National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Bush Countdown Begins

WASHINGTON – President Bush needs no reminder that his White House days are dwindling down.

All he has to do is to look out his window and see the scaffolding being built for the presidential viewing stand for the Jan. 20 inaugural parade of the next president of the United States.

But all is not lost. Bush can do a lot in his waning time in office to repair his legacy and help the American people suffering from unemployment and loss of health insurance.

He can support a $25-billion bailout for the “big three auto-makers” whose top executives were in his corner during his two presidential elections and are now begging for help. But he is not inclined to do so.

It is not for the auto industry alone. Thousands of workers beyond the assembly line are affected by the threatened industry-related jobs.

I didn’t hear any screams of protest or observe a truckload of conditions when the financial system was summarily handed a $700 billion bailout from taxpayers’ pockets. Did you?

But then what do you expect when a top Wall Streeter from Goldman Sachs like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is running the show to an uncertain trumpet.

To also enhance his image, the president should focus on housing foreclosures.

Republican administrations headed by Ronald Reagan and both Bushes have shown little respect for the federal government and its workers, perhaps with the exception of the Pentagon.

The current president tried to privatize as many government jobs as he could in his eight years in office.

He also hired more than 100,000 private contractors to assist in the Iraqi war, paying them high wages. The generals in Iraq also drummed up a scheme to pay thousands of Iraqis not to fight the U.S. How do you like that? Some wars have been fought for great and legitimate causes. Now we have mercenary wars that have yet to be explained or defended.

The irony is that scads of Bush’s political appointees throughout the government are moving quickly into top level Civil Service career positions for their personal job security and maybe to keep their hands on a Cabinet department’s conservative policies.

Those policies affect regulatory initiatives that concern drinking water standards; air quality and fisheries limits, among other issues.

The Washington Post said Tuesday that the Interior Department’s top lawyer has shifted a half a dozen key deputies – who may have been involved in controversial environmental decisions– into senior Civil Service posts.

The Post – quoting anonymous sources fearful

Of affecting their careers– said the shifts to Civil Service represent the Bush administration’s effort to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy.

The administration’s moves to give job security to outgoing loyal aides and jump them into career Civil Service posts is not unique. It even has a name – “burrowing” – and is a longtime practice by outgoing administrations.

On the foreign policy front, it would be the worst of folly for Bush to attack Iran before he leaves office. Two wars are enough at this time.

Despite his failures, particularly the unprovoked 2003 invasion of Iraq which led to more than 4,000 American deaths and 30,000 wounded for life, along with tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, Bush shows no remorse and still speaks of a military victory.

He has said often that he expects to be vindicated as time goes by. But he should first vow to do no further harm as he walks out the White House door.

As for jobs, neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney have to worry about their future.

Both men have enormous family wealth and fat government pensions.

Cheney recently built a new home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland next door to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He has another home under construction in McLean, Va., right across from the CIA and close to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Cheney also has a home at Jackson Hole in his native Wyoming.

The president doesn’t have to fret about his future either. He has said he wants to make money when he leaves the White House. He will.

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