With a newly elected Democratic Congress trying to put the brakes on the worst American president in history, many are breathing a sigh of relief.
A number of Democratic legislative goals would impact working people positively: increasing the minimum wage, decreasing student loan rates, negotiating for lower Medicare drug prices, and promoting alternate energy sources. To prove they are tough on national security, Democrats will tighten security at ports and vulnerable industrial plants, and possibly increase the size of the military. Egregiously destructive Republican environmental policies will be stymied and small positive steps will be taken to decrease our ravenous appetite for oil. A mild ethics law may be passed. Republicans will fight each issue with every political weapon in their arsenal.
Unfortunately, Bush and the Republicans dug the country into a hole so deep, we may never recover. After an orgy of deregulation, globalization, free-market pirating, privatization and the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, Americans will have to cope with the destructive long-term results.
During Republican control of Washington, corporations have become so emboldened that they run the place: they bulldoze opposition by lavish spending on lobbying, bribery, hiring congress member’s relatives and even running their campaigns. They write the legislation and manipulate government agencies to change regulations. The Democratic victory will merely lead corporations to move their contributions and payoffs to the other side of the aisle, and to invest more heavily in the next election to regain lost power.
Ending the occupation of Iraq will remain an illusive goal. Congressional hearings on the occupation of Iraq – one of the reasons cited for GOP electoral losses – reveal that none of the consequences will prove beneficial after Bush trapped the country in a classic, “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” situation.
American arms producers are making too much money to leave Iraq. The Muslims who cheered 9/11 won’t want the US to pull out because Iraq serves as a diversion for radicals who don’t seek change in their own countries. Even worse, Bush may bomb Iran at Israeli insistence, guaranteeing more enmity. Given the choices, complete and immediate withdrawal may be disastrous but the best of the options. More likely, the US will continue to waste resources and lives, muddling along like a senile grandparent driving a gas-guzzling Hummer with nowhere to go.
Democrats probably won’t stop the flow of red ink, which now totals $9 trillion after Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, increases in weapons spending and record-breaking deficits. Iraq alone could wind up adding another $1 to $2 trillion. Every person in the US now owes $27,067 in national debt, whose interest will consume a growing share of national resources.
Bush produced the most highly leveraged economy since WWII as low interest rates fueled a real estate bubble and American savings fell to record lows. The resulting “prosperity” was fueled by loans from Communist China and Japan, and redistributed wealth upward, leading to record consumer debt and supporting unsustainable levels of imports. These huge levels of national and consumer debt bode ill for our future economy.
Corruption has become embedded in Washington’s culture. Environmental policies have been relaxed to allow permanent damage to pristine areas. The rich grabbed a larger share of wealth than anytime since 1920, and life was made harder for everyone else. A “private profit, public-be-damned” mentality has usurped the public agenda; civil liberties and privacy rights have been destroyed; church and state boundaries have been removed; the courts have been stacked with free-market libertarians; reactionary right-wing propaganda media has increased; and fundamentalist Christians have been encouraged to take over the government.
Bush and the GOP succeeded in moving the political spectrum farther to the right, alienating large sections of the population from the political process. The task of returning the country to a shared vision appears daunting and political activity may not be up to the task.
In some ways, it may have been better for the Democrats to lose the election because if they fail to right the many wrongs of the past six years, they will be blamed for the problems. After waving the banner of a turnaround in policies before the election, Democrats are waking up to just how difficult it will be to make substantial changes.
Once Democratic issues are addressed, global warming and destructive weather cycles will place added burdens on our society, making solutions even more difficult. On the other hand, the degradation of the environment and the attendant crises could become a new rallying cry for progressive forces. Squabbles over burning a flag, same-sex marriage, and abortion as a woman’s choice will appear minor as we experience drastic upheavals in our natural environment.
Only a radical change in our outlook, away from a focus on personal greed, environmental destruction and uncontrolled consumption and toward personal fulfillment, sustainability and cooperation, will enable us collectively to address the problems wrought by a political establishment fighting over deck chairs as the Titanic sinks. Rather than a narrowly defined political party, Democrats need a social movement to revision the country to address far-reaching human problems.
DON MONKERUD is a California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.