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The More Things Change

April 29, 2005

As he did a year ago, President Bush on Thursday held a rare prime-time press conference to bolster his agenda. But in just one year, the once invincible President Bush finds his agenda failing, his popularity plummeting, nominees like John Bolton stalled and his disciplined party machine beginnning to split at the seams.
The political circumstances may have changed, but not the man confronting them. Just as in his disturbing April 13, 2004 press conference, Bush once again displayed his shocking unwillingness to own up to any of his immense inventory of presidential mistakes. While his Rome burns, President Bush fiddles the same tune of stubborn dissembling and infallibility.
1. Social Security: New Story, Same Lies
President Bush rolled out a new Social Security tale last night, calling again for private accounts while endorsing "Democrat" Robert Pozen's plan of progressive price indexing. Bush's new effort, of course, is a naked attempt to peel off Democrats by promising better cost of living adjustments for the less well-off (tied to wage growth) versus the better off (tied to price growth).
New or not, the President relied on the same litany of lies and deceptions to sell it. Bush once again called into question the reality of the Social Security Trust Fund ("all that's left behind is file cabinets full of IOUs") and called into question the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. He once again misled Americans about Congress' own retirement plan ("if it's good enough for the Congress...it ought to be good enough for the workers"), which in fact supplements and does not replace Social Security. And as Dana Milbank and Tim Russert pointed out on MSNBC, Bush's formula calls for $3 trillion in benefits cuts over the next 75 years, primarily to the middle class. Some estimates are even more draconian.
2. Dubya Goes Both Ways
On the issue of faith in politics, judicial nominees and the religious bigotry of his supporters, Bush showed his familiar M.O. of swinging from both sides of the plate. Asked by NBC's David Gregory to repudiate the Family Research Council's "Justice Sunday" portrayal of judicial filibuster defenders as attacking "people of faith", Bush adroitly side-stepped the issue. His familiar approach: say one thing in public and another to supporters in private. Bush use his time-tested technique of never directing criticism at supporters by instead speaking personally:

"No, I think people oppose my nominees because -- because of judicial philosophy...Well, I can only speak to myself, and I am mindful that people in political office should not say to somebody, you're not equally American if you don't happen to agree with my view of religion."

3. The Party of Ideas
Last December, I wrote that President Bush and the GOP would win the political war even if they lost the battle for Social Security privatization. My argument then was that the Republicans would be rewarded for positioning themselves as "the Party of Ideas" while "obstructionist" Democrats were merely the "Party of No." To date, a united Democratic Party and miserable polls for the President have proven me completely wrong.
Their Social Security privatization scheme in tatters, however, Bush and Company apparently have nothing left but the "Party of Ideas" message:

"I'm proud of my party. Our party has been the party of ideas. We said, here's a problem, and here's some ideas as to how to fix it."

4. The Coming Tax Fraud
President Bush also signaled the commencement of his next effort in upward income redistribution. Attributing over $300 billion in uncollected taxes to the complexities of the U.S. tax code, Bush proclaimed that:

"It's a phenomenal amount of money. To me, it screams for making the tax system easier to understand, more fair and to make sure that people pay their taxes -- "more fair" means pay what you owe."

But as the Washington Post and others have reported, the initial plans for tax reform show continued benefits for the rich at the expense of the middle class taxpayers. Rather than closing corporate loopholes, ending tax shelters and dramatically expanding IRS enforcement capabilities, the Bush team is looking at measures like ending deductions for state and local income taxes and scrapping the business tax deduction for employee health insurance. Regardless of the form it takes, rest assured that the coming Bush tax reform proposals wil be another case of "proclaim benefits for all, deliver only to the few."
5. Vladimir Putin: He Had Me at Hello
Bush was asked point-blank about the autocratic moves of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man into whose eyes Bush had previously gazed and seen into his soul. President Bush seemed unconcerned about the former KGB colonel's crackdown on opposition, centralization of power in Moscow or even his comment just this week that "the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." Bush replied:

"I had a long talk with Vladimir there in Slovakia about democracy and about the importance of democracy...He stood up and said he strongly supports democracy. I take him for his word."

The more things change, the saying goes, the more things stay the same. Of George W. Bush, truer words were never spoken.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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