Historically, presidents have used their State of the Union address as a stage from which to sketch their vision of the nation and its future. So it was with President George W. Bush on Jan. 29: endless involvement in an expanded war against “terrorism,” increased military spending, more tax cuts for the rich, further erosion of democracy and privatization of Social Security and Medicare.

Those interviewed for this article – peace activists, union leaders, advocates for the poor, seniors – spoke of a different vision, one of a nation fighting to advance the goals of peace, equality and economic justice.

Michael Letwin said the president’s speech was meant “to intimidate those who oppose expanding the war and who oppose the economic injustices and violations of civil liberties that are a part of the war atmosphere.”

Letwin, president of the United Auto Workers Association of Legal Aid Lawyers Local 2325, added that Bush’s threats to expand the war made it “even more important for unions and civil liberties organizations to unite to expose the underlying issues behind Bush’s program.”

Mary Day Kent, executive director of the U.S. Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said, “There was no mention of the United Nations, and his promise of a $48 billion increase in military spending is a continuation of policies that give blank checks to the military-industrial complex. When he says we will ‘pay any price,’ he’s not talking about himself or his rich friends – and he certainly isn’t talking about Enron!”

Day Kent said she is “appalled” and “deeply concerned” over Bush’s threat to widen the war and his unilateralist go-it-alone policies, a view shared by Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who called Bush’s domestic program “hogwash.”

“He’d better be careful. If he acts like a cowboy and starts shooting he could get us in lots of trouble,” Burga said.

Scott Lynch, communications director of Peace Action, said Bush’s proposed increase in Pentagon spending was the largest year-to-year increase in 20 years.

“The U.S. budget is already larger than the combined budgets of the next ten countries. With the increase, it will be larger than the military spending of the rest of the world.” He added that the increase is larger than the total military spending of any other country.

Lynch said if Bush wants to create jobs, increased military spending is a “poor way” to do it. “Sure, some hi-tech jobs may be created at Lockheed, Boeing or Raytheon, but you could create more jobs almost anywhere – health care, education, public works – on a dollar-for-dollar basis.”

Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, said that “people are watching. Bush may be riding high in the polls because of the war in Afghanistan, but working people are paying attention to what’s coming down on the economic front. We still need extended unemployment insurance, subsidies for health care coverage and job training and retraining. And we have to stop on Fast Track or we’ll lose hundreds of thousands more jobs.”

Donna DeWitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, joined Hughes in attacking Bush for ignoring what both called “the Enron problem.”

“He’s using the war to cloak his real intention,” DeWitt said. “As far as his economic stimulus package goes, a better name would be to call it an ‘economic stimulus for the corporations’ – if they can’t make enough profit, have the government give them some. It’s plain trickle-down economics and never has worked.”

Matt Gardner, an analyst at Citizens for Tax Justice, warned of Bush’s desire to make last year’s tax cuts permanent. Pointing to the fact that the cuts are the principle reason last year’s surplus disappeared, Gardner said, “Bush knows that there’s a lot of pressure from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and several senators to postpone cuts in the top income tax brackets and he used his speech to try to prevent that. After all, money can only be spent one of two ways – on tax breaks or for government programs.”

Dave Kemnitz, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, blasted what he called Bush’s “two-faced policies. Last night he said he supported an extension in unemployment benefits. But only a few hours before his speech, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on legislation that would have extended unemployment insurance benefits and made more people eligible for benefits. Up here we say the proof is in the pudding. Frankly, I don’t think he cares a hoot about extending unemployment benefits.”

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Communist Party’s Political Action Commission, said the Senate vote on unemployment insurance “was yet another blow” to the millions of workers who have exhausted their benefits since the recession began nearly a year ago.

“It shows the urgency and the necessity of building mass, militant, pressure from below if Congress is to be forced to act in behalf of the people,” Fishman said. “Even more importantly, it illustrates the need for such a movement if we are to change the makeup of Congress in this year’s elections.”


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries