By Thomas Hauser
The second inauguration of George W. Bush seems like a good time to remember Jack Newfield, who died of cancer last month.
Jack hated hypocrisy and injustice. The three public arenas of his life were journalism, politics, and boxing. Obviously, there's an abundance of the vices that he abhorred in each. But Jack fought the good fight, and the people he worked with and wrote about were well-represented at his funeral service.
Looking around the chapel, I couldn't help but think that many of the mourners seemed considerably older than they had just a week earlier. I thought about how Jack, the columnist, might have covered his own funeral. And my mind turned to our last conversation.
It was on the telephone not long after the November presidential election. "I'm weak; you talk," Jack instructed.
So I did. And the gist of what I said follows.
For many Americans, myself included, the reelection of George Bush feels like 9/11 all over again. It's like a death in the family. Our rulers have retained power by distorting the truth and twisting reality into a grotesque fantasy.
Contrary to some, we don't find George Bush charming as a person. We think he's a smug arrogant little man and we dislike him intensely. But our feelings go far beyond the personal. We're appalled and devastated by how he and his administration are changing our country.
We're horrified at what our government is doing around the world in our name. George Bush deceitfully led the United States into a disastrous unwinnable war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a malevolent dictator. But most of us are more worried about North Korea building a nuclear arsenal, the sale of nuclear weapons by remnants of the old Soviet Army, and the sharing of nuclear technology by Pakistan. That's where the greatest nuclear peril lies.
The past was far more confused, the present is far more complex, and the future is far more contingent than people care to realize. But now we have George Bush reducing our soldiers to props by prancing around the deck of an aircraft carrier in a Top Gun outfit and carrying a plastic turkey into a mess hall in Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day. We have the prison abuses at Abu Gharib and 380 tons of missing explosives that are being used to cause a never-ending stream of American casualties.
There's nothing brave about middle-aged politicians who have never seen combat sending other people's children to die in battle. Yet this administration attacks the courage and patriotism of any member of the opposition party who questions the war. And the truth is, as the war goes on, our government will be unable to recruit enough soldiers to fight it. Because like Dick Cheney in the Vietnam era, when it comes to fighting in Iraq, most of the people who voted for the war have "other priorities."
What happens when tours of duty can no longer be extended and Donald Rumsfeld runs out of troops? Will George Bush seek to reinstate the military draft? If he does, the Republican Party will lose the youth vote big-time and protests on college campuses will make the Vietnam era look like a church social.
The war, of course, is being fought in the name of combating terrorism. That leads to another question. Ffteen of the September 11th hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and none were from Iraq. The money to finance 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq. So why did we invade Iraq instead of Saudi Arabia? At the heart of it, of course, is oil. This administration wants access to Iraqi oil in case the flow from Saudi Arabia is interrupted. And as the war goes on, companies like Halliburton are making a nice profit.
Meanwhile, the states that suffered the most grievous losses on 9/11 (New York and New Jersey) voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry. So did our nation's two primary terrorist targets (New York and Washington DC). Guess which presidential candidate the people whose lives are really on the line thought would do a better job of fighting terrorism?
In terms of economic policy, this is the most reckless administration in the history of America.
The annual budget deficit was reduced to zero under Bill Clinton. When George Bush took office, the ten-year budget projection showed a surplus of six trillion dollars. The Bush Administration has given us an annual budget deficit of $450 billion, and a large part of that is because of irresponsible tax cuts that are skewed in favor of the rich.
Forty percent of the last tax cut went to the richest one percent of the American population. This administration believes in taxing the wages of working people but not income from capital gains or inherited wealth. Many of us who oppose Mr. Bush are well off financially. It would be easy for us to sit back and say, "Okay; we'll inherit more money from our parents and leave more to our children; and when the tax code is further revised, we'll accumulate even more wealth." But we don't want economic inequity to be the hallmark of our society.
At times, it seems as though the Bush Administration has allowed a white-collar-crime lobby to take over America. The lawyers at most major corporations function primarily as defense counsel for senior management. Retirement funds have vanished in a wave of securities fraud.
Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service estimates that the federal government loses almost $300 billion dollars to tax evasion each year. Off-shore accounts amount to $70 billion of that total. Yet the Bush Administration hasn't bothered to prosecute 65,000 Americans who have been identified as using offshore accounts to evade taxes. Honest taxpayers are footing the bill for this travesty, just as they pay the bill for sham tax shelters that make profits disappear on paper for tax purposes but don't affect the bottom line that corporations show to investors.
Double the budget for the IRS. Give additional funding to special units empowered to investigate tax shelters and go after off-shore tax havens. Audit all returns of taxpayers with an annual gross income in excess of one million dollars. I guarantee you that each of these steps will be cost-effective. Instead, George Bush has proposed reductions in funding for the IRS.
The Bush Adminmistration, as a matter of course, gives phony economic statistics to Congress to gain the passage of legislation that it supports. It has gutted environmental safeguards in favor of corporate economic interests. In a world where lawyers change $500 an hour and CEOs are paid millions of dollars annually, it has steadfastly opposed an increase in the minimum wage, which is now $5.15 an hour.
A wage of $5.15 an hour translates into $206 for a forty-hour work week. That's $10,712 a year for loading crates onto a truck. George Bush says that raising the minimum wage would be "bad for the economy."
Now Mr. Bush wants to hand Wall Street a bonanza in the form of "privatizing" Social Security. It's true that allowing Americans to invest a portion of our Social Security accounts in the stock market will enable some of us to receive more in our "golden years." But what happens to those who invest in Enron?
Then there are the "social" issues.
Many of us don't want assault weapons in our midst and are appalled by the Bush Administration's obeisance to the gun lobby.
We believe that whether or not a woman has an abortion should be decided by the woman (often in conjunction with her family and doctor); not by the government. George Bush has shown no respect for "the sanctity of human life" in his governance. We think that, on the issue of abortion, he's a phony.
We're tired of political ideologues who are so busy trying to abolish abortion, curb stem-cell research, and boost the profits of large American drug companies that they failed to secure an adequate supply of flu vaccine for the American people.
We view decent affordable health care for all Americans as a "moral" issue. The next time Dick Cheney has chest pains, let him go to the emergency room at a public health clinic and experience first-hand what this administration has wrought. Of course, in Washington DC, unless Mr. Cheney pulls rank, he can probably get a pizza delivered to his home faster than he can get an ambulance to take him to the hospital if he has a heart attack.
The tearing down by the Bush Administration of the wall between church and state also troubles us.
After the 2004 election, there was a much-quoted statement from a woman who voted for George Bush. "I'm so happy," she said. "It feels like we've elected Jesus as president."
Guess what, lady. Jesus didn't want to be president. And more to the point: Would Jesus have invaded Iraq? Would Jesus favor tax breaks for the rich over the working middle-class?
The Bush administration has done more than any other administration in history to turn religious institutions into a political lobbying force, and we resent it. More Americans now say that they believe in the Virgin Birth than in evolution. We respect the Bible, but we don't believe that the Bible should be imposed on our society as the literal word of God.
After all, the Bible countenances slavery. Chapter 25, Verse 44, Leviticus: "Both thy bondsmen and thy bondsmaids which thou shalt have shall be of the heathen that are about you. Of them shall ye buy bondsmen and bondsmaids."
And then there's the Biblical view of marriage. A Constitutional amendment codifying marriage on the basis of the Bible would state the following:
(1) Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between a man and one or more women (Genesis 29:17-28, II Samuel 3:2-5).
(2) Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives (II Samuel 5:13, I Kings 11:3, II Chronicles 11:21).
(3) A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).
(4) The marriage of a believer and a non-believer is forbidden (Genesis 24:3, Numbers 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Nehemiah 10:30).
(5) Divorce shall not be allowed (Deuteronomy 22:19, Mark 10:9).
