the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Food and Drug Administration. The pundits had a field day, but the loyal ­ and ever richer ­ Bushies remained uncritical.

Bush also gave corruption a bad name. He tolerated super profits ripoffs by companies supplying the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The recent bribery case of former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham exemplified the pattern of corruption. Cunningham, the Congressman, facilitated sleazy Pentagon contracts with the help of tainted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Bush’s erstwhile ENRON buddies provided a stunning example of how to rob billions. Most of the thieves have gotten away with their larceny. His congressional stewards, Tom Delay and Bill Frist in the House and Senate respectively, have exemplified the ethos of greed and ethical aphasia.

Under Bush’s reign, US employment has become precarious. He has allowed huge companies like United Airlines and General Motors to cheat employees out of their pensions and benefits and encouraged outsourcing of jobs ­ and money.

Bush’s ignorance extends to science as well, where he has cut deeply into funds available for research, not just on stem cells but throughout the natural sciences. The ultra right, however, couldn’t be happier. Each time the government fails, they giggle with delight. They want W to destroy government. Indeed, since Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination in 1964 with the ambitious new ideologues from the Young Americans for Freedom and their Christian soldiers of God allies, the far right has set its sights on destroying government ­ meaning all legacies of the New Deal, all agencies that help poor people. They have also moved, successfully, to monopolize the courts and ensure their legislative power through dubious redistricting key states ­ especially Texas.

As liberals joked about his malapropisms, Bush successfully distracted them and reversed some victories won by gays and women, workers and immigrants. Indeed, in 2004, he beat the Democrats on abortion and gay marriage issues.

Finally, W has expanded presidential prerogatives beyond the liberals’ and real conservatives’ worst nightmares. The Patriot Act has devastated the Bill of Rights ­ and the Magna Carta. Bush’s cavalier attitude on torture and CIA kidnappings turn US rhetoric on human into a joke.

Bush kept these processes secret from Congress along with information on how the Pentagon spent tens of billions of dollars in the military budget. Bush has taken the Republic across the proverbial Rubicon and into blatant and dangerous imperial waters from which it will be difficult to return.

The Democrats — whatever and whoever they are — should be celebrating. At a time when people give gifts, Bush has handed them a priceless political present gift: his own failure; their opportunity. But Bush also knows that the nation will distract itself, take the stimulus offered thousands of times each day, and pay attention to shopping, not their own political lives and those of their children and grandchildren.

"Years ago," a Mexican friend laughed, "I thought Christmas meant the time to devote yourself more (mas) to Christ (Cristo). Logical, no? Now I explain to my Mexican relatives that Shopmas is a more accurate description of US spiritual behavior."

Thanks to commercial television’s conditioning, citizens rely on television whose message, Dave Barry explained "has always been that the need for truth, wisdom and world peace pales by comparison with the need for a toothpaste that offers whiter teeth and fresher breath."

The holiday frenzy at malls and on line has become a motor of the economy. "Shopper confidence" determines whether tens of thousands of people will have jobs, not whether or how the United States rules its empire. But as the Bushies suspected, frightened Democrats refuse to rise to the challenge. Or is this judgment premature?

SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow.