by Greg Method
Hey, did you hear what Bush said on the radio? No? Oh, yeah, I guess you probably wouldn't.
We really don't appreciate broadcast radio anymore. Maybe that's just the way technology has evolved, since it could probably be argued that radio was a dying entertainment medium the second television was invented. And let's face it, satellite radio, iTunes, podcasts, and the like are beginning to make the actual radios themselves obsolete. And of course, something needs to be said of the way corporations like Clear Channel, CBS Radio, ABC, etc. have homogenized broadcast radio, making local stations about as unique and enjoyable as a common cold.
I only listen to radio in the car, and even then I almost obsessively fiddle with the buttons, switching from one station to the next on a whim. I have maybe one "default" station (two until Air America lost its Northeast Ohio affiliate), and I even get sick of that one a little more often than I'd like. I've had a state-of-the-art stereo next to my work station here at home for five years now, and I think I've used it to listen to the radio maybe a half-dozen times.
The one radio show I listen to regularly, The Dr. Demento Show, hasn't been carried by a station near me for about a decade, so I've had to resort to hunting down online streams and such in order to hear it. After thirty-seven years, the show is down to about a dozen affiliates across the country, but only because The Good Doctor has been on the warpath to systematically prevent anyone from hearing the show online without paying for downloads on his web site. He's even gone as far as threatening existing affiliates to stop including his show on their online streams or else they'll no longer receive new episodes, a threat that has led many stations to simply drop the show altogether. Stations don't want to deal with the show anymore, while fans have felt alienated and used. Now, this is certainly not indicative of the entire radio industry, but seriously, who would want to stick around with a format like this?
So it's perhaps no surprise that something that has been on the air nearly twice as long as Dr. Demento's show, the weekly presidential radio address, doesn't get the attention or public regard that it once did. I was hardpressed to find any information online about the history of the broadcasts, ironically finding more about a parody series of radio addresses. Not even sleazy, unscrupulous whiner haven Wikipedia had an article on them.
But surely the White House's own web site, where the weekly radio address even has its own official page, would offer some of the history and details about the traditional speech, right? Hardly. Trey Bohn, the White House's Director of Radio and occasional spokesman, does offer a FAQ page for the radio address, in which he fields a whopping four questions...two of which are essentially "where can we hear the damn thing?" His answer each time doesn't get more specific than suggesting that people check their local AM news stations. You know, right now I can look up the entire international broadcast history of the ill-fated 1996 spin-off television series Muppets Tonight, yet the White House can't provide a list of which stations air its own weekly exercise in audio propaganda??
Of course, watch that as soon as I'm done writing and uploading this column there will coincidentally be a flurry of information released about the history of the weekly radio address. Several coffee table books will come out, and of course the History Channel will premiere a new twelve-part mini-series narrated by Morgan Freeman. That's just the way life happens sometimes.
Not that it matters anymore anyway. The weekly radio address, like every other presidential institution and tradition Bush has smeared his oily hand with, has devolved into nothing more than thirty minutes of party talking points. I'm pretty sure Bush wasn't the first to use it as his own personal paranoid soapbox, but like with everything else, he just makes it seem all the more evil and embarrassing.
I mean, one can fault Clinton, the first Bush, Reagan, Carter, and others for whatever they'd like, but there was always a certain level of sincerity with those guys that has never been seen with Junior. When these guys did or said something stupid, it was pretty clear it was because of something they personally believed in or felt. There's always suspicions with Dubya; that vibe of not quite knowing who's pulling the puppet strings or why. American politics have always been a childish game, but now there's no veil in front of it, no conviction, no honesty for whatever that's worth. It's just "I got the mic, and you people are stupidheads because you think I'm dangerously incompetent!"
This political dick contest was perhaps no clearer than during the July 7 radio address. Referring to Congress daring to discuss and debate the annual spending bill before voting on it, Bush said, "Democrats are failing in their responsibility to make tough decisions and spend the people's money wisely."
Democrats are failing?
Them's fightin' words.
How is George W. Bush, of all people on the planet, in any position to characterize another politician's actions as "failure?" This is something I've never understood about the Republicans, this uppity "we're better than you" posturing that they do regardless of the history of their party. They are always moralizing, criticizing, and denouncing Democrats (or really anyone for that matter) as if we had all taken our daily allowance of stupid pills and had forgotten about the decades of sleazy, scummy, crusty shit that has come from the right.
Need me to list examples? Fine by me. Fucking Nixon, Iran-Contra, Jim Bakker, Clarence Thomas, Trent Lott, Bill O'Reilly, Ed Schrock, wanting to drag a brain-dead woman into the Capitol to somehow testify, Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, Rush Limbaugh's drug-dealing, Bob Ney, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Larry Craig, etc., etc., etc.!!!
I'm not saying the Democrats are golden, even though the worst that seems to happen to one of them during a scandal is that they lose their Baskin-Robbins franchise, but the Democrats aren't the ones who are always standing at a pulpit denouncing everyone Not Like Them. The Republicans have made it clear time and time again that they think homosexuality is a sin, that Bill Clinton was a pervert, that Democrats will misuse money, and that drug addicts should be imprisoned without exception...yet more often than not they're the ones who are always caught having affairs, hiring whores, exposing themselves, soliciting gay sex, laundering money, and using their staff to buy OxyContin. Yeah, the Democrats have done some crazy things too, but they don't set themselves up for the inherent hypocrisy. They're not pretending that they're anything but human...and humans, like it or not, are severely flawed.
Here's a perfect, sex-free example: One of the Republicans' latest parroted call-to-arms is that we should all fear the Democrats' desire to raise taxes. You know, as if the very last guy they had running the show didn't make grandiose promises to prevent new taxes only to go ahead and raise taxes just two years later. Why on earth would we remember that...after all, it was only seventeen years ago.
I know, I'm not exactly unearthing any groundbreaking revelation here that the GOP is full of hypocrites who treat the American people like a bunch of ignoramuses. But George W. Bush calling someone else a failure? Isn't that sort of like Bil Keane calling someone else untalented, or Phil Spector calling someone else crazy and unstable?
Because surely Bush hasn't had his share of major failures...or has he?
I think allowing the largest foreign attack on American soil to happen would qualify as "failure." It has been shown time and time again how Bush was explicably warned of what Osama bin Laden was planning, down to the detail of using hijacked planes to fly into buildings, but for whatever reason he chose to ignore the threat...and when the moment inevitably came for him to act, he decided to sit on his ass for seven minutes and stare off into space. Failure.
Or what about not holding anyone accountable for the intelligence failures that led to the September 11 attacks? Not one agent, spy, or even friggin' spell-checker has been fired for allowing this to happen on their watch. Failure.
And let's not forget that after six years, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, is still roaming free across the Middle East with a camera crew and entourage at his side at all times. Is it because Osama has been protected by Bush's personally loyal foreign business associates in the Saudi royal family, is it because Bush subcontracted the job of finding bin Laden to local militants who frankly couldn't care less if we ever found him, or is it because ultimately a fifty-year-old man on dialysis is smarter and craftier than our Armed Forces? No matter how one rationalizes it, Bush let bin Laden get away. Failure.
Or let's look at the massacre in Iraq that Bush started. Bush told the world that Iraq was a threat because it possessed weapons of mass destruction. He has since been unable to find any such weapons or even find any hard evidence that Iraq was going to have any anytime soon. Failure.
And after four years of unjust war, Bush has been unable to secure Baghdad, unable to lessen the violence among the Iraqis, unable to build or train any kind of competent Iraqi security force, and unwilling to pull our troops out of harm's way. Failure.
This sentiment has been reinforced in recent months following General David Petraeus's infamous report on Bush's much-ballyhooed "surge" of new soldiers (or rather, newly deployed old soldiers) into the country. It was probably put best by the Washington Post's ultra-conservative supercommentator George Will, who said....
"Before Gen. David Petraeus's report, and to give it a context of optimism, the president visited Iraq's Anbar province to underscore the success of the surge in making some hitherto anarchic areas less so. More significant, however, was that the president did not visit Baghdad. This underscored the fact that the surge has failed, as measured by the president's and Petraeus's standards of success."
See? Even the most-trusted conservatives agree. Failure.
And what about back home? Ask anyone in New Orleans if Bush has cleaned up the mess of Hurricane Katrina, or if they ever received their FEMA-produced temp homes, or if Bush allocated funds to have the levees revamped. Failure.
Economically, Bush walked into the largest budget surplus this country has ever had, and what does he do? He blows it like a celebrity coke addict...how ironic. In barely a year's time he created the largest deficit in American history. Just think about that for a second, we go from the largest surplus to the largest deficit. Is it possible to accurately wrap one's brain around that at all? Imagine that one minute you have five thousand dollars in your checking account, and then the next minute your bank is telling you that you've overdrawn an additional ten thousand.
Bush always acts like there's going to be this magical resource of money that will spring up at the end of his term, and everything will be balanced again. After all, that's how Clinton did it, right? Bush fails to understand that history shows that America prospers when we make some small degree of sacrifice, such as taxing the richest among us. Bush doesn't want to accept that very simple reality. He for some reason can't make the connection between taxes and the federal budget or economy, so he just keeps blowing money left and right on his phallic fantasy, assuming that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Faith-based spending, I guess one could call it.
For someone who keeps wanting to warn us about how irresponsible Democrats will be with our money, Bush sure seemed to be in a hurry to put us back into debt. And now we owe China so much money that they've started sending us poisonous toys and dog food...just because they can! Failure.
Of course, if children die from toys, then it's hardly going to be China's fault. On October 4, Bush made an entirely new enemy (yeah, I know, there were still people left?)...kids! Despite being passed by both Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, Bush vetoed an expansion of the ten-year-old State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.
