Let me tell you about the state of the union: It's lousy. The only real question is whether the president doesn't know it or just doesn't care.
You also have to wonder why the Democrats offer only token opposition to an administration run amok. And you might also be curious as to why the mass media have allowed this "what, me worry?" president to charm his way through the worst humbling of the U.S. economy since the Depression.
Perhaps all these powerful people just think we're stupid. This seemed to be the belief last Wednesday, when the president pitched his latest economic stimulus for the wealthy while standing in front of a painted facade of "Made in the USA" boxes in a room where the words "Made in China" on hundreds of real boxes had been taped over by presidential volunteers.
Even more aggressive was the White House public relations approach employed Sunday. An atypically bellicose Colin Powell was launched into the heart of a skeptical Europe, preemptively savaging the efforts of United Nations weapons inspectors as basically meaningless, even before those inspectors were to speak to a world that has shown its lack of desire to rush into war.
And what did those inspectors say, their voices of reason barely audible over the White House's drums of war? They said Saddam Hussein was providing open access to inspectors but not being as cooperative -- surprise, surprise -- when it came to volunteering information. At a time when we are pursuing diplomacy with North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, it is stunning that the inspectors in Iraq said they had "found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear program since the elimination of the program in the 1990s." And, most important, the U.N. experts said, "our work is steadily progressing and should be allowed to run its natural course."
The White House uses bombast to portray our nation as being merely a step away from peace and prosperity. All it needs is another feed-the-rich tax break and a war for oil. All the while, the administration is willfully ignoring some harsh realities: The Dow fell below 8,000 on Monday, Osama bin Laden is still on the lam and we are pursuing a foreign policy increasingly based on the discredited credo of might-makes-right colonialism.
With more of the working poor slipping each day into the ranks of the food bank poor and with Bush's promised corporate reform a grim joke for a middle class swindled out of its savings, states from Maine to Oregon are facing historic budget crises. But unlike the feds, who under Bush gleefully produce red ink like it's vintage wine, the states can't run a deficit.
California alone is set to cut $5 billion from its education budget -- significantly less, by the way, than the $8 billion and change that state investigators believe Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's buddies at Enron and other energy companies bilked from the Golden State. Bush, with his tin ear for cries for help emanating from the heartland, is loudly boasting about a budget that leaves no money to help out the states.
The administration's previous tax cuts for the rich failed to lift the economy and Bush offers only more of the same.
Even Bush's alleged strong suit, the campaign against terrorism, is being exposed as a structure built on shaky ground. The administration's indifference to the now completely out-of-control Israeli-Palestinian war is pouring oil on the fire of Muslim extremism. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's denigration of the leaders of France and Germany as "Old Europe" -- for daring to question Bush's Iraq policy -- is only the latest sign we have squandered the international goodwill we so painfully gained Sept. 11, 2001.
In fact, unless Hussein, reminiscent of a Super Bowl soda ad starring Ozzy Osborne's family, suddenly unzips his skin to reveal he is actually Bin Laden, we are likely to march to war with the support of an "international coalition" that amounts to a fig leaf named Tony Blair and a motley collection of nations one can buy on EBay.
It is not surprising, then, that more than half of those queried in the latest New York Times-CBS poll believe the president doesn't share their priorities for the country. Americans, bless them, are no longer buying the fantasy that knocking off a paranoid dictator of a Third World country is going to solve our grave national problems. But the president and his hawkish henchmen still don't get it.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times