WASHINGTON (SP) – President Bush surprised many during his State of the Union address Tuesday when he glossed over the troubled economy and situation in Iraq to add Indiana forward Ron Artest to the “Axis of Evil.”
Bush said while he would make every effort to put together a coalition of NBA owners to remove Artest from the Pacers’ roster, he would not rule out going alone.
"The course of this nation," Bush said, "does not depend on the decisions" of others.
To those who have urged the president to spend more time rallying other owners and NBA officials to the cause, Bush said, “We will consult, but let there be no misunderstanding: If Ron Artest does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him."
During Sunday’s game against Miami, The forward had two confrontations with Heat coach Pat Riley and made an obscene gesture from center court. During the second incident with Riley, the Heat coach pushed Artest away after the forward bumped him. Earlier this season, Artest was fined $10,000 for shoving Dallas' Raja Bell and has served a three-game suspension for smashing a $100,000 TV camera in New York.
"If this is not evil," Bush said after offering a listing of the way Artest has punched and taunted his way through the current NBA season, "then evil has no meaning."
“Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Ron Artest is not a strategy and it is not an option," the president added. “There’s no telling when he could go noo-cue-lar.”
Following the speech, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he would introduce a resolution requiring Bush "to come back to Congress and present convincing evidence of an imminent threat before we send troops to war in Indiana."
Foreign reaction to the Bush speech was skeptical.
French ambassador Francois Bujon de l'Estang said his countrymen found Artest's antics "refreshing" and "honest." "Again the Americans appear to be blind to the emotional genius of a true artisan," de l'Estang said. "First, Jerry Lewis and now Ron Artest."