SCHIP was set up to provide health insurance to children of families who, while still poor, made too made much money to qualify for Medicare...think a sort of lower-to-lower-middle-class health care system just for kids. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 47-page document 2006 CMS Statistics, 6.9 million children were enrolled in SCHIP last year, not only an all-time high among known annual data but also over twice as many as were enrolled in 2000. So as you can see, this is a pretty important program, one that clearly many families depend on.
This year's proposed expansion would have increased not only funding but also coverage over the next five years, allowing four million more children to enroll through 2012. Funding was to be increased by $35 billion over that same period, paid for by a slight cigarette tax increase.
Bush mercilessly vetoed it.
Bush's veto left both parties stunned. He's denying health coverage for children? Even the most bitter, grinch-like members of his own party couldn't understand it. Senator Orrin Hatch said, "Frankly, I think the president has had pretty poor advice on this."
The question remains, why? Well it could be speculated that it was because the tobacco industry has donated nearly $20 million to GOP election campaigns since 2000. It could also be suggested that Bush is terrified of a tax increase going to pay for anything besides his aforementioned failed war in Iraq. It might also be because pregnant women are also eligible for the program, and Bush wouldn't want any of them to think that they can get an abortion on the government's dime, no sir! Or it could just be because it's a social program meant to help children.
Bush alluded to such a fear in a September 28 radio address (see, it all goes back to the radio!) by saying that the bill represented an "irresponsible plan that would dramatically expand this program beyond its original intent."
Beyond its original intent? What, helping children receive the health care that their families simply cannot afford? Oh no, a children's program that slightly echoes socialized medicine! What, would he rather that children seek out their own health care providers in the private sector themselves? If any one group of Americans could and should benefit from a social assistance program, it's children. If Bush is so naively terrified that helping kids would immediately lead to the formation of the next Soviet Union, then what does that say about how much faith he has in his own abilities, his own government, and his fellow citizens?
Some "compassionate conservative," huh? You know what I call it? Failure.
This is hardly a surprise, that Bush has it out for kids. One of the biggest colossal failures of his political career involved children, his insipid No Child Left Behind Act.
On the surface, the law was meant to streamline and improve pre-college education standards. It required teachers to be highly qualified and children to pass certain periodic benchmarks (and I thought Bush was against vague benchmarks?). Most of this is done through a variety of standardized testing to both teachers and students.
Unfortunately for both, it hasn't been working...and Bush couldn't care less.
Let's face it, there hasn't been a "president" more against education than Bush has been. Back in July 2002 the Senate Finance Committee was writing a new welfare bill that required recipients to work full forty-hour weeks in order to continually qualify. Bush was fine with this notion, except that the language used in the bill would have allowed some to count school as a part of their forty-hour work week.
As Bush told a crowd at West Ashley High School in Charleston, South Carolina at the end of that month, "Some people could spend their entire five years on welfare, there's a five-year work requirement, going to college. Now, that's not my view of helping people become independent, and it's certainly not my view of understanding the importance of work and helping people achieve the dignity necessary so they can live a free life, free from government control."
See? Education isn't work, nor is it dignified...and it certainly doesn't make one independent. The hell?!?
The problems with No Child Left Behind stem from poor execution, underfunding, and just a sheer laziness on the part of schools.
Back in 2004, Howard Dean wrote in the Seattle Times, "NCLB imposes rigid and expensive mandates on public schools. It judges adequate yearly progress using a one-size-fits-all formula, a measure that gives schools an incentive to lower testing standards in order to meet federal requirements and, sadly, to push out students that may bring down a school's average score."
Not surprisingly, that same year Bush's budget undercut the act by as much as $9 billion.
Even crotchety former senator and Baby's Day Out star Fred Thompson, who originally voted for No Child Left Behind himself back in 2001, has called it a failure.
Speaking in Jacksonville, Florida in mid-September, he said, "No Child Left Behind--good concept, I'm all for testing--but it seems like now some of these states are teaching to the test and kind of making it so that everybody does well on the test--you can't really tell that everybody's doing that well. And it's not objective."
And it's not so much that students are being pushed out; they are simply being passed through quietly, either by being allowed to advance to the next grade or being shipped off to another school, some that are becoming schools specifically for these so-called "failing" students. This way the student's low test score doesn't bog down the school's average permanently. The individual child's skill might not actually improve, but it doesn't matter; just as long as the school's results are presentable.
By doing this, we're telling kids that it's okay to fail; you'll still get a pass and be able to advance, regardless of the consequences to yourself. And that's what Bush's legacy truly is, the glorification and celebration of failure. America can merely rest on past laurels, not do anything new correctly, and we'll be able to coast by. After all, we're America!
And as long as we keep refusing to hold Bush accountable, we'll also be failing ourselves.
Quote of the Month
"He looks more and more to me like a poker player who thought he had a royal flush, bet everything he had and then peeked again and saw that what he'd thought was the Ace of Spades is actually a Four of Clubs. It isn't Bush's good mood that unnerves people. It's all that flop sweat they're smelling."
Link of the Month
Physicians for a National Health Program
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