I keep reading articles about how George W. Bush sounds all presidential and statesmanlike since September 11. No, he does not. Take his September 16, 2001 speech for instance: "We've been warned there are evil people in this world. We've been warned so vividly," followed by, "And we'll be alert. Your government is alert. The governors and mayors are alert that evil folks still lurk out there." I'm sure, like you, I had forgotten that evil folks are still lurking out there, wherever there is. I had forgotten all about slavery, the decimation of Native Americans and that whole ugly Holocaust thing.
Now just in case you didn't get his point the first time, he added, "My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it. We will rid the world of the evil-doers." Am I the only person who thinks this is the all-time most bogus, swaggering, absurdly over-the-top political promise in the history of American politics? "Rid the world of evildoers?" He sounds like those gaudy, money-sucking evangelists with bad hair on cable television.
Look, I don't doubt that George W. Bush takes his job seriously. It's just hard for me to take him seriously when he speaks to the nation as if we're all seven years old with learning disabilities. We know someone else writes all those speeches he delivers earnestly with a furrowed brow. When he does stray from the carefully scripted reassurances and is forced to utter spontaneous sounds, he resorts to embarrassing good guy/bad guy clichés -- like when he announced that he wanted to capture Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." I guess that sounds presidential if you were president in 1842.
Last October, George W. offered his personal reflections on the terrorist attacks of September 11. He said, "I'm amazed. I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about, that people would hate us. I am, I am -- like most Americans, I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are " This president doesn't really want to examine the "misunderstanding." He certainly does not want you to reflect upon why other citizens of the world might hate us. He just wants you to be afraid, and he will use your fear, diverting your attention away from significant domestic problems neither he nor his administration has the will or mental capacity to tackle.
Sure, there's a reason George W.'s job approval poll numbers are above 80 percent -- because it's not okay to criticize this man who has vowed to rid the world of its evildoers. On some deep, primal level a whopping majority of us just want some kind of revenge on those terrorist bastards and George W. Bush knows that, too. That's why he's declared a "war on terrorism" and continues to remind us that "we're at war." This president, in all his nonintellectual glory, is way too eager to declare his war, something that will likely last for years and cost billions of dollars. Not unlike our so-called "War on Drugs." Remember when America had that sordid drug problem and so we declared a war on drugs and spent billions of dollars and now no one is addicted to drugs anymore and you can't even buy them on the streets anywhere? Uh huh, the new war is going to be just like that. No more evildoers!
Perhaps by the end of January you were starting to feel less afraid. Maybe you were beginning to stop thinking about lurking evildoers and focus on other things like the Enron corporate scandal, the recession, unemployment or even the Super Bowl. Maybe you were getting on with your life until George W. delivered his State of the Union Address on January 29, reminding us "as we gather tonight, our nation is at war" and "our war against terror is only beginning." Afghanistan is no longer a threat -- we've blown that country to smithereens and we'll spend billions to rebuild it -- now he says we need to fear Iran, Iraq and North Korea, an "Axis of Evil."
It costs a lot of money to rid the world of evildoers; 30 million dollars a day and over a billion dollars a month since September 11. For 2003, this president proposes a $379 billion Pentagon budget, roughly 48 billion more dollars for military and defense spending than last year. In this case, he's not stupid, just manipulative. He knows that without creating conflict through chest-beating speeches, eye for an eye belligerence and Wild West rhetoric, his presidency is hollow, made only occasionally memorable by events like choking on a pretzel.
Now I know I've been really harsh about George W. Bush. Well, I'm not finished. See, in ten years I believe with all my heart that the only thing we'll have to show for his war on terrorism is a huge national debt and the increased hatred of the rest of the world. I'd like to be more optimistic, but he's stupid. And you know what else? If you're a person living with HIV or AIDS, he doesn't give a rat's ass about you. There's no time for you or me in his all-war-all-the-time agenda. The only way he's going to get his war bucks is by gutting or jeopardizing all kinds of domestic programs, like public housing projects, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Ryan White CARE Act -- programs routinely accessed by people living with HIV.
Worse, his administration is already threatening to slash funds for AIDS education and prevention efforts, characterizing them as "obscene" simply because educators sometimes use graphic language or materials when appealing to specific populations. George W.'s solution is to fund sexual abstinence programs that forbid discussion of birth control or condoms as effective ways to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Oh, never mind that not one shred of scientific research supports the efficacy of abstinence-only programs. He just doesn't want you to know how to protect yourself. He doesn't want you or your children to know you have options. He doesn't want you to be educated about your choices. He wants you to wallow in sexual ignorance and just say no to sex outside the confines of a traditional heterosexual marriage. Your ignorance, his bliss. Period.
Then, to drive that point home and further undermine HIV and sexual health education, George W. appoints conservative Republican ex-congressman Tom Coburn co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Coburn, an obstetrician from Muskogee, Oklahoma, fiercely opposes a woman's right to choose and supports teaching sexual abstinence excluding all discussion of birth control. Even though he was instrumental in securing Ryan White CARE Act funding while serving in the House of Representatives, he has also publicly and regularly criticized the effectiveness of condoms and flatly opposes needle exchange programs -- his theory being that since they don't work all the time, we should stop presenting them as options anytime.
Tom Coburn has said that his personal views would not dictate the work of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, but this is a guy who proudly aligns himself with ultraconservative, abstinence-only groups like Focus on the Family and American Family Association. His personal views are public record and I'll bet this big fat liar is slobbering over the opportunity George W. has given him to push an ill-conceived conservative HIV policy agenda. Let me add a pathetic footnote here: Coburn condemns homosexuality as an immoral lifestyle, so it's all the more bizarre that the openly gay director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, Scott Evertz, advised Bush to appoint Coburn. In other words, the very first high profile, open homosexual with direct access to the president basically said, "Pick the guy who thinks I'm immoral." As self-loathing goes, that's a fairly spectacular example.
Ultimately, I think my biggest fear is that whatever progress we've made during the last twenty years of AIDS -- testing, research, education, prevention, funding, treatment, legal protections -- will be undermined and mitigated by a stupid white guy and his stupid white cronies, not one of whom appears to have the depth of character to rise above constipated, simple-minded political posturing long enough to address the American epidemic and global pandemic of AIDS. Only stupid people defiantly incognizant of human nature and sexuality would think we can stop the most devastating scourge since the European Black Plague of the 1300s by telling the entire population to just say no to sex outside a "traditional" monogamous marriage.
The fact that I think President George W. Bush is stupid, and that I'm willing to say so, will probably make a lot of people angry. I don't care. I know it's possible to be pro-America without being pro-Bush. I can love my country and still be embarrassed by its leader -- an arrogant, unbridled warmonger who wants us to believe that patriotism means subservience. Right now, I'm a lot more terrified by this guy than all those lurking evildoers.