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The Tentacle


August 30, 2004

Not As Safe And Far More Vulnerable

Tony Soltero

One of the more tragicomic sideshows of the 2004 presidential campaign has been the complete inability of the Bush camp to come up with a positive theme.

The President's "re"-election campaign has been one incessant avalanche of negativity towards Senator John Kerry, often steeped in lies and distortions, as we've been seeing with the so-called Swift Boat crowd. And despite plenty of evidence that this approach has been only marginally effective in the polls, at best, President Bush's handlers seem to be incapable of changing their tune.

But it doesn't take too much analysis to understand the method to their madness. Trying to find something positive to say about the Bush presidency is akin to trying to cultivate rice in Arizona. The more one tries to find some sort of hook around which to justify President Bush's continuance in office, the more one understands that going negative on Kerry is the only option available to his campaign.

What accomplishments, exactly, can Mr. Bush point to?

Let's go back four years for a moment. When Bill Clinton left office, his administration had built a $150 billion federal budget surplus, the first time the nation had been in the black since the late sixties. The gargantuan national debt was shrinking rapidly, to the point where the famous "Debt Clock" in New York had been turned off.

The elimination of the deficit and the reduction of the debt was by far the most important accomplishment of the Clinton presidency. Much of this debt was (and is) held by foreign investors: the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Saudis. Bill Clinton (and his Treasury secretary, Robert Rubin) understood that this debt, more than anything else, had placed America in a state of extreme economic vulnerability. The retirement of the national debt - suddenly a very attainable goal towards the end of the Clinton years - would empower the United States to act in its own best interest in the future, without having to tiptoe around the sensibilities of its creditors.

We were well on the way to rational tax cuts, aimed at those Americans who could have used them the most; federal tax cuts that wouldn't have been immediately wiped out by corresponding increases in state and local levies and fees, as has happened under Bush; and tax cuts that could have enabled us to preserve Social Security and Medicare without plunging us into the red. Yes, we were that close to having it all.

Fiscal solvency is the single most critical component of national security. Bill Clinton understood this, and despite having to deal with an unremittingly hostile Congress, a Congress that abdicated its duty of public service to obsess over sex in the Oval Office, he righted our economic ship and immeasurably strengthened the nation's finances. He passed our newfound fiscal strength to his successor, George W. Bush.

So what did Mr. Bush do? He took the keys to the Ferrari, swigged some bourbon, hopped in without his seat belt, and immediately wrapped the car around the neighbor's tree.

In only four short years, Bush has squandered our public treasury to the point of running up an unprecedented $500 billion deficit. That's just for this year; next year's shortfall projects into the $700 billion range. And let's not even TALK about the resultant cumulative debt.

When Ronald Reagan piled up $200 billion deficits in the 1980's, his favorite excuse was to blame the then-Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. (The GOP held the Senate throughout most of Reagan's years.) President Bush doesn't even have that alibi; Congress has been firmly in his party's control throughout his regime.

Hard to believe that the Republicans were once perceived as the fiscally conservative party, isn't it? What would you do to your teenagers if they were that reckless with their allowance?

Where has President Bush spent all of our money? Much of it has been flushed down the sinkhole known as Iraq - a war President Bush freely chose to pursue, employing shaky rationales that have turned out to be without merit, and ignoring those who told him that an Iraq invasion, besides being morally unjustifiable, was nothing but a diversion from the real battle against terrorism.

A war that has accomplished nothing but replace one dictator with another.

A war on which he has spent hundreds of billions of dollars, while at the same time dramatically decreasing government revenues through massive corporate tax cuts. If you or I ran our household budgets that way, our credit reports would be shredded and set ablaze. And this was the President who promised to run the government "like a business?" Well, maybe he meant Enron.

Our former budget surplus now sits in the portfolios of Halliburton executives. Meanwhile, our troops continue to die in a dubious, bogged-down war with no end in sight. Much of the National Guard has been deployed to Iraq, which severely hurt relief efforts during the recent hurricanes. Presidents have been impeached for much less.

Not to mention, of course, that the deficit's great comeback has made us far less safe as a nation, not more, despite the administration's chest-thumping about the War on Terror (steady stream of Code Oranges notwithstanding). The 9/11 hijackers were Saudi (not Iraqi) citizens - but since the Saudis also hold so much of our debt, we need to play ball with them. We can't too loudly criticize their appalling human-rights record, or their slavish devotion to a particularly malignant strain of Islamic fundamentalism (Wahabism) - our economy is just too dependent on them.

A responsible administration would work to reduce this dependency. President Bush has done exactly the opposite.

Then there's China. A vast and powerful, if currently poor, country with natural and human resources as far as the eye can see. The Chinese also hold a significant proportion of our debt. How can we influence them to improve their human-rights records and embrace democracy when they have the power to financially blackmail us?

Thanks to President Bush and his coterie, America is now more vulnerable than it's ever been. The Republicans' testosterone-based foreign policy, long on cowboy swagger and short on long-term planning and substance, might be viscerally satisfying at some level to many Americans, but it hasn't made us any more secure. And that can be directly tied to our budget meltdown.

Asked about the deficit, the Bush administration just shrugs and blames it all on 9/11, if not Bill Clinton; just another day of visionary leadership and accountability from your personal-responsibility President.

The budget is just one slice of shrapnel from the train wreck that is this administration. There's also the loss of three million American jobs; the blatant disregard for the Bill of Rights, the intimidation (if not outright co-opting) of the media; a desultory environmental record; the regression in race relations; and a reliance on pseudo-Christian fundamentalist superstition over verifiable science in far too much national and international policy. We're not any safer, we're not any freer, and we're not any richer.

No wonder the Bush campaign's M.O. has been to attack, attack, and attack. Since they've left the nation in far worse shape than they've found it, it's not like they have any accomplishments they can actually celebrate.

For sure, the Democrats have attacked Bush as well. But there's a big difference between attacks based on actual, quantifiable issues, policies, and results, and attacks based on smears, whispers and murky innuendo. The Republicans are masters of the latter.

But there is hope that Americans will reject the Republican culture of fear, best exemplified by the constant public terror warnings, and embrace the positive message of hope and change offered by Senator John Kerry and Senator John Edwards. We need to turn this ship around before we re-enact the tragedy of Argentina. Will enough Americans wake up to what awaits us if President Bush is allowed to continue looting our treasury?

We shall see.



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