It was hard to sit still and watch his smug bully’s face
during the February 2 State of the Union speech. It was infuriating
to watch the standing ovations of the surrounding Congress, or hear
the fawning patter of the news media.
In official traditions, the President tells Congress each year how
the "Union" (meaning the United States) is doing. In
reality, the State of the Union speech is a "bully pulpit"
where presidents build public support for their next actions.
George W. Bush didn’t dare breathe a word of truth about the
real "State of the Union." Bush couldn’t
mention how most of the planet thinks he is a bloody cowboy who wants
to rule like a new Roman emperor. He didn’t mention how the
invasion of Iraq has turned into a brutal counterinsurgency. He
didn’t discuss how bitterly the U.S. "homeland" is
divided between "two Americas"—half of which hates
the sight of him.
Could he mention how millions mutter about maybe moving to another
country, or finding new and powerful ways to resist? No.
Bush didn’t even discuss the usual government balance sheet
(for the obvious reason that the annual budget deficit is approaching
half a trillion dollars, while he demands 0 billion more
to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan).
No, this government is on a faith-based mission. Facts
aren’t allowed to obscure the vision. Obstacles are just
supposed to be bulldozed away, by brute force if necessary. And every
policy speech of theirs has a chilling feel of Orwellian
Bush was puffed up during this speech by Iraq’s staged
election-under-the-gun, which came to us distorted through the lens
of an incredibly dishonest media. This election sham was offered as
proof that (regardless of "errors") the U.S. is at least
(somehow and supposedly) "doing some good in Iraq." In the
audience of Bush’s speech, his conservative supporters dipped
their fingers in purple ink and waved them around (in supposed
"solidarity with Iraqi voters").
How much more honest it would be if they just dipped their hands
in Iraqi blood and waved that around while Bush
Let’s look beneath the ugliness of it all and do
some "reconnaissance on the enemy." Let’s dissect
what this speech shows about where this government is actually
planning to go. Three things jump out:
- First, Bush openly threatened Syria and Iran.
- Second, he took aim at Social Security and proposed first steps
toward its privatization.
- And third, he made it clear that he will seek to end
women’s legal right to choose abortion and appoint a new wave
of judges to get this accomplished.
King of the World
The President of the United States stood in front of Congress like
an emperor announcing what other governments must do—Saudi
Arabia must do this, Egypt must do that, Syria must heel. He openly
encouraged the overthrow of Iran’s government and pledged
support for that effort.
In Iraq, Bush had said he was invading because of WMDs—but
there were no WMDs. He accused Iraq of "links" to
"terrorists"—but there were no links. There was
supposedly a threat to the U.S. "homeland"—but there
was no such threat.
What very very short memories we are expected to have! Because
now, in this speech, we are suddenly back to Square One.
Bush’s justification for threatening Iran? They may be
trying to get WMDs. They supposedly back unnamed
"terrorists." (Déjà vu all over again!)
So here we are: Justifications for war blended into each other,
until it is clear that, for the U.S. government, no justification is
And the underlying, unstated logic behind this? The U.S. is making
an aggressive grab for world domination, and everyone (especially the
strategic Middle East countries and the potential rival powers of the
European Union) is simply supposed to fall in line.
Bush’s speech was surrounded by more explicit and more
ominous threats from his government. Vice President Cheney openly
said that Israel might now launch targeted strikes on Iran. The new
Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice refused to say there would not be
war, explaining that Bush was not taking "any option off the
table." In other words, Iran (and other countries in the world)
now live under a permanent, unrelenting threat of U.S. attack.
Let’s talk about values for a moment: All
this naked imperialism is supposed to be considered normal. A simple
and mindless equation is used: The U.S. government is for
"freedom" and backed by "god"—and so
whatever this government does, or wants, or demands is righteous.
And no one is supposed to think too deeply whether all this
negates the rights of other nations, whether it disregards what their
people really want, whether people ruled by the U.S. are ever really
"free," whether there really is a "god" backing
colonial crusades, or whether what really is being imposed
isn’t just the sordid interests of U.S. capitalism.
The Last Shred of Security
Bush has declared war on Social Security.
Some things need to be pointed out before we can get to the heart
of what that means:
First, his targeting of Social Security is a sign of the
extremism of the forces who now rule the U.S.
