Hard News by Russell Brown

Just pick the pretty one

After Bush's State of the Union speech last year, a couple of correspondents ticked me off for being churlish about the billions promised to fight Aids in Africa. Well, a year later, not a penny of those billions has been allocated - and 2005 Aids funding has been cut.

The budget appropriation for the Global Aids Fund - which is actually doing something - has been reduced by 71% since 2003. And the administration's faith-based ban on funding to foreign family planning organisations that refuse to sign a declaration that they will not offer abortions - or even discuss them - is causing genuine problems in Africa.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone but the most mad-headed Bush acolyte. The Bush White House has elevated saying one thing and doing another to a kind of creed. Its thinking is so flimsy, cynical and short-term that last week's big thing - the Mission to Mars - was dropped altogether from this week's speech after it researched poorly. This embarrassed Senator Trent Lott, who had already issued a press release hailing the bold vision for space expressed in Bush's speech.

Most of the other policies announced in the speech were a matter of politics - and as Jonathan Cohn pointed out, the supposed plans for better health coverage are simply a joke: "The ideas are so unserious they're barely worth considering, except insofar as they demonstrate just how far out of touch this White House really is." Paul Krugman noted this week that an earlier Bush initiative on Medicare has no visible source of funding.

The Washington Post analysed the absence of those WMDs - and any mention of the Israeli Palestinian conflict - from the speech.

As Bush approaches his re-election campaign, Contra Costa Times has checked off his campaign promises from last time - and found that fewer than half of them have been met.

Some of the promises sound like satire now: Especially "Support a bipartisan Commission to Eliminate Pork-Barrel Spending" and "Pay down the national debt to the lowest level since the Great Depression as a percent of the gross domestic product" (US national debt has risen from 57.6% of GDP when Bush took office to 65% now and will get worse). The Independent ran some other unflattering numbers earlier this week.

Of course, none of this much worries Bush's home fans: they prefer to focus on his "leadership", and they'll lap up the hint that Bush might amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

And sometimes, they just seem intent on playing themselves. Most notably delusional - Senator John Warner, who said this of Bush "Any fair-minded American knows that he, in his heart, wants to lead, make the tough decisions and protect America and let the future generations have what we had." What? Like trillion-dollar deficits?

Next to the developing fiscal nightmare, Bush's most glaring failure to deliver has been on his promise to "unite Americans". Americans now appear more sharply divided than ever, but it is entirely likely that Bush could achieve a bare majority of the vote this November (although, to be fair, he got elected without achieving that apparently basic requirement last time).

The Democrats, currently bickering amongst themselves, have a duty to the rest of us to pick the candidate who can beat Bush. And such is the stupidity and denial now playing so handsomely in parts of the US electorate, that I seriously think they should consider something as banal as simple good looks (physical height helps presidents get elected too) - which would lean them towards Edwards. Can't decide, guys? Do us a favour and just pick the pretty one.