Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How the Bush Administration Ran the Country Into the Ground


This stunning image from a New York Times story on the deficit speaks volumes about how truly reckless the Bush Administration was, aided by a Republican majority in Congress, in running the country.

The war in Iraq and accompanying defense spending, plus the badly designed Medicare Drug benefit, plus the Bush tax cuts, plus lax regulation of financial institutions (which necessitated a bailout supported by both President Bush and President Obama) turned a projected surplus under Bill Clinton into an enormous deficit and a relatively well-run nation into country burdened with enormous problems.

It would be one thing if these expenditures were a matter of national necessity that ultimately made the country better off. But they were not. The Bush tax cuts were primarily targeted to benefit the wealthiest Americans, and exacerbated a growing inequality of wealth in the United States. The Iraq War was a war of choice, justified by false claims of weapons of mass destruction and insinuations of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It proved to be a foreign policy disaster and an enormous waste of money which we must still shoulder. Deregulatory financial policies were unwise and unsound and helped push us toward the current Great Recession.

All in all, it is one of the most remarkable displays of ineptitude, greed, and corruption in American history. And now that they have run the country into the ground, President Bush's party, now thankfully out of power, is blaming the party that succeeded them, the Democrats, for the baleful effects of deficit spending. Colossal ineptitude is being followed by equally colossal chutzpah.

Make no mistake: the new Administration, only five months old, will have to do something about the current financial mess. And it will be very hard to make the adjustments, especially given the spending on new social programs that Obama supports on health, infrastructure, and the environment. It is worth noting from the diagram above, however, that Obama's new spending programs do not begin to increase the deficit at the levels the Bush Administration racked up.

If I had to think back to a key moment in American history when everything went wrong, I would have to point to the moment of George W. Bush's selection as President in 2000. It put an incompetent in the White House (George W. Bush), assisted by a mentally unhinged lieutenant (Dick Cheney), and aided and abetted by a self-righteous and corrupt Republican-controlled Congress led by the likes of Tom Delay. What a noxious combination of incompetence, arrogance, hubris, and ideological zeal!

The Republican Congress by itself did not cause this problem. It They wasted two years of the country's time impeaching Bill Clinton for having sex; but together with Bill Clinton they managed to produce a budget surplus. No, it was the toxic combination of Bush, Cheney, Delay and the Republican Congressional Caucus that led the country into disaster.

There are few times in our country's history when the reins of power have been handed over to people so ill prepared to hold them. Rarely has so much damage to a great country been done by so few. Any true patriot should want to tar and feather these men and women for doing their part to systematically destroy America, for in their smug, self-satisfied zealotry they have caused far more damage to our country than any terrorist attack could have caused.

Earlier I spoke of the moment of Bush's selection. It is worth remembering that the election of 2000 was contested (and of course, Bush actually lost the popular vote). It is possible that a Republican-controlled Congress would have installed George W. Bush anyway under the federal Electoral Count Act, aided by a Republican-controlled Florida Legislature (which would have chosen a new slate of electoral college delegates), a Florida governor who was the President's brother, and a Florida Secretary of State who was the head of the President's Florida campaign committee.

But we should not forget the contribution of five conservative Republican Justices of the Supreme Court in making sure that it was George W. Bush, and not Al Gore, who occupied the White House in January 2001, writing an opinion whose remedy made little sense legally but whose purpose was clear: to smooth George W. Bush's transition into the White House. (No doubt this is an example of the impartial style of judging that Republican opponents of Sonia Sotomayor advocate.) These five Justices must take their share of the blame for the many disasters that the Bush Administration unleashed on this country. They could not have known that Bush would have been such an unmitigated failure, but they certainly did understand that they were twisting the law to benefit their favored political party. If the Bush Administration was the greatest disaster in modern American history, surely Bush v. Gore must rank as one of the Supreme Court's most egregious errors.

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