March 5, 2001

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Reeta Sinha

What Dubya wants, Dubya gets

Traditionally, US presidents are given a 100-day break. This is the honeymoon period when Americans say "Aw, you're doing fine -- for now". From where I'm sitting, it's not all fine. Thirty days has been enough to show me what Bush's presidency is about. It's personal and it's exclusive.

To be fair, George W actually did us a favor for most of his first month. We hardly saw him.

I expected our new president to be headline news each day. The first Republican president after years, a new culture of integrity and honesty in Washington -- just the fact that we had a president, after the long election -- all of it should have meant days and days of Dubya in the news. Instead, once he got to the White House, it's as if he disappeared.

On TV he was always running off somewhere, like he'd rather not stop and talk to reporters. So, sight and sound bytes of Dubya, that's what we got. There he was, gatecrashing a Democratic Party retreat and here he is waving to a group of Republican leaders. His favorite pastime, though, is visiting grade schools. President GW Bush loves grade school. He looks so comfortable, down on one knee, as he pages through a school kid's textbook. He even looks happy sitting in a child's tiny school desk. In fact, he looks a little too comfortable.

Maybe it's just that George W has been busy. They say he met some 70 congressmen and women in his first week alone. Then he had to deal with all those pranks the previous occupants of the White House pulled. Imagine trying to type a memo to George W when there are no 'w' keys on your keyboard. The new president also lost no time in undoing some of the executive orders signed by his predecessor. A few signatures and the US is back to the Reagan Era.

Even so, poor President Dubya. Over a month in office and people don't seem to be paying much attention to him. Before he reached the Oval Office, the pundits were worried the new president would be overshadowed by VP Cheney or Secretary of State Colin Powell. They haven't been the problem. Dubya can't get out of the other president's shadow, Former President Clinton, that is. Think about it. George W Bush gives his first press conference after taking office and it makes.... page 4 of the local newspaper. Why? Because there have been shocking new revelations about the Clinton pardons. Details that are more earth-shattering than the devastating ones uncovered a day earlier.

I almost felt sorry for our new president. Like a stuck record he kept saying that it's time to "move forward." It was a nice try, but obviously his Republican friends weren't interested in that new era the US was promised. I think most Republicans didn't really think beyond the election. They wanted one of their own in the White House and thanks to a little help from the Supreme Court, they got one. Now what? Well, they (and the press) went back to the only game in town. Bill-and-Hillary-bashing.

You can't really blame them. Any which way you look at it, the Clintons are just more interesting. The work of the people, the country, the economy, the future? Bo-ring.

Maybe that's why President Bush went for firepower. Between Clinton and the economy, Dubya ended up 3rd or 4th in the news lineup every day. Until Iraq was bombed. Like father, like son. A decade ago Father Bush drew a line in the sand to distract our attention from a recession. This time, when his tax cut or education plan couldn't get on the front page, Son Bush ordered an attack to, as he explained it, remind Iraq that the US wants a peaceful world.

Bombs, peaceful? Yes, that's our President for you.

Unfortunately, Dubya's time in the spotlight lasted less than one day. But it was enough to give us a taste of his foreign-policy style. Let's see. A new president takes his first international trip to meet a world leader -- the president of Mexico -- and all eyes are on Iraq. I wonder what our President plans for his next foreign visit. If I were a nation on the US's hit-list, I'd be worried.

Bush spent much time in Mexico telling the press the bombing was a routine defense mission. Now George W says it was a planned military action designed to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson. If in the process it settles an old score for Dad, upsets the Arabs enough so there's an oil-embargo and gives Dubya a reason to start drilling in protected land, well, let's just say, mission accomplished. Never mind that the rest of the world has moved forward, beyond the Bush Family's obsession with Saddam Hussein.

For our new president, it appears personal agendas will come before the country's needs.

What's unfortunate is that Junior Bush has had plenty of opportunities in his first month to put the country, the people of the US, first. He certainly said he would do so on more than one occasion during his campaign. What was that he promised us when he became president? I believe he used words such as healing, reaching out, inclusive, bipartisan -- over and over again. Empty words, as it turns out.

George W's actions speak volumes, however.

First, he nominated John Ashcroft as the US Attorney General. The weeks of acrimony that followed such a divisive selection were supposed to bring the country together? Soon after taking office, Bush abolished presidential task forces set up to tackle race relations and AIDS issues. This was Dubya's plan to reach out to minorities in the US? Apparently so.

On his first day in office, President Bush reversed policy providing federal funding to international family planning programs, if they included abortion-related services. His problem? Family planning, according to Dubya's simple mind, equals abortion. By making this a priority, however, Bush has shown us exactly how low he ranks issues important to women.

