Richard Reeves

The Oilman Cometh

WASHINGTON -- It is generally a mistake to operate on the flip assumption that politicians do not mean what they say. They may fudge a bit, trim positions in campaigns, dodge a question or two, abandon an old promise. They may say "I care" or "I listen" and then simply analyze a problem to avoid being pinned down on an actual solution.

But, in fact, politicians and officials usually do tell you who they are and how they think, and it should not be hard to figure out what they intend to do.

Listening to George W. Bush as he tiptoed through the presidential campaign, it was obvious that he was a mainstream Republican of moderate manner with core views on such things as tax cuts, deregulation of business and unilateralist military-driven foreign policy. He did, it is true, mislead a few people willing to believe that he was a closet environmentalist.

But he is what he says he is, and if we don't understand him, we have only to listen to Vice President Dick Cheney. They are both oilmen, after all, and they have been pretty clear about what they are trying to do these days. They want to transfer money from the government to the investing classes. They want to eliminate as many regulations and obstacles as they can to get out of the way of American corporations. They want to win the Cold War -- again!

They believe those things will make the United States a more prosperous, comfortable and greater country. And these days they are, by accident or design, becoming bolder in stating their objectives in the clearest possible terms. How could the president be clearer the other day than saying we need a tax cut sooner rather than later so people can pay higher prices for gasoline sooner rather than later? The president is proposing a wealth transfer from the taxpayers and government to oil companies. And, by the way, maybe the government should have the right to kick people off their land to string more power lines across the country. He says what he means and, presumably, means what he says.

Meanwhile, the vice president is saying that energy conservation is for self-righteous fanatics and sissies. That's not hard to understand, is it?

At lower levels, the White House says this is all God's will. Or, that is what White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in defending the right of each of us to own a new Lincoln Navigator and get 7 miles to the gallon or whatever. His thinking came close to what Anatole France once said of equality in his country, that both the rich and poor are free to choose to sleep under the bridges of Paris.

Fleischer's words about driving over the bridges of America were: "The American way of life is a blessed one. We have a bounty of resources in this country. What we need to do is make certain that we're able to get those resources into the hands of consumers so they can make the choices that they want to make as they live their lives day to day."

As for national security, Bush has telegraphed his intentions to build up the military, though perhaps a different kind of military, not so much because of new weapons but because of new enemies. He speaks for a national missile defense shield while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has begun talking about giving priority to space as a future battleground.

Now, no one yet has found anything like a viable missile shield, to say nothing of space weaponry, things such as "space mines" designed to incapacitate enemy sensing devices up there. So instead of looking for technology, we are seeking out enemies to help persuade taxpayers that we need new research and technology. The enemies chosen so far to promote missile defense are "rogue states" -- North Korea, Iran and Iraq. The enemy who might attempt to neutralize our satellites and other space hardware would have to be China or Russia. So here we go again.

And down below, at least here in Washington, the plain-spoken Bush administration has not really attracted as many enemies as you would think to proposals like this. It seems that the loyal opposition, the Democrats and their allies, are only just beginning to realize that the president and his men may actually mean what they are saying.

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