(6) If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry his widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law (Genesis 38:6-10, Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
(7) If no eligible men are available for marriage, a woman should get her father drunk and have sex with him for the purpose of procreation (Genesis 19:31-36).
George Bush talked a lot during the 2004 presidential campaign about the sanctity of marriage in the context of gay marriage. He used gay Americans as a wedge issue in the same way that Richard Nixon exploited antipathy toward black Americans in 1968. But we didn't hear much from Mr. Bush about TV reality shows where some bozo bachelor chooses a bride from sixteen contestants who are hoping to parlay their selection into a centerfold spread for an adult magazine. Maybe that's because the leader in "reality" television of this kind is Fox (a virtual house organ for the Republican party).
Meanwhile, it should be noted that the state with the lowest divorce rate in the country is Massachusetts (5.7 divorces per 1,000 married people), which is the only state that allows for same-sex marriages.
Nothing is more appalling to those of us who oppose George Bush than the fact that millions of Americans voted for him in the belief that he somehow epitomizes good moral values.
Moral values are about more than the lavish profession of a belief in Christ. We believe that there is no sense of decency or honor in the Bush administration and that it's morally rotten to the core.
The voices of "conservatism" who are filtering our values today include a drug addict who has been divorced three times (Rush Limbaugh), a sexual predator (Bill O'Reilly), and a compulsive gambler (William Bennett a/k/a the author of The Book of Virtues).
Rudolph Giuliani (a hero to Republicans when it's mutually beneficial) had a much-publicized extra-marital affair with his former communications director, Cristyne Lategano. Then he embarked upon an even more public extra-marital affair with Judith Nathan before advising his wife by way of a television interview that he wanted a divorce. This is known in some circles as "thinking with your cock." And as we know from Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings, Republicans don't like it (unless of course, the cock belongs to one of their own).
Do we smell hypocrisy here? We sure do.
George Bush pledges to "leave no child behind," but millions of children are being left behind. He promises "clean air." We get dirty air. He says "clean water." We get dirty water.
So let's talk about core values.
Honesty is a core value. Without honesty, there can be no trust and the bonds that hold society together fall apart.
Rewarding hard work over accumulated wealth is a core value.
Caring for the weak, the poor, and the elderly is a core value, as is educating our children properly,
Eradicating discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation is a core value.
George Bush has done none of these things. Rather, his administration has been largely about about serving those in power. And there's a horrible sense that, from Tom DeLay's forced Congressional redistricting in Texas to the ugly "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth" attacks on John Kerry, Mr. Bush and his cronies will do anything to maintain power.
Meanwhile, many of us are crying because we love our country. We fear that irrevocable damage is being done to our most cherished institutions and to the human community.
Jack Newfield and I were on the telephone for about twenty minutes during our last conversation. We talked about how people want to trust their leaders; how the Democrats, for the most part, have been a lousy party in opposition; and the parallels between the alienation that many of us feel today and the sense of alienation that black Americans have experienced over the decades. We talked about twists of fate and how easily the course of history is altered. If John Kennedy hadn't gone to Dallas . . . If Monica Lewinsky hadn't given Bill Clinton a blow job . . .
Then Jack strengthened a bit and started talking nuts and bolts. In recent years, the Republican juggernaut has had two distinct advantages: fundraising and campaigning in a way that frames the issues on its terms. In 2004, the Democratic Party was competitive in fundraising. Now it has to sharpen its message. 115,000,000 voters participated in the November presidential election. Democratic senatorial candidates received more votes than their Republican counterparts. If 60,000 Ohioans had changed their choice at the top of the ballot, John Kerry would be the next President of the United States.
"So much for an overwhelming Bush mandate." Jack said.
And that's how our conversation ended, save for one final exchange.
"After the election, some friends and I didn't know whether we should sit around feeling depressed or fight back," I told him. "We've decided to do both."
"Right on," Jack exhorted.
And then he spoke the last words he ever said to me: "Keep the faith."
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com.