Bush's Bitter Deal
The Progressive magazine, March
By now, the contours of the next four
years are clear. George W. Bush, emboldened by his reelection
and suffering from the delusion that God is taking him by the
hand, has set his sights on more military interventions abroad
and more destructiveness at home.
He believes the primary functions of government
are to wage war, to fatten the wallets of the rich, and to maximize
the profits of corporations. On the home front, he is determined
to knock down one of the last pillars of the New Deal by privatizing
Social Security. Not for him the promoting of the general welfare.
Leave those duties to the churches.
He is a true believer in the Republican
cause: to delegitimize government as a force for social good,
and to throw the American people to the wolves of the market.
One of the most ridiculous passages in
Bush's State of the Union address was when he talked about "restraining
the spending appetite of the federal government."
He's one to talk. He's been spending on
war like there's no tomorrow.
He has sunk the deficit to $427 billion
this year, and then he vows to make "tax relief" permanent,
which means the rich are going to be able to skate away with loads
more cash that otherwise would go to the Treasury.
So who is Bush to praise "the bipartisan
enthusiasm for spending discipline"?
But there's method to his madness.
Bush actually likes the deficit. It gives
him an excuse to eviscerate any social program he doesn't like.
And so, having sunk the deficit to ear-popping
lows, Bush now says there's no money left in the cupboard for
solving our domestic problems.
Thus he pledges to hold the "growth
of discretionary spending below inflation."
He's cutting way back on food stamps,
Medicaid, prescription drugs for veterans, and on money that goes
to housing and heating for the poor. And he is taking the axe
to the $637 million Community Development Block Grants program,
which provides "a wide range of housing, nutrition, education,
and employment services to low income people," as The New
York Times notes.
"A cut of this magnitude will force
communities to close youth centers, curtail neighborhood revitalization
programs, help fewer elderly homeowners stay in their homes, leave
poor neighborhoods without water and sewer services, and reduce
or eliminate a host of other activities," says Sheila Crowley,
president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
We've got thirty-five million people living
in poverty in the United States, and homeless shelters are turning
away people for lack of beds. Ten million people-many of them
kids-aren't getting enough to eat. And all Bush is going to do
is make their lives more miserable.
The National Association of Manufacturers
and the Chamber of Commerce have their man in the White House.
He used his State of the Union not to advocate raising the minimum
wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 for more than seven years
now, but to rail against "needless regulation" and "junk
lawsuits" and "irresponsible class actions" and
"frivolous asbestos claims." He also promised a "pro-growth"
tax code, which is sure to be less progressive than the current
His assault on Social Security is perfectly
in keeping with his ruthless ideology. For decades, he has opposed
this program, and now that he's got the power, he wants to gut
it, though he strenuously denied any plans to privatize it during
the Presidential campaign. But what's another lie?
And as he did in his preparation for war
against Iraq, so he is doing now with Social Security: He is creating
a false crisis. According to a new Congressional Budget Office
report, Social Security is fully solvent to the year 2052.
Bush, with his usual fearmongering, ignored
that fact. "In the year 2027," he said in his State
of the Union, "the government will somehow have to come up
with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat."
That's nonsense. The Social Security Trust
Fund will still be in surplus at that time, the money safely invested
in government bonds, according to the trustees.
It is Bush's privatization plan that will
bankrupt Social Security. It will drain hundreds of billions of
dollars out of the trust fund in the next ten years.
With a little tinkering, like raising
the ceiling on the amount that the wealthy pay in Social Security
taxes (Bill Gates pays the same amount as a middle manager making
$90,000 a year), Social Security could be safeguarded indefinitely.
And even if the government did absolutely
nothing, Social Security would still be able to pay 78 percent
of benefits after 2052.
That's a lot more than Bush would be paying
with his plan, which would cut benefits by as much as 40 percent
for younger people whom he claims to be championing.
He made it crystal clear that if you're
under fifty-five, you can forget about a secure Social Security
check that guarantees to the next generation the same level of
benefits that the elderly and the disabled are getting today.
And what happens to people who are disabled
and under fifty-five today? More than six million people with
disabilities are in that age group, and they're currently on Social
Security.' Not until a mother with a disabled adult child confronted
the President at a public forum in Fargo did he aver that he would
not change the benefits for the disabled, though he hasn't released
the fine print on that.
Bush's Social Security plan is a boon
for Democrats and progressives. It puts into starkest relief two
vastly different visions of what our government should do: Should
government ensure that the elderly and the disabled have a decent
floor of monthly income, or should everyone under fifty-five have
to play the roulette wheel on Wall Street?
