The campaign mantra of the Clinton administration back in the 1990’s is now part of American political lore. “It’s the economy, stupid.” By the end of his presidency there was a nearly $300 Billion surplus—that’s surplus!—in the Federal coffers. That’s not a stupid way to leave a public economy.
But then the economy became George W. Bush’s economy and, in nearly a flash the surplus was gone, siphoned off into the pockets of the richest Americans thanks to the Bush tax cuts. Of a sudden, we were on our way to where the Republicans, those mealy-mouthers of conservative fiscal frugality, but masters of the largest budget deficits in the history of the country, have brought us. So audacious has their plunder of the national treasure become that Dick Cheney could publicly say with a straight face that “deficits no longer matter,” that Ronald Reagan had proved that. Huh? Proved what? He only proved that it’s possible to be successful politically by shifting tax burden to the people who can least afford it, as he did in California when he shifted about 15% of the educational burden from the state to localities to make himself look like a frugal governor. He also left the biggest government up to his administration.
But even Reagan pales compared to George W. Bush, a man who surely believes that the purpose of holding political power is to make your friends rich. Nothing was able to stop him; it had become “stupid’s economy.” Republicans like to allege that the economy has an impetus of its own, that it is cycles a have little to do with the more circadian political behavior. This is the argument when things are going bad economically. But then, we will hear them claim that the way to fix things—this is their favorite—is to move more of the nation’s wealth to the rich. They know how to invest it, they will say, and when they do, jobs will be created, and some of that wealth will trickle back down to the less well-off. Taxing the rich would be the worst economic policy, they scream.
The so-called “war on terror” makes this work even better for Bush and his friends. At $9 Billion per month, a lot ends up in the sand, but a lot also ends up in the pockets of the war profiteers, the Haliburtons and KBRs and Bechtels and the defense contractors and energy companies. Meanwhile, Bush not only does the unthinkable (at which he excels) of retaining tax cuts during wartime, he pushes to make the tax cuts for the rich “permanent.”
Bush had discovered what most people already knew about—the credit card. As individuals, people can “tax” themselves, putting money into savings, foregoing some expenditures and such for rainy days, sending the kids to college, having something to fall back on in old age. Or, they can whip out the plastic and get that SUV and head off to Vegas, having fun now and worrying about paying for it later. American private debt is actually bigger than public debt. But when the roof comes down on an individual—even though the public has to pick up some of the pieces—it is different than when the nation has done the same thing. So when you have a president who has never run a business successfully, and been bailed out by his father or father’s friends when he failed, who never had to own up to anything, you are in danger of having a Mr. Stupid’s Economy. Even Reagan recognized that. In his Reagan Diaries he wrote: “A moment I’ve been dreading. George [H.W.Bush] brought his n’er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one [Jeb] who lives in Florida; the one [George W. Bush] who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job.”
What is truly astonishing has been watching this country sit by and allow this immature, callous, S.O.B. (and I mean that literally) tear the country apart. The Republicans, mostly too-stupid or smart enough to know when they were getting their pockets filled, were like parents abiding the antics of a cognitively-challenged child. The ineffectual Democrats were like neighbors who thought it was not their place to say anything when the little monster tore up their flower-beds. The former surplus was laughed off, and it didn’t seem to matter at all when projections of what the tax cuts—tax cuts that Stupid’s economy wanted to make “permanent,” as though the world might never change in a way that we might have to cough up something to pay for our public services and profligate ways—would render in shifting the country’s wealth inexorably into the pockets of those who least need it.
Up to the very end we will hear George Bush say that the economy is growing under him—it is, although verrrrry slowly these days—but he is only referring to productivity and the creation of wealth. He is not referring to the distribution of that wealth. Nobody has dome more than Bush to realign that distribution in favor of the corporations, stockholders, and the rich. Under Bush the number of lobbyists in Washington more than doubled. The likes of Jack Abramoff had all the access to the decision-makers that they needed. We already know that the salaries and other compensation of American CEO’s averages 300 times that of the average worker in their companies (the European CEO rations, for comparative purposes is 60 to 1.) Just because an economy is growing in productivity, and profit, doesn’t mean that the growth in wealth of the worker is growing commensurately. Even growth in the number of jobs can be a misleading statistic, especially when there has been a substitution of well-paying and well-benefitted jobs for what are not inappropriately called “burger-flipping” jobs. Moreover, may corporations have increased their productivity and profits by moving their production offshore.
Now, as we count the days in the last months of the moron’s administration some chickens have come home to roost. At this writing oil is at $133/barrel and showing no signs of slowing despite Bush’s regular trips to walk holding hands with his royal Saudi friends. The dollar has plummeted against other currencies to where the Euro is worth more than a buck and a half; console yourself with a continental breakfast in Paris these days in which a café au lait and a croissant will cost you over ten of those once noble greenbacks. Back home the country reels under the results of deregulation of securities that allowed sub-prime rates to bring down huge financial institutions and thrown hundreds of thousands out of their homes. Bush trivializes these matters with statements that “the country is experiencing some economic difficulties,” as though he has not been a major (not exclusive) party to their emergence, and as though they are temporary. The economic effects of his so-called ‘war on terror’ and its on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be felt for years, if not decades. The American people will suffer Mr. Stupid’s mis-guided policies long after he has retired to his ranch to collected speaker’s fees, board memberships and enjoy the beneficence of the rich people he grew up with. He will have gone full-circle without a single economic success, personal or presidential.
©2008, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.21.2008)