WASHINGTON, D.C.—Brave words from George Bush last night, with the distant thunder of war planes in the night sky over the Capitol and with Attorney General Ashcroft hiding out in a secure location, set the tone for the president’s buildup for the war against Iraq.
The model Bush laid out in his State of the Union address is that of Charles Dickens’s England. Sweeping social ills into the closet, re-creating the utilitarian poorhouse mentality, and spending one afternoon a month at your favorite charity have again been deemed the best ways to enter the future.
Choice is out. Good manners are in. If you are pregnant, please try to wear nice clothes and don’t talk about your problems. Nobody said life was fair. Go to church. Remember, there are always handouts for the poor and distressed at Christmastime. As for the privileged, try to think about those less fortunate than yourself. Perhaps leave a doggy bag of leftovers on the church steps as you go home. You can’t imagine how much the hungry will appreciate it. If only they would try harder. After all, there are always openings at McDonald’s.
Ever since Reagan, the right-wing GOP revolutionaries have sought first to undermine, then destroy, what’s left of the Democrats’ New Deal social welfare programs. Bush is far more conservative than Reagan. His program pushes the conservative program steadily forward.
What follows is the Bush agenda, point by point:
To save the economy, think supply-side. End the taxation of dividends, ramp up high technology, and prime the pump with military spending. Imagine all the money to be made by defense contactors who get to replace as many as 800 Cruise missiles that the Pentagon hopes to launch in the early days of Bush’s Slaughterhouse 6 campaign against civilians in Iraq.
Shrink the government. Convert Medicare to a private, national medical insurance program that would be run by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Though vague, Bush’s thinking seems to borrow from existing programs, like the federal employees health insurance plan. This offers its members a chance to shop around, to choose the insurance they desire and periodically change it. It does nothing to cut costs or hold back the soaring prices of prescription drugs.
Privatize Social Security, at least partially, to allow younger workers to hold their own investment accounts. This removes the protection of government-managed benefits and places control in the hands of stockbrokers. Why this scheme would be popular in today’s grim bear market, and amidst corruption in the financial industry, is hard to imagine.
Love the church. Social welfare programs are to be cut back to free up money to protect the country, with the money now construed as—and delivered by—charity. The idea of the scandal-ridden Catholic church and smaller fundamentalist protestant churches using government welfare funds to push their own political agendas is unconscionable.
Strike first. Go it alone on foreign policy. Bush firmly embraced the Cheney doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, in Iraq and elsewhere. It puts coalition-building in the distant background and openly shuns the United Nations, which conservatives have tried to get rid of ever since it was founded in 1945. In addition to Iraq, which is due to be attacked within the next few weeks, America’s targets include North Korea and Iran.
Make way for Star Wars. Mentioned in passing last night, the Star Wars missile-defense program is the costly centerpiece of U.S. defense policy against intractable states such as North Korea. The argument doubtless will be made that Star Wars can protect allies like Japan.
Keep up environmental appearances: Bush called for more domestic drilling, cutting back on industrial pollution control, and a seemingly slick program to support the new hydrogen car. Daniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy Program, had this to say about the present plan for government funding of the supposedly magic hydrogen fuel-cell car:
The program “funnels millions to Detroit without requiring that they produce a single fuel-cell vehicle for the public to purchase. The auto industry is using the promise of future fuel cells as a shield against using existing technology to dramatically cut our oil dependence, and pollution, today. This technology is sitting on the shelf while Detroit dithers. Honda and Toyota are producing hybrid vehicles today, the big three are not.
“The biggest single step we can take to curb global warming and cut our dependence on oil is to make our cars and light trucks go farther on a gallon of gas,” Becker continued. “If the vehicles on the road today averaged 40 miles per gallon, we would save over 3 million barrels of oil a day, more than we currently import from the Persian Gulf.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2003