Social Security is an immensely popular
program, with forty-seven million Americans reliably receiving
their monthly checks in the mail. For those sixty-five and over,
Social Security provides 58 percent of their income. Without it,
a huge chunk of those people would fall into poverty.
For once, Democrats have come out strongly
in opposition to Bush's plan, even stirring up the courage for
a few catcalls during Bush's address to Congress. With the support
of unions, women's groups, the American Association of Retired
Persons, disability rights groups, and others who remain committed
to this program, Democrats ought to be able to hold the line against
Bush. If they do so, they should be able to gain ground against
the Republicans in 2006 and finally put a brake on the runaway
train that is the Bush Administration.
Nowhere is that train more dangerous than
in foreign policy. Both in his inaugural address and in his State
of the Union, Bush spoke in the crusading language that he's so
fond of, saying his goal was "ending tyranny in our world."
But Bush supports tyrants around the world:
from Equatorial Guinea to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Egypt
all the way to Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. And the
Bush Administration has eagerly fomented coups against democratically
elected governments in Haiti and Venezuela.
Bush is not one to let annoying facts
get in the way of lofty rhetoric. "Because we have acted
in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions
have achieved their freedom," he said. "By our efforts,
we have lit a fire as well-a fire in the minds of men."
In a creepy way, Bush fell in love with
the fire metaphor. Early in his inaugural address, he alluded
to 9/11 as "a day of fire." But later, he described
a different fire, the fire of liberty. "It warms those who
feel its power," he said, "it burns those who fight
its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach
the darkest corners of our world."
Taken literally, Bush wants to incinerate
In megalomaniacal fashion, Bush boasted
of being the champion of all oppressed people everywhere.
' 'America's influence is not unlimited,
but fortunately s for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable,"
he said, "and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause."
He set the country on a worldwide crusade,
though this time he was prudent enough not to use the word. "All
who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States
will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors."
And he warned "the rulers of outlaw regimes" that their
days were numbered.
This was more than a murmur of war. It
was a war cry.
In his State of the Union speech he made
clear who the most likely targets are: Syria and Iran.
To promote peace in the broader Middle
East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists
and pursue weapons of mass murder," he said. He demanded
that Syria "end all support for terror and open the door
to freedom." And he called Iran "the world's primary
state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving
its people of freedom."
When Bush (and Vice President Dick Cheney,
for that matter) used similar language about Iraq, some people
didn't take it seriously; it fact, it was the rattle of the snake.
So it may be this time.
Bush made only passing reference to North
Korea. As a result, Kim Jong-Il may be able to sleep better now,
but not the people of Damascus and Tehran.
As for Iraq, Bush disabused anyone who
thought he might use the recent elections as a convenient fig
leaf for getting out of Iraq.
"We will not set an artificial timetable
for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and
make them believe they can wait us out," he said. "We
are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic,
representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors,
and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our
men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor
they have earned."
He all but added: and not a day sooner.
Bush will keep the troops there for the
long haul, in part because he believes he's on a mission from
In his inaugural, he said God is "the
Author of Liberty." And Bush sees himself therefore as God's
literary agent. The goal of the United States, says Bush, is to
extend liberty and that's God's goal, too, so the two are working
Or, as he put it illogically at the end
of his State of the Union address, "The road of Providence
is uneven and unpredictable, yet we know where it leads- It leads
But if the road is unpredictable, how
does Bush know where it leads?
The day after his inauguration, Bush attended
a Nation Prayer Service, presided over by the Reverend Billy Graham.
Said Bush, using the same line from his speech at the Republican
Convention, "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand
For his part, the Reverend Graham said,
"Our Father, we acknowledge your divine help in the selection
of our nation's leaders throughout our history. And we believe
that in your providence, you've granted a second term of office
to our President George W. 'Bush, and our Vice President Richard
This is heady stuff. And when you believe
you're driving God's car, and when you believe He's giving you
global positioning, and when you believe He's right there in the
back seat blurting out directions, you don't care so much if you
run people over in the process, lots of people, even your own
You're just doing what He wants, and He
is all knowing.
George Bush is an extraordinarily dangerous
President, perhaps the most dangerous one in the history of the
republic, with the exception of Richard Nixon. Bush disdains civil
liberties, he countenances torture, he holds himself above the
laws of Congress and the treaties the United States is a party
to, he has no appreciation for the environment, he fuels bigotry
against gays and lesbians, he is hostile to women's reproductive
freedom, he is an enemy of organized labor, he is intent on rolling
back not just the New Deal but Progressive Era reforms, as well,
and he has set this country on a course of war, endless war.
He acts unrestrained. It is up to Congress
and the courts-and to all of us, nonviolently-to restrain him.
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