August 15, 2003
Forgive Me. I Voted for George W. Bush.
A mea culpa to the people of America
BUZZFLASH SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY
by James C. Moore, co-author of "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W.Bush Presidential"
Nothing prepared me for what has happened in America under George W. Bush. In Texas, he was, politically, fairly moderate. Actually, he was even, for one brief moment, courageous, and exhibited leadership. A fiscal conservative streak ran through his policies, but not so much that they deeply harmed Texas’ already austere social services. And when the governor sent his messages to the right, they were armored with logic, not vitriol. He was a man of obvious common sense, and charm.
As a result, I voted for George Walker Bush. And now I need forgiveness.
I bear some personal guilt for what is happening to our country. Frankly, like a lot of Americans, I got had. George W. Bush’s policies are so astoundingly radical, and his politics so amazingly cynical, that he is not only harming our government for decades to come, he and Karl Rove are robbing Americans of what little faith they had left in the democratic process.
Reporting on Bush and Rove in Texas for a couple of decades, it was simple to deconstruct their maneuvers, and hold them up to the light of the Texas sun. Nonetheless, there was an underlying logic to many of their strategies, which appealed to the public. After James Byrd was dragged to death in East Texas, a legislative effort in Austin attempted to pass a hate crimes bill. Bush and Rove stopped it cold with nothing more than language. The governor said, "All crimes like murder are hate crimes." Obviously, he was sending a message to the conservative right that he didn't think gays or minorities needed special protection under the law. Rove didn't want such legislation haunting Mr. Bush out on the presidential trail. And this was the kind of Spartan, uncluttered rationale that seduces Texans.
The governor even showed political vision. His first legislative session, Mr. Bush attempted to deal with Texas property taxes. Texas has the worst property taxes in the union because lawmakers here refuse to pass an income tax to more evenly distribute revenue responsibilities for funding schools. Business gets a pass while homeowners bear the weight. Business, also, is in charge of the state’s politics. When the governor took on the issue, he got handed his political guts in a bucket. Karl Rove kept his distance from the task, knowing Bush would learn a basic lesson. Mr. Bush told me later, "I'll never do anything like that again unless there are tens of thousands of people standing on the capitol grounds chanting at me." And he didn't .
None of this, though, offered any real clue as to what kind of a president George W. Bush might be, unless this was a carefully orchestrated charade. As the campaign wore on, and I stumbled in and out of the Bush press plane for weeks on end, the only news I got about Al Gore was on late night television, before fading off to sleep, or from other reporters traveling with the vice president. On morning flights between campaign stops, I read newspapers, trying to get more insight into a Gore presidency. I was distanced from Mr. Gore by his overwhelming angst, an almost craven desire to hold the office. His politics, ultimately, appealed to me more than Mr. Bush’s. But Al Gore just wanted the job too damned badly for me to get comfortable with him. When I saw him render his life of public service into a caricature during the televised debates, my decision was all but made. I knew Bush better, and trusted his heart.
Boy howdy, did I screw up.
Bush and Rove are deploying a political style that transcends cynicism. They have begun a new American campaign, where the only constituency of merit is the gigantic corporation, which supplies the money for an overwhelming marketing campaign. The president is now, more than ever in our history, a product to be branded and sold. Unfortunately, there is no lemon law governing the presidency. We can't get our money or our votes back when we discover we’ve bought something defective. We’re stuck until the next election.
This approach works because Mr. Rove relies on Americans to be too busy with their daily lives to pay attention to the details. The president can land on an aircraft carrier, and comport himself as a warrior leader without fear of accusations of hypocrisy because the media has been cowed, and the public has a short memory. George W. Bush avoided combat in Vietnam by using family privilege, and connections, and then disappeared from his champagne flight unit for the last two years of his hitch. Had our soldiers in Iraq been as capricious about their commitments to America, what might have happened? Yet he dared to stand in their honored midst and suggest to us that he was one of their number. Rove was right. We weren't listening.
Our troops now move around Iraq, their lives potentially jeopardized by every person passing on the street, and the Bush White House quietly is cutting both their combat pay and family separation allowance. A modest monthly stipend of $150 was raised to $225 for "imminent danger" pay, and is being reduced to its original level. The family separation payment of $100 a month was raised to $250, an amount designed to help families pay bills while their soldiers are off working for America. But Mr. Bush is planning to cut that figure back to its original level.
As the first shipload of soldiers was leaving from San Diego, California, the administration was pulling a federal supplement from local schools, which would harm education for the children of our troops. Because the San Diego Independent School District cannot levy taxes against federal property when students live on base, the government provides a payment to help the school district fund the education of the children of our servicemen and women. George Bush is eliminating this money. Ultimately, this means not only do the children of our military endure larger classes, less qualified teachers, and poor curriculum, so does everyone else’s child.
Perhaps, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove are finally getting our attention.
I find it disturbing when the president can stand in front of television cameras, his crooked Texas smirk hiding his true character, and tell us he is worried about people without jobs and his tax cut will help them find employment. He says such things even as Nobel laureate economists are pouring ridicule over his policies and financial behemoths like Warren Buffet are scoffing. The photo-op presidency holds a news conference to sign the "Leave No Child Behind Act" with Sen. Ted Kennedy, and then guts $8 billion from its budget, after forcing federal mandates on schools with no money to pay for implementation. Sen. Kennedy, I’m afraid, got had, too.
There is neither time nor space to even begin to write of the Bush administration’s hypocrisies and deceptions. History will, eventually, conclude that his reckless taxation reduction and deficit increases, his disingenuous campaigning and rhetoric, imperialist foreign policies, and corporate greed moved America closer to its recessional from the grand stage of true liberty and equality. The only way to stop this cascade of wrongs is for voters to take their citizenship more seriously. Democracy only works when the electorate is vigilant, and informed. Rove knows we’re too busy worrying about jobs, mortgages, and lost retirement funds, to closely monitor the president’s work. He’s right. And George W. Bush is doing as he pleases, not as Americans prefer.
And because I voted for him, some of this is being done in my name.
Please forgive me