Mars eclipses Venus in out-of-this-world Bush speech

January 26, 2004|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON - When the president decided to send Americans to Mars, I had to agree with comedian Jon Stewart's political analysis: It's official. He's given up on Earth.

Well, the Mars venture has yet to achieve liftoff. It flopped in the polls and didn't even make it onto the launching pad of the State of the Union address. The only proof that Mr. Bush is still interested in going to Mars is that he didn't utter a single word of worry about the Earth's environment on Tuesday.

At the risk of being an amateur astronomer, it's clear the president is aligning his campaign strategy with the red planet. There was a whole lot more Mars than Venus in the combative speech that's going to form a celestial blueprint for the 2004 election.

Mr. Bush has permanently overcome his background as a sometime Air National Guardsman. He is now officially commander in chief of a War on Terror that has no end and a War in Iraq that has no exit strategy.

Remember the last State of the Union address, when he offered a pre-emptive justification for a preventive war against actual weapons of mass destruction? Well, this year he justified it by the discovery of "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." What will it be next year? The discovery of classes in nuclear physics at Baghdad University?

Or, as another wag asked, is that what the robot is doing on Mars anyway? Looking for WMD?

Mr. Bush wisely and properly offered gratitude and praise for American soldiers. These are men and women who were trained to shock and awe and stayed to rebuild and beware. Yet there was nothing but a nod to those Americans sacrificed to the harshest of gods.

Not a single name of the 500 Americans killed in Iraq was read. There was room for quarterback Tom Brady, but there were no widows or orphans sitting in the box with the first lady. No wounded need apply for a place in the Martian rhetoric.

Indeed, the sharpest thrust in the speech was Mr. Bush's assertion that anyone who disagrees with his foreign policy - hear ye, Democratic candidates - must harbor a "dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us." And there was nothing but the promise that this president could wage another war at unilateral will: "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country." Real Martians don't need permission slips.

Meanwhile, Venus is not entirely out of the Republican solar system but it is, in astrological terms, descending. And in political terms, there's going to be a whole lot less compassion in the conservative vocabulary of 2004.

Love? The state of love and love making is, as the goddess might put it, not reassuring. Mr. Bush delivered his speech on the Eve of St. Agnes, the patron saint of virgins, who chose death over marrying a Roman prefect. In a saintly spirit, the president called for doubling the money for abstinence on the grounds that it's "the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases."

As for marriage? Just a few days earlier, the administration was touting $1.5 billion for government programs promoting "healthy marriages." Now instead of just promoting marriage for heterosexuals, he wants to oppose it for homosexuals.

To appease the religious right, the president has assumed the same combative style. "Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage," he said, promising to support a constitutional amendment that would bar the door to gays. He seems to have dubbed gays the new weapons of marital destruction.

But if we are reading the charts, did anyone tell Mr. Bush that sometimes Mars can wound Venus? The president has been boasting about liberating and democratizing Iraq. But the American-backed Governing Council just voted to give the clergy in Iraq control over matters involving marriage, divorce and custody.

The Shariah laws can offer that nice faith-based marital combo of polygamy, forced marriage and right of a man to divorce his wife at will. "Healthy marriages," anyone?

The only thing that surprised me in this muscular campaign speech is that the pumped-up president actually came out - and at weird length - against steroids.

I know this is only the beginning of a campaign and that political speech has always overlapped with military lingo. But covering this one will demand combat pay. The Democratic candidates, for their part, will have to fight to prove they haven't given up on peace, on civil liberties, on Earth.

And the rest of us are going to ask ourselves: Just what planet are we on?

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays and Thursdays in The Sun.

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