||Tuesday, January 25, 2005
President George W. Bush's Inaugural Address was perched high on the abstraction ladder. Words like "freedom," "liberty" and "democracy" poured forth not just for Americans but for everyone in the world. Let's bring his rhetoric down to the concrete level of his record-that is, down the ladder of abstraction where regular people live.
He spoke in the District of Columbia--a place of gross contrasts between wealth and poverty beneath one unity. D.C. residents--all 600,000 of them--have no voting representatives in the U.S. Congress. They, unlike all other federal districts in all other democracies, are disenfranchised. Some freedom, some liberty, some democracy.
Mr. Bush likes it this way. He has refused to support either D.C. statehood, which would provide two Senators and one Representative, or simply voting rights without statehood.
In his first term, one of his signal prides of authorship was the Patriot Act--considered in its intrusiveness and abandonment of safeguards to be the broadest encroachment on civil liberties and the judiciary in our history-whether in war or peace--by leading civil liberties scholars and practitioners. Under Bush and John Ashcroft, Bush's Attorney General, there were many arrests without charges, imprisonment without attorneys and indefinite, anonymous detention of alleged witnesses. There now can be perfunctory court approval for searching your most personal financial, medical and e-mail records without probable cause or due process of law and for searching your homes and business without pre-notifying you.
How does this square the assertion in his speech: "We are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty?"
Mr. Bush made no reference to the "Four Freedoms" speech in January 1941 by one of his political heroes-Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One was the "freedom from want." For good reason. The comparisons would not be flattering. Unlike Roosevelt, Bush went out of his way to enact polities that increased poverty among both children and adults in the past four years. He opposed an increase in the minimum wage, now frozen in the past at $5.15 an hour. In inflation adjusted terms, this is the lowest minimum wage in over 50 years. One out of every three workers in this country earns wages ranging from $5.15 to under $10.00 an hour. In the late nineteenth century, this penury was called "wage slavery."
Within Mr. Bush's address, there were these words: "In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence." Tell that to 47 million Americans working today at or below the edge of subsistence, while the rich, whom Mr. Bush has called "my base," receive trillions of dollars in new tax reductions over the next decade.
Another key pillar of liberty is the freedom of assembly-built into our Constitution alongside freedom of speech. Personally, Mr. Bush has secured new restraints. At his campaign rallies last year, the crowds were selected with remarkable detail from partisan ranks. Once in a while, a lonely figure would be there with an anti-Bush T-shirt or holding silently an anti-Bush sign. They were thrown out, sometimes quite roughly. And at the Inaugural, protesters were kept so far away that their speech was put on remote, causing commentators to decry the use of excessive security as a pretext to exile dissent.
This inaugural address has a global sweep. Bush declared that "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture." It would take you a while to count the number of dictatorial and oligarchic regimes that his Administration supports with military and diplomatic assistance. His Department of Commerce is facilitating the export from America of whole industries, companies and jobs to the communist dictatorship known as China-fully condoned by George W. Bush.
Supporting the antidemocratic trade agreements known as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization subordinates our democratic processes-our courts and regulatory agencies-to the concentrated decisional authority of these international systems of quite secret autocratic governance and tribunals.
The billionaire financier, George Soros, has called multinational corporations the major post-Soviet Union threat to democracy in the world. Mr. Bush, their cheerleader, throws the might of the U.S. government behind them and with substantial military cover and subsidies.
The Bush record proliferates its contradictions of Bush's words. Our founding fathers fought for the people's right to sue wrongdoers and be judged by a jury of their peers in a court of law. Mr. Bush is fanatically pushing Congress to pass federal laws handcuffing state judges and jurors in ways that restrict the freedom of wrongfully injured and defrauded Americans to have their full day in court against corporate defendants.
Mr. Bush has set new records in raising money from corporate interests for his Presidential campaigns, avoiding public financing allowances and worsening the role of "dirty money" in politics. The freedom to have clean elections on the merits, not on the money, has been further eroded under his reign.