Social Security was set up to guarantee a minimum survival pension
for much of the population and to guarantee that disabled people and
orphans aren’t simply abandoned.
Nearly 48 million people currently receive Social Security
benefits (with average benefits of ,000 a year). Without Social
Security, it is estimated that half of older people would find
themselves in desperate poverty—unable to cover the bare
necessities of life. Though it is shamefully inadequate, Social
Security is popular (and even beloved) because for many working
people it is the only pension they have.
And so Social Security has been considered "the third
rail" of U.S. politics—meaning that if a politician even
lays a finger on it, it could be political death.
Bush (and his charging crew of right wingers) clearly dare to go
there—with hatchets in their hands.
Second, Bush’s program has nothing to do with
solving a "crisis in Social Security."
For decades, reactionary forces have deliberately
"under-funded" all the social institutions and programs
they wanted to destroy (including public education, public housing
and Social Security). Then, as a program like that grows bankrupt and
frustratingly inadequate—they say "it isn’t
working" and demand its abolition through privatization.
Privatized education (like school vouchers, etc.) leads to
formalizing a class-tiered and segregated educational system, filled
with religious ignorance.
When horrific public housing gets torn down, hundreds of thousands
are driven into homelessness.
When welfare was gutted, many more impoverished women were driven
into prostitution. And whole communities are driven deeper into the
"faith-based" embrace of fundamentalist churches.
Social Security is now grossly underfunded. And their solution?
Bush’s plans don’t solve Social Security’s funding
problems. He never discussed funding at all. His plan was for the
"partial privatization" of the system—shifting some
of the tax money of younger people into the stock market. And this is
no solution at all: and will increase the insecurity of
people’s lives and retirement.
Third, Bush’s approach to Social Security is to turn
different sections of the people against each other, and against the
remaining national social net.
After working their lives away, people need to be cared
for—and guaranteed dignified, meaningful, and secure lives
even after they are too old or sick to work. This has
never happened under this capitalist system, and even the
flimsy, tattered social net that does exist is now under
But as Social Security stumbles toward bankruptcy, the discussion
of its problems are used to fuel a raw mood of dog-eat-dog. Bush
argues that since old people are now living longer, they are an
unfair burden on coming generations of young people. And so young
people (supposedly) should look at their narrowest selfish
interests—and demand that more of their retirement
taxes should go straight to themselves (personally, as
In the most twisted argument seen in a loooooooong time, Bush
actually says (in his current speaking tour) that Black people should
support Social Security privatization because they die earlier than
white people, and fewer Black men make it to retirement age. Is he
arguing that efforts must quickly be made to guarantee decent health
care for Black people so they don’t die needlessly? No! His
argument is that Black people should help him dismantle Social
Security, because (supposedly) fewer of them live to get
(Not only is his argument twisted, it is also a lie. For about 20
percent of retired people, Social Security is the only income. But
that number is 38 percent among Black and Hispanic elderly people.
Attacking Social Security means attacking the most poor, and not
surprisingly that includes many Black people.)
Fourth, Bush’s plan of partial privatization is only
a first step.
The goal here is to create the political conditions for
abolishing universal social protections. Once younger people invest
part of their social security tax in the stock market, once the
unified system is broken up, then (and this is openly stated in
conservative think-tanks) the larger "political consensus"
backing the social net is shattered. These are plans to
ultimately end a universal, guaranteed national pension
Now, let’s look at the bigger picture. This destruction of
Social Security is part of a larger move to actually rewrite the
social contract of U.S. capitalism and to create a so-called
Let’s talk about values: The conservative
Republican forces now in power want a society without a hint
of social solidarity or the "entitlements" of guaranteed
mutual support. They want a society where fear and insecurity
reinforce conformity and obedience, and where an individual’s
only refuge is the traditional family and the traditional church.
They want a world that glorifies "personal
responsibility"—which really means that the injustices of
society can be blamed on supposed moral flaws (and
"irresponsibility") of those who are suffering.
In short, they want a society where poverty comes without dignity
or entitlements, and where wealth comes without guilt.
And let’s talk about the material underpinnings of
those ugly values: They want to guarantee that the
United States has an ever-growing lower tier of desperate people who
live in fear of falling. Their whole program is fundamentally rooted
in capitalism and in the capitalist need for more and more
people willing to work for less and less—to guarantee the
global competitiveness of their "homeland."
