hereís nothing harder in public life than admitting youíre wrong.
By the way, admitting youíre wrong can be even tougher in private life.
If you donít believe me, just ask Bill Clinton or Charlie Sheen. But
when you go out on the limb in public, itís out there where everyone
can see it, or in my case, hear it.
So, Iím saying today, I was wrong to have voted for George W. Bush.
In historic terms, I believe George W. Bush is the worst two-term President
in the history of the country. Worse than Grant. I also believe a case
can be made that heís the worst President, period.
In 2000, I was a McCain guy. I wasnít sure about the Texas Governor.
He had name recognition and a lot of money behind him, but other than
that? What? Still, I was sick of all the Clinton shenanigans and the
thought of President Gore wasÖ unthinkable. So, GWB became my guy.
For the first few months he was just flubbing along like most new
Presidents, no great shakes, but no disasters either. He cut taxes and
I like tax cuts.
Then September 11th happened. September 11th changed everything for
me, like it did for so many of you. After September 11th, all the intramural
idiocy of American politics stopped being funny. We had been attacked
by a vicious and determined enemy and it was time for all of us to row
in the same direction.
And we did for the blink of an eye. I believed the President when
he said we were going to hunt down Bin Laden and all those responsible
for the 9-11 murders. I believed President Bush when he said we would
go after the terrorists and the nations that harbored them.
I supported the President when he sent our troops into Afghanistan,
after all, thatís where the Taliban was, thatís where al-Qaida trained
the killers, thatís where Bin Laden was.
And I cheered when we quickly toppled the Taliban government, but
winced when we let Bin Laden escape from Tora-Bora.
Then, the talk turned to Iraq and I winced again.
I thought the connection to 9-11 was sketchy at best. But Colin Powell
impressed me at the UN, and Tony Blair was in, and after all, he was
a Clinton guy, not a Bush guy, so I thought the case had to be strong.
I was worried though, because I had read the Wolfowitz paper, ďThe Project
for the New American Century.Ē Itís been around since Ď92, and it raised
alarm bells because it was based on a theory, ďDemocratizing the Middle
EastĒ and I prefer pragmatism over theory. I was worried because Iraq
was being justified on a radical new basis, ďpre-emptive war.Ē Any time
we do something without historical precedent I get nervous.
But the President shifted the argument to WMDs and the urgent threat
of Iraq getting atomic weapons. The debate turned to Saddam passing
nukes on to terror groups. After 9-11, the risk was too great. As the
President said, ďThe next smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud.Ē At
least thatís what I thought at the time.
I grew up in New York and watched them build the World Trade Center.
I worked with a guy, Frank OíBrien, who put the elevators in both towers.
I lost a very close friend on September 11th. 103 floor, tower one,
Cantor Fitzgerald. Tim Coughlin was his name. If we had to take out
Iraq to make sure something like that, or worse, never happened again,
so be it. I knew the consequences. We have a soldier in our house. None
of this was theoretical in my house.
But in the months and years since shock and awe I have been shocked
repeatedly by a consistent litany of excuses, alibis, double-talk, inaccuracies,
bogus predictions, and flat out lies. I have watched as the President
and his administration changed the goals, redefined the reasons for
going into Iraq, and fumbled the good will of the world and the focus
necessary to catch the real killers of September 11th.
I have watched the President say the commanders on the ground will
make the battlefield decisions, and the war wonít be run from Washington.
Yet, politics has consistently determined what the troops can and canít
do on the ground and any commander who did not go along with the administration
was sacked, and in some cases, maligned.
I watched and tried to justify the looting in Iraq after the fall
of Saddam. I watched and tried to justify the dismantling of the entire
Iraqi army. I tired to explain the complexities of building a functional
new Iraqi army. I urged patience when no WMDs were found. Then the Vice
President told us we were in the ďwaning days of the insurgency.Ē And
I started wincing again. The President says we have to stay the course
but what if itís the wrong course?
It was the wrong course. All of it was wrong. We are not on the road
to victory. Weíre about to slink home with our tail between our legs,
leaving civil war in Iraq and a nuclear armed Iran in our wake. Bali
was bombed. Madrid was bombed. London was bombed. And Bin Laden is still
making tapes. Itís unspeakable. The liberal media didnít create this
reality, bad policy did.
Most historians believe it takes 30-50 years before we get a reasonably
accurate take on a Presidentís place in history. So, maybe 50 years
from now Iraq will be a peaceful member of the brotherhood of nations
and George W. Bush will be celebrated as a visionary genius.
But we donít live fifty years in the future. We live now. We have
to make public policy decisions now. We have to live with the consequences
of the votes we cast and the leaders we chose now.
After five years of carefully watching George W. Bush Iíve reached
the conclusion heís either grossly incompetent, or a hand puppet for
a gaggle of detached theorists with their own private view of how the
world works. Or both.
Presidential failures. James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Jimmy Carter,
Warren Harding-ó the competition is fierce for the worst of the worst.
Still, the damage this President has done is enormous. It will take
decades to undo, and thatís assuming we do everything right from now
on. His mistakes have global implications, while the other failed Presidents
mostly authored domestic embarrassments.
