Earlier this month, Tim Russert asked George W. Bush, "Why do you think you are perceived as such a divider?"
"Gosh," responded the president, "I don't know, because I'm working hard to unite the country. I must tell you it's tough here in Washington, and frankly it's the biggest disappointment that I've had so far of coming to Washington."
But the fact is, after campaigning in 2000 to be a "uniter, not a divider," Bush is most certainly the latter. Not only is the country deeply divided over issues as painful and difficult as gay marriage and what it means to be patriotic -- remember "if you're not with us, you're against us"? -- but the United States is now also divided from the rest of the world, thanks to our economic and foreign policies, which are both viewed as bullying.
Based on his answer, the president seems genuinely unaware of why he is a divider and not a uniter. Perhaps we can help him understand. Take the answer he gave Russert about his National Guard duty, or lack of it. First, Bush evaded: I must have been there; I can't recall, etc. This was followed by an orchestrated line of defense. Did he support the Vietnam War? Well, no, not exactly. He didn't like that he had become so politicized, the mission was unclear and there was no exit strategy. Are we to believe that had we had the geopolitics right, Bush would have been over there giving the John Kerrys some much-needed support? Then he suggested that those who raise questions about his National Guard duty are attacking the National Guard.
The majority of Americans intuitively know the truth. Bush went into the Guard for the same reason as most people did: to avoid going to Vietnam. And they know that he jumped to the top of the list because of who his father was -- which is the same reason he was later able to buy into a baseball team for pennies on the dollar. His connections also allowed him to get out of the Guard early to go get his MBA -- something other Guardsmen were not allowed to do.
So why all the subterfuge and misdirection? The simple answer would have been, "Tim, like so many of my generation, I was very ambivalent about the war."
With a few well-chosen follow-up questions to his divider line, Russert could have proven even more clearly that the president may not be capable of being a uniter. Had Russert asked any of the following, we can only guess how the president would have answered.
"Mr. President, can you comment Senator Kerry's patriotism? I ask this question because, as you know, in the election of 2000 your campaign team attacked John McCain, another war hero, and in the election of 2002, Mr. Rove's team cast doubts on patriotism of Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee. As a uniter and not a divider, what can the voters expect to see and hear as you look forward to running against another Vietnam veteran?
"Mr. President, your Attorney General recently demanded that hospitals violate doctor-patient privilege and turn over records of all abortions so that his office can make a determination regarding the necessity of saving the mother's life. Do you support this action?
"Mr. President, you were deeded the 2000 election by the Supreme Court on a 5-to-4 vote. Perhaps the strongest advocate of your position was Justice Scalia. Now we learn that your Vice President will be entertaining Justice Scalia on a hunting trip. Can you justify this seemingly gross example of conflict of interest?
"Mr. President, a number of highly regarded scientists have charged that your administration alters scientific findings to fit your political agenda. Given that many regard your record on environmental matters to be very weak, would you please comment?
"Mr. President, earlier in this interview, you maintained that your decision to invade Iraq was based on the same intelligence that all other intelligence agencies were using, the inference being that if you erred, and so did everyone else. But isn't it true that the CIA's reports emphasized the ambiguity of the problem? And isn't it true that you relied not so much on the CIA but the rump intelligence group that Mr. Wolfowitz was running out of the basement of the Pentagon? This is the group that has been charged with 'cherry picking' CIA intelligence while relying on the questionable reports of ex-patriots. Can you comment?
"Mr. President, in your State of the Union address you found the time to discuss the problem of steroids in professional sports; but you said not a word about veterans, the environment, AIDS research, and you even dropped mention of your Mars initiative. Did your speech reflect your true priorities?"
"Finally Mr. President, about the Valerie Plame scandal. I know that you have said "we may never know" who outed this active CIA agent -- thereby committing a felony -- but this comment doesn't ring true. Your administration is the most tightly run in history, and you are the boss. So why can't you call in the two people who should know, Mr. Rove and Vice President Cheney, and simply order them to reveal the name of the leaker? Wouldn't that be the straightforward, buck-stops-here action to take if you want to get to the truth?
"Or maybe you don't? And, if not, Mr. President, why are you so mystified about why you are viewed as a divider and not a uniter?"
Publication date: 02/26/04