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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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January 27, 2003

THE POLITICAL SUPERBOWL
by Bill Orton

The proximity of a lopsided Super Bowl to its political
equivalent -- a seemingly triumphant State of the Union
address -- makes me wonder whether we are halfway
through the presidency of George W. Bush, or merely
pausing to reflect on the first quarter of an
unsatisfying blowout.

Most fans of both sports -- football and politics --
want to come out on top, but prefer an even matchup
where each team possess a powerful offense and puts up
a tenacious defense.

Regretably, in the last two years, my party has lost
its way on the field and despite a few solid defensive
plays, we've thrown no touchdowns, score few points and
done little to stop the unrelenting assault of the
President's team.

Because my party nitpicks on defense and our
quarterbacks belittle as an offense, it is no wonder
that we were buried in the recent political Superbowl
games.  Bellyaching is no path to a championship.

Masterful as our Quarterback in Chief may be in
reciting the State of the Union, I am not the first to
say that the true measure of our success as a nation
rests upon how people are doing here at home.

And no matter the words are poured out by pundits, we
are -- by so many measures -- not better off today than
we were four years ago.

Yet, after two years in office, all the President
offered on health care and jobs were generalities.  No
explanation of how to bring about health care for kids
or families.

And the President's single sentence -- ONE SENTENCE --
on Israeli-Palestinian issue shows that on key issues
of foreign policy, America is resorting to throwing the
long bomb, impatiently abandoning our longstanding
interests and our allies midfield as we go it alone to
the endzone in a game of unilateralism.

On foreign affairs, which dominated the President's
speech, there was far more of a blitz game when finesse.

Oh, but if it were merely a game.

War is many things, but a game it is not.  War is death
and devastation and the failure of diplomacy and our
brilliant, shining ideals.

It seems so clear that war shall arrive like a mauled
spring lamb.  Few listening to the President could fail
but hear his barely hidden growling, thinly veiled
threats, and impatience.

("Put it this way... they're not a problem for the
United States anymore.")

War shall come, for it is what our leader desires, and,
as such, let this game tonight give us pause to examine
our enemies and the cause of their threat.

We face enemies who are driven by revolutionary fervor
or irrational paranoia.

To take the "Axis of Evil" from last year's game, we
face certain victory -- if we fight -- in Iraq, but how
can we win the peace as we isolate ourselves from the
very community of nations that had so warmly embraced
us just one year ago?

With North Korea, we've let them get The Bomb, and
they're on their way to a full-fledged nuclear strategy.

And in Iran, the truth of the matter has it that we
should embrace the changes being brought about in that
country, rather than to fight it.

More importantly, both overseas and at home, is the
outright war being waged against the poor of the world.

Halfway through, or one period in, whichever it is,
Quaterback Bush is clearly not throwing the ball to the
little guy:

Here at home...

-- Poverty rates are again inching up and the gap
between rich and poor is widening.  Evidence the rise
of homelessness among children.  Think what you like
about adults who are homeless, but kids are absolutely
innocent, yet they now constitute one-quarter of the
homeless.  How wrong is that?

-- More kids are going hungry than just two years ago
as federal guidelines for school meals are rewritten to
take food from the mouths of babes by raising the
threshhold to qualify.

-- Wefare reform laws still lack the childcare and
health insurance provisions that allow for a single
mother to both work (often at minimum wage) and also
fend for her family.

-- Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost jobs
under this President and the longterm unemployed
despair of finding work anytime soon.  The President
responds by shortening the length of stay on federal
unemployment benefits, reducing the overall amount an
unemployed worker is eligible to receive and
putting111111a1 the onus on the individual to beat the
odds.

We need a Marshall Plan for America, but what we got
from the President is pennies on the dollar, for he is
saving his quarters for the rich and dimes for the war.

We need a national investment bank that matches the
money and efforts of our ordinary entrepreneurs... a
true investment that goes beyond a limited SBA, beyond
capital gains and dividend tax cuts for the rich.

We need tax credits that support work, whether its
through a dramatic expansion of the Earned Income Tax
Credit or a new credit to recognize the value of work
done by the "stay-at-home" parent in a joint filing
household.  (Who works harder than the stay-at-home
parent?)

We need retraining of workers, protection of 401(k)
retirement savings plans, specifics on health care.... 
We got pablum.

It isn't enough to simply say that this President
doesn't care a lick about ordinary people in America,
let alone the poor, although, by any objective measure,
that's the case.

How could he, for he spends so much time on the
one-yard-line of foreign affairs.

In our world, as in America, the greatest hope for
those seeking to rise from poverty has been the ideals
that our nation cherishes, namely that by electing
one's own leaders, the people can craft their own
destiny.

With this little gem, we export our greatest power, for
democratic ideals are the most potent weapon in our
vast arsenal.

In July 1965, Senator Robert F. Kennedy told an
audience at the International Police Academy that
struggles with communism in the Third World had
demonstrated "beyond doubt that our approach to
revolutionary wars must be political -- political
first, political last, political always.  Victory in a
revolutionary war is won not by escalation, but by
de-escalation."

Sadly, Senator Kennedy's lesson seems to be lost on
George W. Bush in the same way it was on the last
President from Texas.

