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By Bill Gallagher

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." -- President George W. Bush, Aug. 5, 2004.

DETROIT -- Sure it was a gaffe. He made a mistake and, if it were anyone else, we would just chuckle a bit and move on. But this quintessential Bushism, the political inversion of the Hippocratic Oath of physicians -- "First, do no harm" -- is the finest summation of his presidency ever uttered.

President George W. Bush fell into this lapse at a signing ceremony for the $417 billion defense spending bill. Flanked by the unflinching Field Marshall Rumsfeld, no one in Bush's audience of Pentagon politicians, military brass and White House staffers reacted, a tribute to the disciplined automatons the president feels comfortable surrounding himself with. He, of course, didn't have a clue and kept on reading. When Jay Leno showed the clip to his "Tonight Show" audience, people roared.

Unlike so many of his critics, I do not believe, nor have I ever suggested, that George W. is dumb. Ignorant, yes, especially in his dealings with the rest of the world, but he's hardly stupid. Sure, he's inarticulate, incurious and intellectually lazy.

The only facts he cares about are those that support his preconceived opinions. He makes decisions based -- by his own admission -- on what "my gut tells me."

In dangerous situations requiring subtlety, delicacy and sophistication, George W. relies on his political primitivism, sold as boldness, but it is really disguised recklessness. That instinctive behavior has consistently brought great harm to our nation and the world.

Bush is sly and smartly scripted, at least when he reads his lines correctly, and under the direction of his political brain, Karl Rove, he will do and say anything to stay in power.

The occupation of Iraq continues to bring great harm to the people there and our overstretched troops face the enormous task of trying to pacify a nation in widespread insurrection. The two-month truce between U.S. forces and militia fighters aligned with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is over and the fighting around Najaf is taking a terrible toll. More than 300 Iraqis died and that marks the heaviest number of casualties in a short period of time since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior and most respected Shiite leader and voice of moderation, is ill. He has been able to keep the lid on those urging open war on the occupiers. When he goes to rest in Abraham's bosom, the power vacuum likely will result in general insurrection and the bloodshed will get worse.

Since the transfer of political power in Iraq, U.S. losses are continuing at a deadly pace -- 42 Americans died in June, 54 in July. Electrical shortages are everyday occurrences. In many areas, raw sewage is polluting water supplies and typhoid and hepatitis are rampant.

George W.'s war of choice and experiment in nation-building have created considerable harm, fostered more terrorism and helped al-Qaida, our real enemy. But to spare himself from political harm, it's best for Bush to scare the hell out of the American people and polish his image as our great "war president."

So when the administration declares a new, elevated terror alert three days after the end of the Democratic Convention, we should wonder if it was just another political stunt. The way the warning was orchestrated only buttresses that cynicism.

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge made the ominous announcement that we had precise information that al-Qaida planned attacks on several East Coast financial centers. People were scared and stayed home from work.

A couple days later, we learned most of the information was three or four years old, predating Sept. 11, and some of the surveillance information found on al-Qaida computer files was easily available on the Internet. Why was the Bush administration not forthright from the start, telling people the truth -- that the information was dated, with a possible new twist based on the capture of an al-Qaida operative in Pakistan?

Ridge seemed to be following a Karl Rove script when he gave the alert a political brush, gratuitously saying, "Understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war on terror."

Bush was quick to maximize the threat, saying, "It's serious business. ... I mean, we wouldn't be, you know, contacting authorities at local levels unless something was real." Really?

We know George W. and Lord Halliburton, the vice president, have thoroughly politicized national security and the evaluation of intelligence to suit their own purposes, to win support for invading Iraq. But at the same time, they shrug off their casual passivity to a real threat of terrorism.

Recall the President's Daily Briefing of Aug. 6, 2001, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.'' We now know Bush told the 9/11 Commission he considered that specific warning "historical in nature," and did next to nothing in response to it.

Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney never hesitated in inflating, tailoring and distorting any information that would support their bogus claims of Saddam Hussein's weapons, his imminent threat to the United States and his alleged ties to al-Qaida. George W. and his terror alerts harm the national psyche but benefit his political fortunes.

You have to wonder whether Karl Rove has a little button on his desk, next to the "Collected Sermons of Rev. Bob Jones Sr.," that he presses every time he feels his boy's poll numbers need a jolt and a little "Orange Alert" might help. I don't put anything past these swine.

The economy continues to sputter. Second quarter growth slowed abruptly and the stock market is weak.

Instead of the 200,000 new jobs predicated for July, only 32,000 emerged.

Bush doesn't seem to notice, declaring on the campaign trail that "growth is strong and getting stronger," as he's set to become the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of American jobs.

A direct fiscal stimulus for the economy is out of the question, since Bush squandered the Clinton surpluses and we're now looking at a record $450 billion deficit this year. Bush's radical program to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and to do so by creating unconscionable debt for the working middle class, is causing terrible harm and is a monumental fraud.

Forty-three million Americans are without health insurance, and Bush's policies are causing more to fall into that difficult status. The Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research group, finds that, since 2001, nine million American workers have lost their health coverage. During Bush's watch, the proportion of people under 65 with employer coverage fell from 67 percent in 2001 to 63 percent in 2003.

That is a national disgrace, and more evidence of the harm Bush is causing.

People of every political stripe must mobilize to stop the radical wildmen in the White House who never stop plotting "new ways to harm our country and our people."

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 10 2004