Hard News by Russell Brown

I'd rather trust in taniwhas

Should a man who can't pronounce "nuclear" be allowed in charge of weapons?

The first part of George W. Bush's State of the Union speech yesterday was an incoherent grab-bag of soundbite announcements. Hydrogen cars! Woo!

One characteristic of the initiatives seemed to be that they were addressing problems his administration had created: the hydrogen cars (everything from blowing out Kyoto to kneecapping California's zero-emission laws and lopping half a billion dollars off the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency); the AIDS funding (after wrecking a UN sexual health strategy as a sop to fundamentalists at home); the money for Russian nuclear decomissioning (which only replaces the money he took away from this important task in his first budget). He might as well throw money around - he's in so much fiscal trouble it barely matters any more.

The other characteristic of the domestic announcements was pay-offs to the religious lobby: notably banning so-called "partial birth abortion" - a non-medical term used by pro-life campaigners to refer to a rare variant of the more common midterm abortion procedure, D&E.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has had it as policy since 1997 that such a ban would be "inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous". The US Supreme Court has already struck down a similar law in Nebraska because it failed to allow any exception for the health of the mother, and because it could be used to prevent access to abortion altogether.

There was also the funnelling of hundreds of millions of dollars to proselytising religious groups under the guide of drug rehab.

The other half of the speech was, of course, devoted to the war on terror (and the cranking up of public fear) and reasons for invading Iraq. You can read about that somewhere else. The only other thing to note is that if the Republicans were scary, the Democrats were simply pathetic in response. The world's greatest democracy looks broken to me.

Neil Morrison at Auckland University got back to me yesterday, to apologise for potting me with "the Left" (no, really, it's alright) and further ponder opposition to War in Iraq:

What is curious is that there is a genuine, heartfelt and profound dislike of Bush - expressions of which are often laced with moral outrage. In contrast, reference to Saddam's sins are rather perfunctory. Nobody opposing Bush gets as outraged by North Korea. I am not alleging a double standard, as a reason that would be far too simplistic - it would be merely judgemental.

On the issue of Iraq, there seems to be two sensible positions that differ in how risk is seen. One group believes that the risk of regime change outweigh the benefits. The other the opposite. What is interesting is by what process do people decide which camp they are in? I believe that there are valid and honorable reasons for either choice. The distinction does not follow a strict Left/Right divide, as you point out.

My point being: how do people come to a particular political position on issues that are essentially about risk prediction? But when you come to think of it, that is what we do all the time - try to predict the future course of events and strategise accordingly. To play devils advocate - perhaps there is a genetic component to political disposition.

I don't know about the genetics, but he's right in many respects there. If you were to strip away the history of Bush and his people, their beliefs, their debt to Big Oil, the unnerving appeals to God and destiny - if you stripped away Bush - the case for action against Iraq becomes easier to contemplate.

But you don't. And that's a large part of the problem. An American president ought by rights to have the admiration of the world. Bush simply does not. There is now probably no country in the world, outside his own, where a majority of citizens hold him in great respect or affection. As Neil notes, there are many people, in "friendly" countries, who hate him more than Saddam. It is a queer achievement.

His domestic cheerleaders ought to stop bleating about anti-Americanism and try and take that in. Remember Clinton's sweep through the Asia-Pacific region for APEC? Can you imagine Bush ever being so hailed? An American president who presumes loudly to lead the world must take the world with him. Bush has done largely the opposite. He does not inspire. He is not impressive. He is not trusted. He is not a leader. He is a failure.

I confess, my response to Bush is quite visceral. You don't spend a career in journalism without getting some idea of when someone is lying or not credible. I looked at Bush during that speech and I thought, he's lying and I do not like him. I no more believe in the God he so readily invokes than I believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden, or in taniwhas. In fact, I'd rather believe in taniwhas. They seem less dangerous, frankly.

BTW, much as I believe in the beneficial effects of international trade, I doubt that a trade deal with America of the kind Australia is seeking would be good for New Zealand. These people are not worth negotiating with - as evidenced by this week's story on their attempt to export their own, draconian copyright laws as the price of a deal.