Bush set the agenda for his re-election campaign last night to a cheering Congress, promising to improve the economic health of the nation by paying pharmaceutical and insurance companies more money to run Medicare, a program already bloated by administrative costs. He also vowed to bring democracy to the Middle East. He’s sticking with the war on terror, which means, for the president, a renewal of the Patriot Act. “We must continue to give homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us,” he said. And there’s more energizing tax cuts to come. Critics often snear at Bush’s desire to extend the American empire across the world, but they sometimes forget that another major goal is to awaken the Christian Right with pledges to transform civil society into what amounts to a Christian Republic.
Most of all Bush’s message, couched in his masterfully pandering style, was aimed at his most important audience: the rich. For them: more money. More tax cuts. Carve up Social Security by handing part of it to the mutual funds. Let the good times roll!
Among the benefits the locals get from American liberation are the emancipation of women in the Middle East. Not all of them see it that way, of course. But no doubt they’ll soon get used to their newfound freedoms. Here is a recent communiqué from Riverbend, the young Baghdad woman who writes her popular Girl Blog, a diary of daily life under the
American occupation: “I hope you are able to emphasize the way women’s rights in Iraq have gone backwards. We can’t leave our homes alone now, many women have been forced to quit their jobs and parents are making their daughters quit school and marry early. . . . It’s really depressing to watch and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
It will be a great day when Christ returns. But we can’t just hang around waiting for him to come back. There’s work to be done. And who better to do it than the Bush faithful. Start by sticking it to the gays. All the Dem candidates support civil marriage among same-sex partners, but not marriage. Whatever. Nitpicking distinctions are lost on the people, and the Republicans intend to give it to the Democrats on this issue. The president himself is forever celebrating the sanctity of marriage under the patient gaze of a smiling Jesus. No matter what Howard Dean may have done in Vermont, gays ought to get it straight: The law doesn’t necessarily allow what’s done in one state to hold in all the others. So let ’em take their civil unions and shove it. And if they don’t get the picture, hit ’em with a constitutional amendment. What are they going to do about it anyhow?
One thing we learned from the Taliban is how to get rid of drugs through harsh penalties for anyone breaking the law. In recent days articles have trumpeted the success of the Taliban’s drug program, the only one in the world that has actually worked. As for all those promiscuous girls (and some boys, too) out there, let them practice abstinence as a way to fight STDs and drugs, which a growing chorus of get-tough lawmakers, even some right-wingers who fear rising prison costs may raise their taxes, say don’t work. Let’s reward schools that follow the Taliban-style enforcement program with a $23 million federal drug-testing program under the heading of “a tool to save children’s lives” against sexually transmitted diseases. The government will give them a heftier federal handout if they coerce their students into taking drug tests.
Bush proposed to harness his conservative Christian followers to his re-election campaign by offering faith-based organizations easier access to federal funds. After all, the president argued, why discriminate against the churches? And they can help in other ways, like getting some federal cash to run mentoring programs for prisoners when they are released.
All in all, it’s a program to benefit the wealthy. And an admonition to the rest of us: Don’t try to change the leader in the middle of war to defend our empire.
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel, Alicia Ng
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 20, 2004