Bit by bit, one move at a time, the Bush administration is amassing power, rewarding its friends, hurting the needy, and eroding Americans' rights and our reputation abroad. And still there is little public outrage.
There is virtual silence as the president continues to spin out his tales of America's strength, good fortune, and manifest destiny. Last week's State of the Union address was pure Bush: full of rhetoric, obfuscations, and outright lies, all designed to make us feel good while the president and his administration go about their dangerous ways.
You can make a game of comparing the Bush words to reality:
Ã¢â¬Â¢ "On Sept 11, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country." Saudi Arabia?
Ã¢â¬Â¢ "Our economy is healthy and vigorous." And staggering in debt. And sinking further daily, while the president urges Congress to make his tax cuts for the rich permanent.
Ã¢â¬Â¢ "Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time." On the other hand: "So far," writes the Times' Tom Friedman, "the democracy wave the Bush team has helped to unleash in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11 has brought to power hard-line Islamic fundamentals in Iraq, Palestine, and Iran, and paved the way for a record showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt."
"If we keep this up," wrote Friedman, "in a few years Muslim clerics will be in power from Morocco to the border of India. God bless America."
The president --- who says what he means and means what he says --- set out "a great goal" in his State of the Union address: "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." His energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, says we should take that goal with a grain of salt, however.
"In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday," reported the New York Times, Bodman said that was "purely an example" of what could be done.
"And," wrote Paul Krugman after the speech, "the administration has actually been scaling back the very research that Mr. Bush hyped on Tuesday night." Budget cuts, said Krugman, are forcing the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to lay off staff members, including those researching ethanol.
There was no call for energy conservation. Instead, Vice President Cheney told reporters that drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge is still very much a live issue.
Among my favorite parts of the Bush speech is his call for doubling federal funds for research in the physical sciences and his insistence that we "encourage children to take more math and science and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations." This from a president whose appointees overrule science at every turn. And note that the Republican-dominated Congress has just approved raising the interest rates for college loans.
(You can also make a darker game of trying to read the future from the president's words: We haven't forgotten about the people in "places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran," he said, "because the demands of justice and the peace of this world require their freedom as well." Are we planning to go to war with those countries? Perhaps not openly; even the president must realize that we don't have the money or the military strength to do that. But some news commentators have been warning for months that the US is working secretly in Iran to foment a revolution.)
Bush's State of the Union address was the speech of an ideologue masking his actions and his intentions with emotionally charged rhetoric. Those who question him are "isolationists," "protectionists," promoters of "retreat."
The Bush language is seductive. "Before history is written down in books," he said, "it is written in courage."
"We seek the end of tyranny in our world." "We will lead freedom's advance."
"And so we move forward --- optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause and confident of victories to come."
Maybe he is at last going too far. Many Americans seem to be waking up. According to a recent Zogby poll, Americans like their privacy and don't want the government snooping. And that sentiment has strengthened during the Bush era.
In December 2001, says the Zogby polling firm, 55 percent of us were willing to let our mail be searched at random. Now, that's fallen to 25 percent. Only 50 percent of the conservatives polled said they are willing to let their mail be searched.
Phone privacy apparently has been a longstanding concern. Even in December 2001, three months after 9/11, only 38 percent of Americans approved of having their phone conversations monitored. That percentage has now fallen to 28.
There is hope, of course, in the 2006 Congressional elections --- the remote chance that Democrats will win enough seats to take control of the House. And that could give sensible Republicans the courage to act in the nation's interest, rather than in the administration's. But the reality is that even then, the Bush administration --- in control not only of the Senate and the Justice Department but also, now, of the Supreme Court --- will continue to do what it wants, ignoring laws and the Constitution.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week made that frighteningly clear.