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The Gross National Debt

Friday, March 24, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

This is an open and ongoing question. "They" are, specifically, the Bush administration. And in the way of politics, "they" are generally the Republican party and Republican elected officials.

Since January of 2001, a myriad of decisions have been made by the current administration. Each decision fundamentally represents a whole host of other decisions that were discarded. And with that, the die was cast and a series of events were set in forward motion, damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead.

Today, however, those decisions are in a war of their own with public statements both past and present. The poor nature of these decisions are becoming glaringly apparent - public trust and confidence in this President and his presidency is steadily dropping. Facts have trumped ideology and with 20/20 hindsight, a majority of Americans are judging this President harshly. But opinion polls and judgments are not enough - they all have to reap what they sow.

Make the jump.

It was E.J. Dionne's op-ed in today's Washington Post that brought this front-and-center for me. The broad subject of his column is the Bush Presidency and the example he uses is the 10,777 fully furnished FEMA trailers becoming unstable in a hayfield in Hope, Arkansas.

He begins:

Is President Bush the leader of our government, or is he just a right-wing talk-show host?

The question comes to mind after Bush's news conference this week in which he sounded like someone who has no control over the government he is in charge of. His words were those of a pundit inveighing against the evils of bureaucrats.

Dionne is specifically referring to the press conference earlier this week, where Bush lamented the fact that "bureaucracies haven't always responded the way we [he] wanted them to". He finished this marvellously daft and quixotic observation with "I don't like that at all." I think any one of us could have guessed that he doesn't like that.

The column is full of interesting information, most of which is common knowledge on this site. But one nugget that I didn't know was the that reason the trailers are still mostly in Hope, Arkansas (300 have been moved - another 5,000 are committed to being moved - the remainder will be stored for future emergency use) is because the mostly fully-furnished homes don't meet the government's regulations for use in a flood plain. Dionne incredulously asks the question as to why the government spent between $300 and $430 million on trailers that its own regulations preclude for use in the area of the disaster - but I digress.

After discussing the particulars of the trailer debacle, Dionne gives us this:

"So I've asked Chertoff to find out," Bush said. "What are you going to do with them? I mean, the taxpayers aren't interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them. And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know -- sends wrong signals to taxpayers. But our people are good, hardworking people."

Hold on: The president of the United States runs the "big government" he's attacking. This is mysterious. If Bush's "good, hardworking people" aren't responsible for the problem, the villains of the piece must be alien creatures created by some strange beast called Big Government.

And then the money shot:

This episode is important because it is representative of a corrosive style of politics. Bush and many of his fellow Republicans have done a good business over the years running against the ills of Big Government. They are so much in the habit of trashing government that even when they are in charge of things -- remember, Republicans have controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for all but 18 months since 2001 -- they pretend they are not.

And when their own government fails, they turn around and use their incompetence to argue that government can never work anyway, so you might as well keep electing conservatives to have less government. It's an ideological Catch-22. Even their failures prove they are right.

My emphasis added. This is one of those things that you just know in your bones, even if you can't explain or articulate it. Yet when someone spells it out so clearly, it hits like having a ton of bricks dropped on you. It's so obvious and explains so much.

And that is what has me thinking today - will they reap what they sow? Bush took the Presidency (and I use the word "took" quite deliberately) in 2000 after running on a "Big Government Is Evil" platform. In 2002, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress on the "Big Government Is Evil" platform and threw in a bit of "The Other Guy Will Get You Killed" for good measure. The 2004 Presidential election was much more "The Other Guy Will Get You Killed" and much less of "Big Government Is Evil", yet the anti-big government argument worms its way back into the rhetoric and public statements of the President, members of his staff and other verbal assassins dispatched by Rove and company. No one ever calls them on it - there is no coherent, frustrated groan from the media or even prominent Democrats as to how patently ridiculous the argument is. They're still sowing, but they haven't had to reap just yet.

The closest this administration has come to truly reaping what it sowed came with the Dubai Ports World debacle. I see it as a really simple progression of events. To remain in power, Republicans and especially the President have to scare the bejesus out of the voting American public. Evil and terrorists have to lurk at every turn. They hate us for our freedom and no one is safe unless Bush and the Republicans are "fighting terror". So effective is their campaign to foment abject fear that the concept of allowing an Arab-owned company to run our ports is unthinkable to even the most mildly engaged American. Fearful (by design), they decry this sale of security to people they perceive as the enemy and Republican Congresspeople, fearful of the looming mid-terms, rush to abandon the President and cover their political asses. Bush, then, can complete the flaming circle of bullshit by blaming the "bureaucracies" (Congress) for not "respond[ing] the way we [he] wanted them to". In truth, he hasn't really reaped that particular crop he had sown so perfectly. He never admitted he was wrong and a last-minute face-saving deal prevented him from following through on or abandoning his veto threat.

Russ Feingold has tried to make the President reap what he has sown. In his well-publicized and (unfortunately) isolated effort to the censure the President, Feingold, as a matter of conscience, tried to force Bush to be accountable for his illegal domestic spying scheme. So far, you'd have to say that the censure attempt was a miserable failure (albeit the right and proper thing to do). The field of surveillance remains unplowed and accountability unassigned.

I see regular (if somewhat disjointed) efforts at forcing the President to reap what he sows on the Iraq war as well. Yet each statement by this Democrat or that one is a maddeningly frustrating exercise. You have to break it down for the American people to terms that virtually any American of any level of education with any political discipline can understand - I approach it this way:

What you don't know is that your spouse had paid all of your monthly bills online the night before and they take 24 hours to clear the account. The $2,500 balance will become $500 by the close of the business day. You'll be left with $0 to buy food and gas and other things for the remainder of the month. But your spouse will have a nice, new gift. Think s/he'll enjoy it?

That's a lot like the type of information that Congress received when considering the authorization to use force against Iraq. Incomplete. They saw only the bank balance and made decisions based on what that balance told them without knowing that there were a host of transactions in the queue that were going to substantially affect that balance in short order. Those in Congress who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq made a mistake - just like our guy who wrote the $500 check - and had they had all of the information, the mistake may not have been made. Democrats should be able to safely draw that comparison and admit that they made a mistake if they voted for the authorization. They can then turn around and make Bush and his administration, the only people who knew not only the balance but all the queued-up transactions, reap that which they have sown. It's the least I expect from my Democratic leaders.

I'm frustrated. Dionne gets it. Virtually everyone in the progressive blogging community gets it. We write about it, we refine it, we come up with great themes and talking points around it. But our Democratic leaders don't really seem to get it just yet - at least not in any kind of a consistent and unified way. This is like having the most perfect piece of beautiful, ripe delicious fruit dangling from a tree right in front of you, yet you can't reach out and grab it - your hands have been tied. So you gaze at it, longingly, hoping someone will come and unbind you so you can break free and get that low-hanging fruit.

If what Bush and his people have been handing us not low-hanging fruit for the Democratic party to pick, I don't know what is.

posted by RenaRF at 2:32 PM 1 comments links to this post


Blogger Kathleen Callon said...

Cute image. I was a French maid at a costume party many years back.

Anyway, found you through a blogger search (and like what I've seen).

If you want Senator Feingold to run for President in 2008, please, come over to http://russfeingoldpetition.blogspot.com/ and sign the petition.

Thanks for your time, and have a great weekend.

4:51 PM  

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