This president has some explaining to do

Steve Hammer

The president of the United States will give his State of the Union speech next week, and I, for one, couldn't be more excited about it.

Watching long George W. Bush speeches is like watching someone perform karaoke really badly: You're appalled and shocked but still transfixed by the spectacle. Even his biggest fans must admit he doesn't give good speeches.

And it'll be interesting to see just how he describes the debacle of the past year and how he tries to accomplish his goals with half the United States and the rest of the world against him.

Each year, whoever happens to be president announces to the world that the "state of the union is strong," and Republicans and Democrats both cheer the news. This year, it may be a misstatement for Bush to say those words.

Because, figuratively and literally, the union of 50 states ain't looking so hot. Given a choice, probably seven or eight states would opt out of the USA. If Hillary Clinton is elected in 2008, probably six or seven Southern states might start talking about secession.

The main problem with the union is that it is being ruled without the consent of the majority. Time and again, polls show a 60 percent negative response to just about anything associated with the Bush Administration.

That means six out of 10 people in this country don't feel represented by their government, at any level.

Bush begged, borrowed and stole votes to nudge himself to 50.75 percent of the vote in 2004, which means, of course, that 49.25 percent voted against him. Even that doesn't constitute a majority of the people, because not every eligible voter chose to go to the polls.

What happens when you have a government ruling without the consent of its people? Exactly what you're seeing now. Corruption within the government, a growing discontentment among its people and a feeling of powerlessness.

It's hard to imagine a year being a bigger disaster for a president than 2005 was for Bush. The one issue which pushed him over the top was his perceived ability to manage crises, but his crisis management skills were at an all-time low last year.

It wasn't just the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, although that was certainly bad enough. While the Gulf Coast suffered, all of them Bush states, the president's first instinct was to fly over the devastation in Air Force One.

And it's not just his failed policies in Iraq, although those are pretty bad, too. Bush's "Stay the Course" policy is looking a lot more like LBJ and Nixon's Vietnam policies, which led to the first military defeat in U.S. history.

And it's not just the economic devastation Bush's cut-taxes-and-spend theories have wreaked on our nation. A Texas oilman, you'd think, would at least be able to manage energy policy. But oil prices are at all-time highs.

The wiretapping scandal, about which the facts are slowly seeping out, shows that this administration has no regard for the law or for its citizens. Nixon was driven from office and Clinton was impeached for far less than this.

Gauging from his recent public remarks, the president is starting to realize that the public is against him. Gone is the swagger of November 2004 and his inauguration promise to set the world ablaze. It's been replaced by evasiveness and even contrition.

Politicians usually campaign to their base constituency but govern from the center, because that's where compromise is found. Unwilling to try compromise until now, the president is finding that he has no bargaining partners to compromise with.

The left demonizes him and is counting the days until his departure. They have been given no incentive to compromise. The right wing, not satisfied with control over all three branches of government, wants to extend its reach even more. That means stripping government of all its duties except military, police, surveillance and moral enforcement.

So the president finds himself in a room without a door. Nobody can come in and nobody can leave. Either you're for him or against him. That was his plan all along, but it's not working out the way he thought it would.

The president won't tell you, but I will: The state of our union is in danger. Unless a unifying figure emerges to help lead this country, we're fated to disaster. We'll become China's bitch, both economically and militarily. We'll build up even bigger deficits. We'll never be able to leave Iraq.

If Bush admitted to even part of that scenario, he himself could become that unifying force. How unlike this president that would be.

Settlement pleases no one</>b

The Marion County Sheriff's Department has agreed to pay out $950,000 to the family of a man shot and killed in 2001 by a deputy. The agreement came on the day of jury selection in a civil trial in the death of stockbroker John Leaf, who was shot after allegedly lunging at an officer with a knife.

Cpl. Ronald Shelnutt, who was the officer who shot Leaf, was cleared of criminal misconduct by a grand jury. He's also been the object of a media campaign to discredit him.

The settlement should please no one. If Shelnutt is innocent, then why did the county agree to fork over a million bucks? If he's not, then why did a grand jury clear him.

Nothing will bring Leaf back to life, of course, but a thorough examination of the case at trial might have solved any doubt about the shooting. Instead, the people get nothing and Shelnutt is still under the microscope, his every mistake being publicized by local media.

It's too much to ask for, but can we now close the books on this case? It's been nearly five years and a good cop's name has been dragged through the mud. It is time to move on.


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