Now, like then, we face rogues and revolutionaries, and
our man from Texas combat our enemies with means that
are brutish, conventional and, ultimately, ineffective.

We are disengaged from America's longstanding world
interests.

We've stepped back from treaties and alliances.

Unlike every American President since Harry Truman,
this President seems not to truly care about resolving
the conflict between Israelis and Arabs.

In his single sentence -- ONE SENTENCE -- on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the President spoke
volumes of his disdain for diplomacy and his
willingness to look the other way as Ariel Sharon
exerts an unbending iron will over the Occupied
Territories.

It is no surprise, therefore, that a confrontation with
the Thug of Bagdad takes higher priority than solving
the single most important dispute in the Middle East,
arguably the world.

We know that Saddam Hussein is a scourge and it is
right to press for his regime's emasculation.  But in
an impatient unilateral charge towards war, do we serve
our own interests by telling Iraq that it must obey the
Security Council, while we stand ready to defy the U.N.
Charter in order to force compliance?

Make no mistake, American shall prevail militarily if
we go in, but imagine the long and bitter peace that
shall follow.  Who shall bear the burden of
reconstruction?  Whose troops shall exercise control
over a land that seems unlikely to simply fall into
order after Saddam?

Unasked by this President in his bully match is how
does one snuff the ideas that drive a tyrant like
Hussein?

Ask any Muslim about Saladin.  Most can tell tell you
about the great warrior king, the man who led Muslim
armies into the Holy Land, who ruled wisely and who
battled Richard the Lionheart to a draw in the Third
Crusade.

A revolutionary hope burns inside the hearts of
millions of Muslims, who seek someone like Saladin,
that greatest of generals, that wisest of sages.

Saddam is certainly no Saladin, but he wishes to be.

Smart bombs cannot kill the idea of Saladin.

As Senator Kennedy said, "our approach to revolutionary
wars must be political."

Even our words must be political.  Take Iran, for
example.

A reasonable observer can see that Iran -- the
so-called third leg of the "Axis of Evil" -- is in a
profound internal crisis, as the strength of the 1979
revolution wanes.

More than half of the voters in the last Presidential
election in that country were born after the Shah was
toppled and Ruholla Khomeini returned from exile.  The
winner of that election, a moderate, is neck-deep in a
battle with the hardliners, as most young people side
against the censorship, repression and the lack of
freedom.

Yet the words "Axis of Evil" ignore the subtle reality
and, in a supreme irony, we are emboldening the
revolutionaries by our belligerence.

We cannot fight against religious revolutionaries with
bombs.

Respect of religious differences is a better method.

Carrying out our national policies with tolerance and
respect of these differences will weaken the fervor of
the revolutionaries.  It will allow us to honestly
grapple with the causes of despair -- like poverty,
disease, education, resource inequities.

Despair is not an orphan, and in our own hemisphere
we're on the wrong side of revolution.

In Venezuela, the poorest of the poor have grasped to
the hope that their electoral system can become their
tool to deliver fundamental change in inherently their
unequal society.

American leaders don't like the proletarian President,
Hugo Chavez, principally because his elected government
is struggling to reform land and capital systems.  We
even backed a coup against Chavez, arguably damaging
our prestige and weakened the belief that we stand for
our democratic ideals.

We should talk both sides in Venezuela away from the
life-or-death general strike crippling that nation
(and, by the way, spiking our gasoline prices).

We should accept the right of the Chavez government to
dictate their own internal economic policies, knowing
full well that the economic shakeout may negatively
impact the holdings of some American banks.

If we show the poor -- in Venezuela, in Brazil... in
America -- that democracy only really belongs to the
rich, then we are to blame for the inexorible turn away
from the ballot and over to the rages of despair.

And, North Korea.

In a game of political football, who scores a point
when the world's most paranoid, irrational regime
suddenly gets The Bomb?

For two long years, this President rebuffed a "Sunshine
Policy" of negotiations with the North Koreans.  Now,
says the CIA, North Korea likely has "one or two"
nuclear weapons and, if undeterred, will be able to
build six or seven more by summer.

It is bad enough that we let North Korea get The Bomb,
but the greater threat we face is that the regime will
build up enough of a stockpile to pose a "nuclear
strategy."

With six or eight nuclear bombs, North Korea -- or any
rogue state -- could throw a few against us, send some
to operatives, hold some back and hide others.  The
uncertainty of taking everything out puts us at risk of
being blackmailed.

By the President's own admission, Iraq is several years
from even joining the nuclear club, let alone posing
that sort of strategic threat.

But, according to the CIA, North Korea is just six
months away from a nuclear strategy.

Enough to make you want to punt.

If politics were as simple and risk free as the
Superbowl, then bring on the blowouts, the fumbles, and
the misery of a mismatched game.

But as Robert Kennedy (the varsity football letterman
at Harvard) knew, politics is more brutal than
football, for the consequences are sometimes life and
death.

The political raiders seem to have fallen to the
swashbuckling Texas bucaneer, but don't believe the
today's lopsided score.

We are a long way from the final whistle.

##

Bill Orton, 40, is a writer and historian who lives
with his wife and daughter in Seal Beach, California.



Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.