Bush has some nerve lecturing
By MAUREEN DOWD
March 1, 2005
WASHINGTON -- It was remarkable to see President Bush lecture
Vladimir Putin on the importance of checks and balances in a democratic
Remarkably brazen, given that the only checks Bush seems to
believe in are those written to the "journalists" Armstrong Williams,
Maggie Gallagher and Karen Ryan, the fake TV anchor, to help promote
his policies. The administration has given a whole new meaning to
checkbook journalism, paying a stupendous $97 million to an outside PR
firm to buy columnists and produce propaganda, including faux video
The only balance W. likes is the slavering, Pravda-like "fair
and balanced" coverage Fox News provides. Bush pledges to spread
democracy while his officials strive to create a Potemkin press village
at home. This White House seems to prefer softball questions from a
self-advertised male escort with a fake name to hardball questions from
journalists with real names; it prefers tossing journalists who protect
their sources into the gulag to giving up the officials who broke the
law by leaking the name of their own CIA agent.
W., who once looked into Putin's soul and liked what he saw, did
not demand the end of tyranny, as he did in his second Inaugural
address. His upper lip sweating a bit, he did not rise to the level of
his hero Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Instead,
he said that "the common ground is a lot more than those areas where we
disagree." The Russians were happy to stress the common ground, as well.
An irritated Putin compared the Russian system with the American
Electoral College, perhaps reminding the man preaching to him about
democracy that he had come in second in 2000 according to the popular
vote, the standard most democracies use.
Certainly Putin, the autocratic former KGB agent, needs to be
upbraided by someone -- Tony Blair, maybe? -- for eviscerating the
meager steps toward democracy that Russia had made before Putin came to
power. But Bush is on shaky ground if he wants to hold up his
administration as a paragon of safeguarding liberty -- considering it
has trampled civil liberties in the name of the war on terror and
outsourced the torture of prisoners to such bastions of democracy as
Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (The secretary of state canceled a trip
to Egypt last week after Egypt's arrest of a leading opposition
"I live in a transparent country," Bush protested to a Russian
reporter who implicitly criticized the Patriot Act by noting that the
private lives of U.S. citizens "are now being monitored by the state."
Dick Cheney's secret meetings with energy lobbyists were
certainly a model of transparency. As was the buildup to the Iraq war,
when the Bush hawks did their best to cloak the real reasons they
wanted to go to war and trumpet the trumped-up reasons.
The Bush administration wields maximum secrecy with minimal opposition.
The White House press is timid. The poor, limp Democrats don't have
enough power to convene congressional hearings on any Republican
outrages and are reduced to writing whining letters of protest that are
tossed in the Oval Office trash.
When nearly $9 billion allotted for Iraqi reconstruction during
L. Paul Bremer's tenure went up in smoke, Democratic lawmakers vainly
pleaded with Republicans to open a congressional investigation.
Even the near absence of checks and balances is not enough for
W. Not content with controlling the White House, Congress, the Supreme
Court and a good chunk of the Fourth Estate, he goes to even more
ludicrous lengths to avoid being challenged.
The White House wants its Republican allies in the Senate to
stamp out the filibuster, one of the few weapons the handcuffed
Democrats have left. They want to invoke the so-called nuclear option
and get rid of the 150-year-old tradition in order to ram through more
Bush and Condi Rice strut in their speeches -- the secretary of
state also strutted in Wiesbaden in her foxy "Matrix"-dominatrix black
leather stiletto boots -- but they shy away from taking questions from
the public unless they get to vet the questions and audiences in
Administration officials went so far as to cancel a town hall
meeting during Bush's visit to Germany last week after deciding an
unscripted setting would be too risky, opting for a round-table talk in
Mainz with preselected Germans and Americans.
The president loves democracy -- as long as democracy means he's always
Maureen Dowd is a columnist with The New York Times. E-mail: