Veterans Day utterances by Prince Dubya would be laughable were they not tragic. It was one of those “It is now time to prove, not hide, my desperation” moments.
Instead of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns (the traditional and appropriate venue for patriotic presidents honoring the greater sacrifices of their war dead), Prince Dubya went politicking in Pennsylvania. He attacked Democrats who voted for his Iraq invasion as “unpatriotic” for now criticizing the war and for questioning his judgment.
I don’t argue with the attack on Democrats for changing position. They should have known better than to buy into Prince Dubya’s obvious ruse in the first go-round. They should be called to task for supporting an obviously insupportable invasion. They took the politically easy “I’ll save my job” approach instead of the patriotic “Let’s help the country” approach.
CNN described the February 2003 appearance of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations thusly: “…Powell used electronic intercepts, satellite photographs and other intelligence sources Wednesday in an effort to convince skeptical members of the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is actively working to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors.”
If members of the council preserved their skepticism, members of Bush’s opposition party should have, too.
How un-presidential of Prince Dubya, however, to start a “more patriotic than thou” fight. Perhaps this form of base hype would work if the country were behind him. He’d have a better shot if his job-approval ratings weren’t headed toward Australia. He might be able to keep this cliched ploy in play if he himself had just accomplished something incredibly patriotic (like risking his own neck, instead of everyone else’s) in Iraq.
But at this point in his presidency, Americans no longer approve of Prince Dubya’s job performance OR his routine. His party is in mutiny against him. His vice president’s former chief of staff is under indictment in a scandal involving the outing of a CIA agent. What could be more unpatriotic than outing a secret agent? Is now the right time to tag members of the other party unpatriotic?
Prince Dubya needs to line up support in his own big tent first. The GOP-led Senate has approved Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s anti-torture provision. This is an exceedingly rare show of partisan defiance against a wartime president’s authority. It’s a sure sign Prince Dubya’s going down. Here’s another: The right-wing Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., turned down the opportunity to stand alongside Bush at an American Legion event in Philadelphia and instead called progress in Iraq “less than optimal.”
Here’s yet another: Moderate Republicans handed their leaders two embarrassing setbacks on Capitol Hill last week, stopping a $50 billion package of controversial budget cuts in the House and an extension of the president’s tax cuts in the Senate.
Hapless Republicans who choose, instead, to stand alongside Prince Dubya don’t seem to fare too well following those decisions. The losing candidate in last week’s Virginia gubernatorial race, Jerry Kilgore, resisted appearances with Bush until the last minute, allowing the president onto his turf only on election eve. Kilgore lost by about 5 points in good-ol’-red-state Virginia. Prince Dubya may not have hurt Kilgore, but he sure didn’t help.
Ambrose Bierce’s “Devil’s Dictionary” defines patriotism as, “Combustible rubbish read to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name.” That definition never applied more aptly than to Prince Dubya’s inept playing of the patriotism card. Now is not the time. This prince is no patriot.
Americans finally realize that dressing up in jumpsuits and strutting across flight decks doesn’t make a patriot out of a prince. A prince can bang on war bongos and promise to smoke terrorists out of caves. But until he performs, a prince is just a prince: someone born into a legacy that he didn’t create spewing forth bold promises on which he has yet to deliver.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)