In the 1980s, America watched a B-movie actor become a President. Today, it seems things are reversed: we are watching our President become a B-movie actor. George W. Bush plays a President for the cameras, but acts very different off-stage. And while the made-for-TV “G. Walker Bush, Texas Ranger” might make us feel safe and secure, the real George W. Bush should not.
On the economy, G. Walker Bush the character plays the up-from-the-bootstraps Marlboro man, a guy who spends his free time in blue jeans moseying on his ranch and thinking about how he can help average folk. The real President George W. Bush grew up wealthy, worked his family’s connections to get ahead, calls his palatial mansion a “ranch”, and thinks ordering around his landscaping servants for five minutes means he’s “clearing brush” on the frontier. He is, as his wife calls him, a true “windshield cowboy”, a man who thinks he’s a real wrangler simply because he drives a luxury pickup truck, wears boots with spurs, dons an engraved brass belt buckle, and once saw a double feature of City Slickers and City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.
This Bush the elitist under the 10-gallon hat is the one really making economic policy. He is the one who gave people making $1 million an average tax cut of more than $22,000, while giving people making $22,000 about $13.
Similarly, on the War on Terror, G. Walker Bush is the blunt-talking Texas loner, gutsy enough to tell terrorists to “bring on” the attacks, as if he will face them himself. But President George W. Bush will face none of the consequences of such saber rattling. His declarations may fire up supporters who want a Dirty Harry in the White House, but he will be the last to bear the brunt of the increasingly lethal attacks Iraqi insurgents have directed at US troops since his taunts.
On military issues, G. Walker Bush is the compassionate wartime leader who bravely delivered a Thanksgiving dinner to troops in Baghdad and praised them for their service. President George W. Bush actually held up a fake Turkey and used troops as a prop in a photo-op. President George W. Bush has yet to punish his pals at Halliburton for repeatedly feeding these soldiers unsanitary food, and has “thanked” soldiers by refusing to provide them with adequate body armor.
On Iraq, G. Walker Bush is the fearless naval aviator, borrowing a flight suit for a courageous appearance on an aircraft carrier, to declare “Mission Accomplished” and America secure. President George W. Bush is the man who skipped his National Guard service during Vietnam, and who now appears so disinterested in the human toll of war that he refuses to appear at any funeral for the fallen. The real man has no explanation why nine months after putting on the Top Gun costume and saying the war was over, 500 soldiers are dead, $166 billion has been spent, and the US Army now says the entire Iraq endeavor “diverted attention and resources away” from defending against more pressing terrorist threats.
So with Bush’s growing resume of acting experience, it is not surprising that we will be treated to a grand finale of political theater come election 2004. This time, we will see G. Walker Bush at his finest, playing up his national security machismo while playing down the economy all while President George W. Bush works behind the scenes.
The State of the Union address provided the preview: G. Walker Bush was the tough-on-terrorism sheriff. As the New York Times noted, the Texas Ranger “held himself out as the candidate who can best protect the nation from the evils of a post-9/11 world.” His speech “was a remarkably candid acknowledgment of how much he intends to exploit the political value of his posture as the only effective warrior in the war against terror,” said Stanford history professor David M. Kennedy. And the swagger sure made for good TV it tapped into the same desire for strength that still garners a wide audience for John Wayne reruns.
The problem is that President George W. Bush is pushing tax cuts while refusing to provide what’s necessary to protect the homefront. While G. Walker Bush bragged that “my 2005 budget has got $30 billion in there for homeland security,” President George W. Bush’s budget proposes to provide $66 billion in new breaks to his friends who earn a million dollars or more per year. All this while the experts say his homeland security budget is dangerously inadequate. That’s right: while G. Walker Bush said he pledged “to give our homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us,” President George W. Bush proposes to allocate double the amount for millionaire tax cuts than for defending the country.
Meanwhile, there will be only token reference to the economy, as new polls show 80% of Americans feel no benefit from President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Certainly, G. Walker Bush will say he is concerned about unemployment and wants more funding for job training, but President George W. Bush tried to slash more than $1 billion from job training programs, rejected efforts to raise the minimum wage, prevented eight million workers from receiving overtime pay, and yet is still pressing for $1 trillion in new tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.
So as the campaign moves ahead, and the showmanship intensifies, it is important to know what to watch and what to ignore. The next time you wonder why your wages are stagnating and why you really haven’t felt any benefit from all the tax cuts you’ve heard about, ignore G. Walker Bush’s assurances, and remember President George W. Bush’s decision to give the top 5% of the population more than three-quarters of his latest tax cut.
The next time you get nervous about being on a plane that is carrying uninspected cargo, don’t take comfort in G. Walker Bush’s “dead or alive” rhetoric. Instead, remember that President George W. Bush thinks it is more important to give millionaires a $41,000 tax break this year than deal with the problem.
In short, the next time you get worried that we simply aren’t doing enough to prevent another terrorist attack or fix the economy, disregard the “windshield cowboy’s” twangy tough talk, and remember the disturbing realities being perpetrated by the guy who’s really in charge.