Belaboring the Obvious

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bush and Creative Destruction....

It occurs to me that I haven't said too much about George W. Bush lately (although much more about his friends, associates and political allies). Of course, it might be that there's little to say about the man that hasn't already been said better by others.

But, we're getting to the point where we can, with some assurance, say that Bush's reign of error is clearly coming to an end. Oh, yeah, there will be more of Karl Rove's magic tricks ("hey, look, an illegal immigrant, over there!"). After 5-1/2 years, though (not including that bizarre 2000 campaign laced with more outright lies from him than you'd hear at a Liars Anonymous convention), we get a sense that we have a fix on him, finally. He's not the moron he's often made out to be--at least not in the strict clinical sense--but, what intelligence he does have is undone by a streak of calloused self-entitlement so profound that Louis XIV would stand in awe of it, with a bloated arrogance topping it all like a fat, red overripe cherry on a rancid sundae.

But, it was probably the lies that soured the public on George. He came into office with high ratings for honesty and credibility, but after five years of lying about almost everything, the public thinks now, um, not so much. That says a lot more about the American public's willingness to give a politician the benefit of the doubt than it says about Bush's facility with mendacity. While it's probably the thing with which he's had the most experience in life, he's still not very good at it, and the clumsiness shows. What was sloughed off initially as a Gary Cooper-ish, toe-in-the-dirt shyness about public speaking is now seen as a groping for the most convincing lie, the most operative spin.

The repeated lies about the war were what corked it. The inevitable compunction of Americans leads to a desire to correct our mistake, to have the troops brought home--if not immediately, then soon. The mistake was in believing in George W. Bush too much, in granting him the stature and the authority of the office. The public discovered, though, that George was just a small man in a big suit and cowboy boots with lifts in them. And they hated being lied to by such a character.

It's also true that the press had a great deal to do with elevating George Bush to a position in the national psyche he did not deserve. The press helped in amplifying and accrediting Bush's lies. They made it much easier for Bush to succeed in the illegal maneuvers he had planned. For that, the public is now skeptical of both Bush and the press that coddled him. And that's just one of the bits of damage that will be on the repair list after 2009. That hasn't stopped Bush from "working the ref" lately, for the purposes of the 2006 election, but after November, Bush likely won't regard the damage done beyond a "who cares what you think?" attitude.

Most people, whether by nature or nurture, or a combination of the two, are what they are, and most people's characters don't change much over time. Their views may change, but their psyches generally don't. George Bush, despite his self-congratulatory premise that God chose him for the job, is pretty much the same person he was before he became President. What marked his life was a relative freedom from having to live with his failures. He may have regretted not making his fortune in oil, like his very rich father, but he was always spared the damage which accrues to men who make big mistakes without a safety net. Through the largess of family friends, he could make a living while doing little to actually earn it.

His life, if one looks at the evidence, has been one long effort to best his father, either in fact or in his own estimation. Not long after his graduation from Harvard (a besting of sorts--his father went into the oil business after graduation from Yale, while Bush the Younger got a second degree, an MBA), he determined in 1978 to run for Congress, hoping to go to Congress at an age ten years younger than his father was upon entering Congress, and failed to win. Without any real knowledge of the oil business beyond his father's contacts in it and not much inclination for it, Bush went into the oil business, and failed, repeatedly. Each successive endeavor was bailed out by his father's friends, and it was only when the fatcats let him cheerlead for the Texas Rangers did he find a measure of success, maybe because he just liked baseball, but again, his fortune was largely made by big Texas money (his father's friends) in the sale of the Rangers rather than through any special skills of his own, through a deal which gave him an unequal share of the profits from that sale. When Bush became governor of Texas, that gift was, in effect, repaid with public funds. Bush made one of the wheeler-dealers in the Rangers deal, Tom Hicks, the chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., which manages the school's Permanent University Fund, which had also invested in one of the Rangers' sellers investment funds.

In a weird, disconsoling way, though, Bush is the perfect person to be leading the country right now, given his aims. He and his administration have been consummate liars, a vanguard in the attempt to delegitimize both knowledge and the search for truth, invariably deriding the intellectual process of weighing the facts and acting upon them. Where else could a man so much in denial of the truth, so dependent, as he has proudly proclaimed, on his "gut," so indifferent to facts, actually do the thing he had always been told at the family dinner table needed to be done, i.e., the destruction of the post-New Deal government which had prevented his family's large fortune from becoming immensely larger, the government which had seized his grandfather's Union Bank Corporation assets during WWII for trading with the enemy (even though some were returned after the war), the government which had forced the Bushes to redistribute some of their money through taxation to the "lazy" poor and the elderly.