In the coming weeks, Dubya devoted one week apiece to his personal causes: Education Week (Test-Don't-Teach), Military Week (Bombs-For-Peace) and finally, Tax-Cut Week (I-Feel-Your-Pain-Even-If-You-Don't).

At last, President Dubya had his chance in the spotlight. In a nationally televised speech on Capitol Hill, for 49 minutes (!) George W gave us details (kind of) about his budget. I didn't watch his speech. I couldn't. It's almost painful to watch this man speak in public and realize this is, as they say, the leader of the Free World.

I did listen to him on the radio, though. Later, as political analysts graded the speech, it was clear to me that the bar is set very low for this president. If he can make it past the 30-minute mark without fidgeting, this is a "great" speech. If there's only one error in 45 minutes, our president has done something remarkable. Never mind that the error was that he said education was not his top priority. Ooops. Does Dubya know the meaning of "Freudian slip".

The purpose of Bush's speech was to promote the huge tax-cut he is determined to give us. Whether we want it or not. Polls show that a tax-cut is not our top priority, especially one that benefits wealthy Americans more than lower and middle-income workers. To hear Bush and his supporters explain it, those who pay the most deserve to get the most back. Meaning, Bush's friends in big business deserve a large tax refund.

Funny, when Democrats talk about programs that help the middle-class or the poor, Republicans call it "class warfare." When Dubya helps out his rich corporate buddies, it's called "the right thing to do". Without any attempt to disguise it, our President has shown us who counts, and who doesn't.

But, even though such a large tax cut is not what we want, even some Republicans, the president won't budge. Since when has it mattered to GW what the people want? Our new leader has made it quite clear in a very short time, his presidency is not about the people or the nation. It isn't even about politics or politicians, really. George W Bush's presidency is about one thing and one thing alone -- what Dubya wants, Dubya gets.

Forget all that talk about bipartisanship and working together. On practically every issue that has been raised since he took office, President GW Bush has had one standard response -- he will not negotiate, he will not budge. Not on tax cuts, not on education reform, not on Iraq, not on anything that goes against his personal... personal... agenda.

It seems hard to believe, but a country known the world over for its democracy appears to have a dictator for a leader. Why should it surprise us? After all, we have a President who was appointed to office by the courts, not one who was elected by a majority of the nation's people.

Bush's browbeating has only just begun. He has decided to pull the plug on federal funding to communities for disaster preparedness -- funding that paid for itself many times over in Seattle's recent earthquake. But, Bush won't budge. Nor is he likely to oppose a Republican proposal to reverse federal safety regulations protecting workers at risk for repetitive motion injuries. Who's the loser here? You-and-me-worker, sitting at our keyboards 8-10 hours a day. Who wins? Big business and Bush's re-election fund.

Based on his actions since taking office, Bush has shown us his exclusive vision for the US. It is exclusive of women, minorities, middle-class and lower-income workers; exclusive of anyone who gets in his way, apparently.

There's one other group President Bush excludes. Who? Those who doesn't believe in Christ. Technically, he wasn't even president when he sent this clear signal to millions of people. Even before Bush had taken the oath of office he excluded those of us who are not Christians from his vision for the nation. I squirmed as I listened to a Christian benediction and then a blessing as the new President of the United States swore to uphold the Constitution. This is not my president, I thought.

It doesn't matter that our president is Christian. Nor would it matter if he or she were of any other faith (or none). It concerns me greatly, however, when our president uses his religion to divide, to exclude, to evangelize -- directly or indirectly. If Dubya required his Lord's blessings, perhaps he could have prayed in private in a church on the way to the ceremony? Instead, on the day he was sworn in as all the people's president, after such a divisive election, George W Bush proved to me that he is incapable of being a leader, a healer, a uniter. His words, not mine.

Granted, the separation between church and state is quite fuzzy in the US when it comes to ceremony. "In God we Trust," "One nation under God..." -- these are phrases I've heard since childhood. Indeed, most oaths are sworn upon a Bible or so help us God. For a minute, watching Bush take the oath of office, I wished for the day when a Hindu becomes president of the US. Just picture it -- flowers, fire, incense, chanting priests, Ganga jal, bhajans, saffron -- what a sight that would be.

But do you think "America" would accept it? Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, maybe even other Hindus? I doubt it. Yet, Bush assumed, no, he expected that we -- all of us -- would accept his Christian blessings on Inauguration Day.

Thanks, but no thanks, Mr President. Just do the job you were appointed to do and please, remember, it's not the Lord you work for, it's the people.

Reeta Sinha

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