- Struggling to reconcile the ever-widening gulf between
what the Bush administration claims to be true and what is actually true
is getting harder by the day. Fortunately, Paul O'Neill has a timely, if
disturbing, diagnosis, backed up by some 19,000 pages of lab results: the
country is being governed not by the genial figurehead now running toward
the center in hopes of re-election but by a band of out and out fanatics.
- On the administration's two defining issues, Iraq and
taxes, the former Treasury Secretary paints a scathing portrait of a cabal
of closed-minded zealots steadfastly refusing to allow anything as piddling
as fact, evidence, or truth to get in the way of their unshakable beliefs
and forgone conclusions.
- According to O'Neill, invading Iraq was a Bush goal before
he had even learned where the Oval office supply closet was. It came up
just ten days after the inauguration, at the new presidentís first
National Security Council meeting. "It was all about finding a way
to do it," he says. "That was the tone of it. The president saying
'Go find me a way to do this.'"
- Of course, All the President's Men (and Condi, too!)
did just that, gathering a collection of dubious facts, half-truths, quarter-truths,
and--the House Specialty--no-truths (what "unpatriotic" people
would call lies) to match the desired outcome. A slice of Nigerian yellowcake,
- But hey, why let a little thing like the truth get in
the way of a perfectly good war?
- The picture of a White House teeming with fanatics gets
even clearer with O'Neill's depiction of the Bush brain trust's dogged
devotion to cutting taxes for the wealthy.
- And, before I go any further, one word of advice to the
White House attack dogs now unleashed on O'Neill: If you want to belittle
his bona fides, you've got to come up with something better than saying
"We didn't listen to him when he was here. Why should we now?"
Let's get real. Is there anyone more central to developing economic policy
than the Treasury Secretary? To be any more inside, O'Neill would have
to have been George Bush's proctologist.
- Now, of course, they're painting him out to be a cross
between Jerry Garcia, Karl Marx and the disgruntled former employee who
just shot up your local post office. Yeah, what an anti-establishment wackjob:
Former CEO of Alcoa, and a friend of Don Rumsfeld's since the sixties.
- Anyway, whether or not the cabinet choir of the church
of tax cuts listened to him, O'Neill certainly listened to them, and now
he's doing what this administration makes a fetish of not doing: telling
the American people what their government is really up to. To hear O'Neill
tell it, the true believers surrounding the president, headed by Karl Rove
and O'Neill's one-time patron Dick Cheney, are all devout disciples of
the first commandment of Bush Republicans: thou shalt cut taxes for the
wealthy, no matter what the cost to the greater good. They have all drunk
the supply-side Kool-Aid -- and simply don't care to hear any debate on
this subject. Or on any other for that matter. According to O'Neill, "That
store is closed". To disagree with the Bush clan is according to their
vast, self-serving post 9/11 definition of patriotism, to hate America.
- What's more, in classic fanatical fashion, the inner
circle in the Oval Office displays an utter intolerance of dissent.
- When O'Neill, who had the gall to be concerned about
the looming fiscal crisis triggered by the growing budget deficit, argued
against a second round of tax cuts, he was quickly put in his place by
Cheney. "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter," growled the
Vice President, blithely ignoring the nearly 20 years it took to undo the
fiscal damage Reagan's budget-busting had wrought. Besides, added Cheney,
sounding less like the most powerful #2 in history than a kid cajoling
his parents into giving him ice cream because he has cleaned his plate,
"We won the mid-term elections, this is our due." An over-stuffed
gift bag for the presidentís prosperous donor corps is our due?
Is it actually possible to so badly misread what this country--or, indeed,
- It's a measure of how effectively the GOP radicals have
framed the political debate, with taxes as the root of all evil, that Paul
OíNeill, a bedrock-ribbed establishment Republican, comes across
like Tip OíNeill.
- Hell, it turns out even President Bush had his doubts
about the virtue of following his first round of serve-the-rich tax cuts
with a heaping second helping. "Haven't we already given money to
rich people?" Bush asks at a 2002 meeting of his economic team. "Shouldn't
we be giving money to the middle?"
- This momentary bout of presidential scruples was quickly
cured by Karl Rove. "Stick to principle. Stick to principle. Don't
waver," he urged Bush repeatedly. The principle, I suppose, being:
"If we wanna win in 2004 we gotta keep our Pioneers and Rangers happy!"
Boy Genius, indeed.
- The most alarming thing that emerges from O'Neill's revelations
is the total lack of leadership on Bush's part. Just as the president was
finally outgrowing the long-standing rumors that he was a cheerful pawn
in a game he was too dumb to understand, OíNeill applies the paddles
to the ìBush as clownî image, turns on the juice, and yells,
- At the very moment that Rove and the Bush re-election
team are gearing up to sell us the president as the macho, heroic cowboy
from Crawford who is going to keep us all safe from terrorists, despots,
and Mad Cow meat, here comes his former Treasury Secretary with his devastating
assessment of Bush as "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people".
- Will this be the wakeup call that finally opens the American
public's eyes to the deadly consequences of being governed by a disengaged
dolt in the hands of a gang of brazen fanatics?