To accomplish that required an elaborate system of lies, and Bush had spent his whole life lying--about his accomplishments, about his failures, about himself, and finally, during the 2000 campaign, not only about his past, but about what he intended to do once he was installed as the titular head of government. Eventually, the fringe press did what the mainstream press should have done at the outset--offered a glimpse into what Bush intended to do. A war with Iraq would complete, in his mind, what his father failed to do, and would provide him with the "political capital" he needed to accomplish his intended task--destroying the government. It has been the intention all along to make people hate that government, to make it dysfunctional, horribly expensive in both blood and treasure, to reinforce in the public mind that it was profligate with the public's money, and that everything would be much better if government could be turned over to private business to run. Social Security "reform" is the centerpiece of that effort, since it is both emblematic of the New Deal and a program which shows the public just how well government can work--it is a model of efficient and equitable distribution of tax dollars, and that is why, after most politicians would have quietly abandoned the effort after last year's truly meager showing of support for the idea, Bush is once again on the attack.

It's convenient for the corporate world to endorse and manipulate the anti-intellectualism now rampant in the country for profit, but it's odd, indeed, for the leaders of the country to employ that same anti-intellectualism in the management of the affairs of state and government, and to encourage it in as much of the public as is possible. If they're not truly stupid men, then there must be some reason for it.

That reason goes back, I think, to the way Bush was raised, to what he heard in the family household while growing up. Even in graduate school, he was disparaging of, for example, the SEC, one of those independent agencies of the New Deal, meant to prevent unscrupulous stock and bond traders and corporations from fleecing their investors, the mandate of which was to prevent in the future the sort of chaos which grew out of the market collapse of 1929.

If one looks at Iraq as the hoped-for rallying point of public opinion necessary for Bush to carry out a much more ambitious program of "creative destruction," along with a concomitant increase in government secrecy which had nothing to do with national security, the elements were in place for a wholesale transformation of the government which had evolved from the New Deal:

  • Bush, by executive order, began the process of transforming government jobs under federal civil service management to privatized ones by falsely claiming that private firms competing against government workers would produce greater efficiency.
  • Bush encouraged Congress to cut taxes on the wealthy repeatedly. Even when he complained about deficits, he has never vetoed a tax cut his administration recommended to Congress. Myriad lies were used to justify these cuts and while the most egregious ones were reserved for the so-called "death tax," the Bush administration and Bush himself, played with figures--especially distortive averages--with great regularity and with the object of misleading a public increasingly unable to interpret mathematical sophistry for what it was.
  • Erstwhile independent agencies were heavily politicized. Nixon had been unable to draw those agencies into the executive framework he controlled, so the Bush administration's plan was to make them as ineffectual or as friendly to big business as possible through political appointment. This happened to the SEC under Harvey Pitt, the CIA under Porter Goss, FEMA through long-time go-to guy, Joe Allbaugh, and his successor, Michael Brown, Robert Battista at the NLRB and Michael Powell as chairman of the FCC.
  • Highly political selections for cabinet posts, such as Mike Leavitt for the EPA, ensure those departments of government will drag their feet in carrying out the law, thus undermining their efficiency.
  • Tried to break federal union and collective bargaining rights in the formation of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Spending almost immediately went out of control after Bush's inauguration, and yet Bush chose not to veto a single spending bill. This had the effect of greatly increasing total government debt, made even worse by virtually unaudited war spending through supplemental requests. By the end of this fiscal year, annual interest payments on the debt will be over $350 billion. With ever-increasing military/intelligence spending of all types, this has the inevitable consequence of enabling Bush's demands for reduced domestic spending on social programs.
  • The Bush Medicare reform plan did three things--it shoveled large amounts of taxpayer monies and private co-pays (via the doughnut hole) to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, it further increased the national debt, and set the stage for future demands for cutbacks in the cost of Medicare, in large part intentionally created by the Bush administration through low-balling cost estimates of the plan to Congress and Republican demands that Medicare not be allowed to negotiate drug prices under the plan.
  • Repeated attempts to introduce a Social Security reform package which includes the seeds of Social Security's destruction, privatization, and which also provides for a means of implementation that would be back-breakingly expensive, greatly increasing future shortfalls, thus ensuring much, much more government debt.

Put these and other program changes together, and it looks much more like not just conservative "values," but, rather, a comprehensive intention to break the New Deal, to return the country to the Gilded Age, back to a time when government worked for the benefit of the obscenely wealthy.

In order to do all that, Bush has had to lie, and lie a lot--about what he wanted before he was elected, what he intended to do once elected, and what he is doing now. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are abject failures by almost any standard, but keeping them going serves the greater purpose of impoverishing the country's Treasury. Bush's attacks on science and trusting in his "higher Father" and his "gut instincts" appeal to those who can't figure out that what he's doing will ultimately harm them and their future generations, and to the multinational business community which cynically supports Bush in his aims to break the back of a government it sees as interfering with profit.

With the aid of a corrupt Republican Congress, Bush might well yet have time to ruin that government. But, since he's not a genius, just an ever-so-slightly brighter than average guy with a monstrous ego that tells him he can ignore reality at will, George may not realize that in the attempt to ensure a future for himself and his wealthy family free of the New Deal and the hated FDR's legacy, he will have ruined the country, too.


  • Indeed. I have for years told people that the reason Bush is failing is due to liberalness, not his conservatism. He's not a conservative. He's a liberal Internationalist with a cowboy hat.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:31 PM  

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