Bush Prepares the Battlefield

by Patrick J Buchanan – January 26, 2004

After reading the State of the Union address, one appreciates how much greater a grasp George W. Bush has of politics than did his father.

For this was the sort of speech one would expect to hear from a candidate who had just been nominated at his party’s convention, not a president in wartime. It was an acceptance speech, a war map revealing the terrain where Bush intends to fight the battle of 2004.

“Bring ‘Em On!” could have been its subtitle.

Democrats on the campaign trail may be exciting the liberal base by bashing the Patriot Act, but Bush, in the first minutes of the speech, threw the glove right in their face. Calling it “an essential tool” that enables the government “to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets,” Bush told Congress, “you need to renew the Patriot Act” this year.

Message: Liberals may loathe the Patriot Act, you may raise millions in direct mail decrying it, but you are going to vote on it. And if you vote to let it expire, I will charge you with disarming America in the war on terror.

On Iraq, the president fairly bristled with defiance. What he is saying is this: Perhaps we did not find the weapons we thought were there, but we did the right thing to destroy that regime, eradicate that threat and dig the rat out of his hole. And we will see this through to a democratic and free Iraq. If you want to make the war the issue, go for it.

Democrats have no such clarity. The party base was opposed to the war, but the leadership voted for it. To Democrats who say Bush should have gone to the “international community” or gotten U.N. approval, Bush’s response was in your face. He recited the names of two dozen countries that support us, then declared to the nation: “There is a difference between leading a coalition and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.”

He is going to play the patriot card and the nationalism card, and they trump the U.N. card every time.

On domestic issues, Bush praised Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act and the prescription-drug bill, thus reminding the nation that he, George W. Bush, delivered on what used to be the Democrats’ signature issues. He is now the health-care president and the education president.

On taxes, Bush told them: You may call them “tax cuts for the rich,” but you will have to exhibit the courage of that conviction:

Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you act, the unfair tax on marriage will go up. Unless you act, millions of families will be charged $300 more in federal taxes for every child. Unless you act, small businesses will pay higher taxes. Unless you act, the death tax will eventually come back to life. Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase.

Refuse to make my tax cuts permanent, Bush is saying, and I will do to you exactly what Reagan did to Mondale.

In the culture war, Bush came out for funding for faith-based charities, for sexual abstinence for young people, against the use of steroids by athletes and for traditional marriage. This last issue is nitroglycerine, and Bush handled it gingerly.

Having in mind the Massachusetts court declaration that homosexuals have a right to marry, Bush declared: “If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

Bush is hinting at support for a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to a man and woman. This would sever the socially conservative working class base of the Democrats from their San Francisco wing. Poison for the party.

On two issues, Bush indicated he is aware of the mutinous talk inside his own base. On spending, he promised a budget this year with only a 4 percent increase in discretionary spending.

But on illegal aliens, he was disingenuous, if not worse: “I oppose amnesty,” he said with a straight face, “because it would encourage further illegal immigration, and unfairly reward those who break our laws.”

But that is precisely what his proposal entails.

On many issues – imperial overstretch of U.S. power, loss of manufacturing jobs, outsourcing of white-collar jobs to Asia, his failure to protect our borders and his heavy spending habits – Bush is vulnerable. Unfortunately for Democrats, it is on his right flank, not his left.