Rewriting the Basic Law
Bush’s speech laid out a tight and specific battle plan for
winning "the culture wars"—by using presidential
powers to remake the legal system. Bush said he will appoint judges
who don’t "legislate from the bench," and he demanded
that the Senate’s Republican majority have a free hand to
approve his nominees. And he called for passing a constitutional
amendment against gay marriage.
To understand what all this means, let’s list the major
Supreme Court decisions that conservatives are talking about when
they denounce "judges legislating from the bench":
Brown vs. Board of Education (1954, which dismantled
official state segregation of schools)
Griswald v. Connecticut (1965, which said states could
not make it illegal to sell birth control)
Loving v. Virginia (1967, which overturned state laws
forbidding interracial marriage)
Roe v. Wade (1973, which made abortion legal across the
Lawrence v. Texas (2003, which legalized gay sexual acts
anywhere in the U.S.)
Bush and his supporters uphold a legal doctrine called
"strict constructivism"—which means that judges can
only uphold those rights that are literally written into the
Constitution. Large parts of the modern legal tradition, like the
"right to privacy" and "separation of church and
state," are not literally written into the words of the
Once again, let’s talk about values: What
guides this whole program is the fundamentalist view that people are
basically sinful, that their behavior and choices need to be confined
and sharply limited. It is a view that says Right and Wrong are
absolute and determined by fundamentalist Christian teachings on
"god"—and therefore people should not have
wide "choices" about their own lives or about the direction
of society itself.
Bush justified his plans by talking about "building a culture
of life"—which is a code word for attacking women’s
right to choose. And it is revealing that, in the same speech, he
talked about how he plans to reform the federal death penalty
system—which is a plan for getting the federal government
back in the business of executing prisoners! What a
wonderful "culture of life"!
Let’s talk about the bigger picture:
The right wing calls all this "culture wars"—and
they really mean "wars." At the end, they want a victory
where their enemies are flattened and they have the power to remake
the U.S. (and much of the world!).
Specifically they want to impose a reactionary and
traditional view of patriarchy on family and sexuality, including
especially on women and teenagers. They want to end abortion and much
more: they want to sharply restrict birth control, sex information,
tolerance of gay sexuality, and social experimentation. They want
"cultural diversity" to disappear under a tidal wave of
conformity and censorship. Many of Bush’s Christian fascist
hard- core supporters openly see their goals in theocratic
terms—they want the harsh morality and rules of their religion
to be the law-of-the-land.
It is a vision of a world where everyone "knows their
place" and where the power of society will slap you back
into your place if you forget.
They think this is their moment. And they are looking for openings
to make big advances. Imagine if there is another incident like 9/11.
How will people like Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Rumsfeld and Condoleezza
Rice exploit it? And what will the U.S. and the world look like if
they have their way? From the commanding heights, in the White House,
in Congress, in the military and in the Supreme Court—they are
like the gangster who warns "We can do this the hard way, or we
can do this the easy way."
An Unacceptable Future
After the State of the Union speech, it stood out how unopposed
Bush’s program currently is within the power structure.
The Democratic leadership, of course, got their usual "moment
of response." Who was the first speaker for the Democrats?
Senator Harry Reid from Nevada, a conservative Mormon and supporter
of the criminalization of abortion. This social conservative now
heads the Democrats in the Senate!
With him was Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, who
argued against "slipping out the back door of Iraq" and
demanded that Bush accelerate the creation of an Iraqi puppet
Who can imagine either of them leading any real opposition to the
program Bush was laying out?
And yet, if you really listen to Bush’s speech and
afterwords piece together what it means—it is clear. They are
serious about all these changes, and the people need to be very, very
serious too. They have their filthy values, and we need to fight for
our values: internationalism, bold social experimentation, liberating
social change, equality and choice for women, real eye-opening
education, scientific critical thinking, and a whole culture of
mutual support among people.
Clearly millions of people would be horrified to live in
the world Bush envisions. And literally millions would help fight
it—if they understood deeply what is at stake, and if they saw
a way to actually resist, and if they got a living sense of a
liberated new society that is worth fighting for.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary
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