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WHAT WE THINK
Bush's State of the Union p.r. offensive:
Scaremongering and empty promises

January 27, 2006 | Page 3

AT GEORGE Bush's second inauguration a year ago, he acted as if he had won the November 2004 election by a landslide and was one of the most beloved politicians of all time. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital," Bush smirked at a January press conference, "and now I intend to spend it."

One year later, Bush's job approval rating is 36 percent, according to an American Research Group survey--lower than Richard Nixon's during the Watergate summer of 1973. The occupation of Iraq lurches from crisis to crisis, the administration and the Republican Party have been caught up in scandals, and economic conditions for most of the population are still suffering four full years after the end of a recession.

The White House will try to turn the tide with a public-relations offensive leading up to the January 31 State of the Union Address. But the message--everything's great and getting greater, and anyone who says different is a threat to national security--is getting tired.

Bush will claim--against all the evidence--that Iraq is continuing its steady march toward democracy and prosperity, under the guidance of the U.S.

He's also certain to turn to his administration's tried-and-true tactic--scaremongering. Bush's top adviser Karl Rove emerged from semi-obscurity since his almost-indictment in the CIA leak scandal with a speech last week defending the wiretapping of U.S. citizens as part of the "war on terror."

Both Rove and Bush have responded to revelations that the National Security Agency flouted the law to listen in on overseas conversations by claiming that the Feds should just be trusted. But opinion polls show most people don't buy it, and even leading Republicans, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), are criticizing the White House.

The administration also wants to focus on a domestic pocketbook issue, and it seems to have picked health care. "I decided this is a national issue that requires a national response," Bush said in a speech in Virginia last week. The government, he said, has to ensure "that health care is available and affordable."

So--now that he's belatedly discovered that health care "requires a national response" to be made "available and affordable"--what will Bush propose? Covering the 45.8 million Americans who were uninsured in 2004? Putting price controls on prescription drugs, which increased in cost last year almost three times faster than inflation? Or maybe fix the Medicare prescription drug benefit, whose disastrous debut January 1 left tens of thousands of seniors uncovered?

None of the above. According to press previews, Bush will propose making so-called "health savings accounts" more widespread by--you guessed it--pushing tax breaks. So people will be able to take money out of their paychecks for years and years...before handing it over to the filthy rich health care bosses when they get sick.

The Bush team claims that health savings accounts will help lower inflated medical costs because, as Bloomberg News summarized, "those who use them will be less likely to pay for unnecessary care routinely covered by group insurance plans." As if "unnecessary care" is the real problem of the health care system!

Public discontent with the Bush administration is as great as it has ever been. But the failure of the Democrats to take the least advantage to mount a challenge in Washington is an open joke.

According to press reports, the Democrats were so divided over what to say about Iraq--with almost all of the party leadership opposed to Rep. John Murtha's (D-Pa.) far-from-radical proposal for "redeployment"--that the Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union will be given by the virtually unknown Tim Kaine, the newly elected governor of Virginia.

Senate Democrats delayed a Judiciary Committee vote on Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court for a week, but the right winger's confirmation is a foregone conclusion. Not only are Democrats abandoning the threat of a filibuster, but with a few so-called "moderates" reportedly peeling off to support Alito, the full Senate vote won't even be close.

Outside the Beltway, however, the anger with Bush's right-wing, pro-corporate agenda--and the sentiment for challenging it--is strong.

The New York City transit workers' narrow rejection of a new contract--which gave up important concessions despite gains made from a three-day strike that paralyzed the city--is the latest sign of anger among working people frustrated with both Corporate America's assault on living standards, and the failure of union leaders to take a stand.

The dramatic struggle last month against Stan Tookie Williams' execution in California brought together a wide range of forces and showed the potential for a revival of the struggle against racism and for civil rights.

And, of course, opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq is only growing. Campus antiwar organizations are getting underway again this year with a new focus--exposing the Pentagon's recently revealed program of spying on counter-recruitment protests.

These challenges from below are the genuine "response" to Bush's State of the Union address--and they offer the hope that a real alternative can be built out of all the fights taking place at the grassroots.

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