Jerome Shea       November 9, 2007      Weekend Wonk

Where to start with this Bush crowd?

It’s a smorgasbord of shame, a cornucopia of corruption. Where to start? Iraq? Or how about its more focused scandals, like Blackwater’s shootings, Halliburton’s gouging, or Abu Ghraib? Katrina? Signing statements? Neocon designs on Iran?

A paralysis sets in: where to start?

George W. Bush—you can take this to the bank—will go down in history as the worst president we have ever had. Beside him, Warren Gamaliel Harding is a flaming idealist, James Buchanan a model of can-do competence. And if you like your nose rubbed in it, with his brother’s help he stole the 2000 election to begin with. If you don’t believe that, you are hopelessly naïve or a knee-jerk ideologue.

Knee-jerk ideologues are encouraged to leave right now, because this will not be pretty. I make no pretense of being “reasonable,” nor will I apologize for this rant. So don’t let the door hit your heinie on the way out.

A recent op-ed piece (Naomi Klein in the Los Angeles Times) points out how out-sourcing has run amok in this government. Republicans have always, in principle at least, been for limited government (they are also pro-business, which dovetails nicely). But this crowd wants to run government out of business entirely, and the best way to do that is to bankrupt it. Frank Luntz famously called for a government shrunk to a size where it could then be drowned in the bathtub. How do you accomplish that? Well, for starters you not only contract out as many services as you can, like the proposed border fence and services in war zones or in disaster areas but, as so many audits have shown, you give these people carte blanche. Just send us the bill; we’ll be glad to write the checks (backed by borrowed money). It’s as if I need extensive repairs done to my house and deliberately refuse to get competitive bids or even an estimate. Instead, I hire my brother-in-law’s outfit because he has scratched my back over the years. Costs me three times as much as it might have (and the work may be shoddy). If I keep that up, there will be nothing left to leave my kids. Does that sound like a plan? Sometimes, alas, it sounds precisely like a plan.

Story in the New York Times: because there have been so many reports of shoddy and dangerous products threatening consumer safety, Congress wants to strengthen the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, our watchdog in these matters, and double its budget. The acting chair of the CPSC pleads strenuously against these measures. This follows a clear pattern: “In a variety of areas, from antitrust to trucking and worker safety, officials appointed by President Bush have sought to reduce the role of regulation and government in the marketplace.” These people are in the business of going out of business. Their deep-pocketed friends, the ones they are supposed to be regulating, couldn’t be more pleased.

Half of our people in Iraq are hired, outsourced (if they carry guns, they are what we used to call mercenaries). Our enlisted forces, those who can stomach a few more years in that hellhole, are eager to sign up with Blackwater or DynCorp where the pay, compared to military wages, is off the scale. Of course, it is we—you and I or our children—who are ultimately paying those princely wages.

The list of chicanery goes on. The idea of government, for this crew, is not to serve the people but to reward their cronies and contributors. And there is a bonus: when government agencies fail to deliver—as they will, having been hollowed-out and emasculated—well, hadn’t we been saying all along that they were useless and worthless? These guys are past masters of the self-fulfilling prophesy, crocodile tears optional.

And then there is George Walker Bush. What a piece of work that man is (and I don’t mean it the way Hamlet meant it). Given twice or thrice the advantages of most of us, he squandered them recklessly. We are all embarrassed when he opens his mouth (e.g., “put food on your family”). He fails in business but is saved by rich and powerful friends. During the Vietnam heat-up, space in the Texas Air National Guard miraculously opens up for him. He doesn’t even fulfill that obligation and then has the gall to fly onto a carrier and pose in a flight jacket (the “Mission Accomplished” stunt). He makes cruel fun of a woman—Karla Faye Tucker—whom he sends to death in Texas. Lazy student and proud of it. Anti-intellectual and proud of it. All one need do, evidently, is go on the wagon (and some doubt the truth of that) and find the Lord. Let your carping critics go hang.

And the horror that he has wrought. After 9/11, we had all the world’s unalloyed sympathy. He lost us that, arrogantly. No one doubts that had we focused all our might and intelligence, we could have caught Osama bin Laden in six months if not six weeks. But with his pre-schooler’s attention span he was distracted by Iraq (repeat after me: “Osama attacked us, Saddam did not; Osama attacked us, Saddam did not….”), precipitating two catastrophes for the price of one. And why, after all, did we go into Iraq and squander our treasure for a period now longer than WWII? In no small measure, it was because he had something to prove to his daddy.

Such is the man we didn’t elect in 2000. And we can only hang on for dear life for the next 14 months. God help us all.

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