And speaking of domestic embarrassments, letís talk for a minute
about President Bushís domestic record. Yes, he cut taxes. But tax cuts
combined with reckless spending and borrowing is criminal mismanagement
of the publicís money. Weíre drunk at the mall with our great grandchildrenís
credit cards. Whatever happened to the party of fiscal responsibility?
Bush created a giant new entitlement, the prescription drug plan.
He lied to his own party to get it passed. He lied to the country about
its true cost. It was written by and for the pharmaceutical industry.
It helps nobody except the multinationals that lobbied for it. So much
for smaller government. In fact, virtually every tentacle of government
has grown exponentially under Bush. Unless, of course, it was an agency
to look after the public interest, or environmental protection, and/or
Iíve talked so often about the border issue, I wonít bore you with
a rehash. Itís enough to say this President has been a catastrophe for
the wages of working people; heís debased the work ethic itself. ďJobs
Americans wonít do!Ē He doesnít believe in the sovereign borders of
the country heís sworn to protect and defend. And his devotion to cheap
labor for his corporate benefactors, along with his worship of multinational
trade deals, makes an utter mockery of homeland security in a post 9-11
world. The Presidentís January 7th, 2004 speech on immigration, his
first trial balloon on his guest worker scheme, was a deal breaker for
me. I couldnít and didnít vote for him in 2004. And Iím glad I didnít.
Katrina, Harriet Myers, The Dubai Port Deal, skyrocketing gas prices,
shrinking wages for working people, staggering debt, astronomical foreign
debt, outsourcing, open borders, contempt for the opinion of the American
people, the war on science, media manipulation, faith based initives,
a cavalier attitude toward fundamental freedoms-- this President has
run the most arrogant and out-of-touch administration in my lifetime,
perhaps, in any Americanís lifetime.
You can make a case that Abraham Lincoln did what he had to do, the
public be damned. If you roll the dice on your gut and youíre right,
history remembers you well. But, when your gut led you from one business
failure to another, when your gut told you to trade Sammy Sosa to the
White Sox, and you use the same gut to send our sons and daughters to
fight and die in a distraction from the real war on terror, then history
will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation.
None of this, by the way, should be interpreted as an endorsement
of the opposition party. The Democrats are equally bankrupt. This is
the second crime of our age. Again, historically speaking, its times
like these when America needs a vibrant opposition to check the power
of a run-amuck majority party. It requires it. It doesnít work without
one. Like the high and low tides keep the oceans alive, a healthy, positive
opposition offers a path back to the center where all healthy societies
Tragically, the Democrats have allowed crackpots, leftists and demagogic
cowards to snipe from the sidelines while taking no responsibility for
anything. In fairness, I donít believe a Democrat president would have
gone into Iraq. Unfortunately, I donít know if President Gore would
have gone into Afghanistan. And thatís one of the many problems with
The two party system has always been clumsy and imperfect, but it
has only collapsed once, in the 1850s, and the result was civil war.
I believe, as I have said countless times, the two party system is
on the brink of a second collapse. Itís currently running on spin, anger,
revenge, and pots and pots and pots of money.
Weíre being governed by paper-mache patriots; brightly painted red,
white and blue, but hollow to the core. Both parties have mastered the
cynical arts of media manipulation and fund raising. Theyíve learned
the lessons of Watergate and burn the tapes. They have learned to divide
the nation for their own gain. They have demonstrated the willingness
to exploit any tragedy for personal advantage. The contempt they have
for the American people is without parallel.
This is painful to say, and Iím sure for many of you, painful to
read. But itís impossible to heal the country until weíre willing to
acknowledge the truth no matter how painful. We have to wean ourselves
off sugar coated partisan lies.
With a belated tip of the cap to Ralph Nader, the system is broken,
so broken, itís almost inevitable it pukes up the Al Gores and George
W. Bushes. Where are the Trumans and the Eisenhowers? Where are the
men and women of vision and accomplishment? Why do we have to settle
for recycled hacks and malleable ciphers? Greatness is always rare,
but is basic competence and simple honesty too much to ask?
It may be decades before we have the full picture of how paranoid
and contemptuous this administration has been. And I am open to the
possibility that Iím all wet about everything Iíve just said. But Iím
putting it out there, because I have to call it as I see it, and this
is how I see it today. I donít say any of this lightly. Iíve thought
about this for months and months. But eventually, the weight of evidence
takes on a gravitational force of its own.
I believe that George W. Bush has taken us down a terrible road.
I donít believe the Democrats are offering an alternative. That means
weíre on our own to save this magnificent country. The United States
of America is a gift to the world, but it has been badly abused and
itís rightful owners, We the People, had better step up to the plate
and reclaim it before the damage becomes irreparable.
So, accept my apology for allowing partisanship to blind me to an
obvious truth; our President is incapable of the tasks he is charged
with. I almost feel sorry for him. He is clearly in over his head. Yet,
he doesnít generate the sympathy Warren Harding earned. Harding, a spectacular
mediocrity, had the self-knowledge to tell any and all he shouldnít
be President. George W. Bush continues to act the part, but at this
point whose buying the act?
Does this make me a waffler? A flip-flopper? Maybe, although I prefer
to call it realism. And, for those of you who never supported Bush,
its also fair to accuse me of kicking Bush while heís down. After all,
you were kicking him while he was up.
You were right, I was wrong.