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COLUMN

America À la Bush

Philip Burrowes

During the energy crisis of the late 1970s, U.S. President Jimmy Carter asked his fellow citizens to use less gas in defiance of OPEC’s price hikes, a “moral equivalent of war.” Unfortunately, his ideological rhetoric was misinterpreted as a call for war among the American people. This eventually led to gas siphoning, increased drug trafficking, and the election of an actor as Carter’s immediate successor. Nevertheless, it showed that the people of this country had too much pride to sit idly by as troubles mounted around them.

At least, that was the idea. President Bush seems to have a different conception of the American master plan: a moral equivalent of stagnation. So long as his administration and the rest of the country plods along its merry way, things will get sorted out.

Compare his approach to the contemporary energy crises in California and in Chicago (which just shows that the rest of Illinois is backwater, but that’s beside the point). Does Bush advise Americans to regard the deficiencies in our power infrastructure as signs of possible energy overconsumption? The official word out of Washington is, “It should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life... The American way of life is a blessed one, and we have a bounty of resources in this country.’’

Not only is the current energy problem a minor snag, but it is now the American patriotic duty to pretend that nothing is happening. For those who doubt the precedent for such myopic optimism, look no further than World War II-era Superman, who protected “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” despite constantly lying to Lois Lane, performing acts of over-vigilanteism, and hailing from another planet. Of course, his use of yellow and red did suggest Communist leanings...

To be fair, the president has just been wary of quick fixes (not involving Alaska). He realizes that his is part of a fundamental problem which should not be superficially attended to, but instead addressed in a manner that would preclude the emergence of similar situations for some time. While Bush would gain considerable popular support by swiftly solving the situation in California -- a state he lost in the election -- he holds our well-being in higher regard than his own standing. Also, he is just a puppet.

Other elements of Bush’s policy exhibit equal obstinacy. Look no further than the espionage situation with China. In shades of Gerald Ford’s debate flub about no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, Bush said in a Good Morning America interview that he’d use “whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself.” Subsequently, he and his personnel have tried to pretend he was upholding the One China policy. Yes, he’s willing to pretend the implications of things that he himself has said don’t exist.

Don’t forget that the United States has restarted surveillance flights near China, despite the People’s Republic’s demands otherwise. The stubbornness here is two-fold. First, China is perhaps the second strongest force in the world - after the U.S. but before the U.N. - yet the president will not do China the justice of settling the issue. Second, the very idea of spying is a Cold War remnant that nobody seems to want to abandon. Bush might just start propping up anti-China authoritarianism in order to reenact the glory days of American imperialism; the former Soviet republics and Pakistan are ripe for modern-day Marcoses.

Countries are no longer eager for Yankee interventions on their behalf, however. Interventions have bothered Western Europe since the Monroe Doctrine, let alone the League of Nations. Former members of the Third World show exactly why they never chose in the first place: the Free World was messed up as well. Unwilling to stand in line for the American drill sergeant, such nations were instrumental in voting the U.S. out of two prominent United Nations bodies.

This is a result of outright nonconformity on the part of the U.S., always acting as either the vanguard or the spoiler in U.N. endeavors. In this case, the Bush administration’s conformism has had exemplary positive consequences, such as pushing for ever-stringent definitions of human rights. The appropriateness of the president’s decision to persist without such seemingly vital officials as ambassadors, however, is another question.

Some matters actually do show a measure of activism on Bush’s part. He’s been perfectly willing to sign or withdraw from various treaties and agreements, much to the chagrin of both domestic and international interests. It is an entertaining contrast for the public; a divisive “uniter,” the aloof diplomat. Bush’s mien, whether due to plain ignorance or a deliberate inertia, is not nearly so endearing to the outside world, which is much larger than he might recall.