Hey, have you heard? America is worse off than it was four years ago!
Big shocker, eh? I mean, it’s not like the clues are all around us or anything.
So how ‘bout that John McCain, eh? For an old geezer who hasn’t yet tried out the Internets, he’s a pretty sharp feller, no? Not only has he figured out that his country is worse off than it was four years ago, he’s even running ads saying so.
At one level, that seems a bit odd. For the majority of the last four years, his party and his ideology have controlled the entirety of the federal government. Nor did that change much, even after the other set of wankers supposedly got control of Congress following the 2006 election. It ain’t exactly like congressional Democrats have tried to do anything at all with their gavels over the last eighteen months, but whenever they accidentally did, Mitch McConnell and his band of merry filibusterers made sure nothing ever actually happened. And for the odd item that somehow did manage to escape Congress, there was old what’s-his-name down on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue waving his veto pen. Say, remind me again, wouldya – which party is he in?
Let’s be clear on this, shall we? As successful as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have been at doing absolutely nothing, it isn’t doing nothing that got this country into its present predicament. The Grand Old ‘Pocalypse will no doubt try to run and hide from themselves a thousand times a day, but the truth is nevertheless fully transparent: This is a Republican bummer, through and through.
And let’s not play chronological hide-and-seek, either, if you don’t mind. We’re not worse off than we were four years ago – we’re worse off than we were eight years ago. A lot worse off. Moreover, the worse parts of that worse off came during the first four years of the BushCo nightmare, when Cheney was absolutely running wild through the forest – rather than the most recent four, when even the Neanderthals came to realize that the Cro-Magnons were out of control and tried to reel it back in a little.
And there’s one other small point worth noting as well. McCain, who actually calls himself a “maverick” (if I never hear that word again I may have to hurl) in his ads, would like you to forget that he helped bring you this nightmare by avidly campaigning for George Bush in both 2000 and 2004, telling us what a great choice Lil’ W would be for president. He’d like you to forget that he agrees completely with Bush on the issues Americans are most unhappy about, including economic policy, fiscal policy, energy policy, and the Iraq nightmare. He’d like you to forget that he actually bragged in 2003 about having voted with the president over 90 percent of the time. And he’d also like you to forget – though die-hard Fox Snooze was so angry at him for having the temerity to comment even semi-honestly about the emperor’s new clothes that they themselves reminded his campaign – that last year he voted with Bush over 95 percent of the time. Some stray calf he is, eh?
So, um, ouch, Senator McShame. Why didn’t you just get it over with and run an ad saying “America is incredibly worse off than it was eight years ago, and I’m one of the nice folks who brought you this disaster”? Maybe that kind of straight talk would be just a bit too straight for a guy trying to become president.
And let’s not kid ourselves, either. These years of regressive rule have been disastrous for America, and for the world. As lame a nothing-burger as Bill Clinton was, a comparison of 2008 to 2000 shows how far south the country has traversed. In 2000 the economy was booming, workers were starting to get a share of rising GDP for the first time in a long time, gasoline was cheap, the federal government had the largest budget surplus in its history and was paying down the debt, America was respected and well-liked, natural disasters were responded to rapidly and efficiently, the Bill of Rights was still operative, we weren’t at war, and we had a president who actually cared about protecting the country from terrorism.
All of that has now been completely inverted by McCain, by his party and ideology, by his voting record, and by the president whom he insisted was the only right choice for America.
Our economy is in shambles, though the president insists that the ‘fundamentals’ are just fine, and McCain’s former chief economic advisor, Phil Gramm, told Americans that there was no real recession going on and they should just stop whining about it. Gasoline prices have hit the stratosphere, to the point where many people can no longer even afford to get to work and make the money necessary to fill their tanks. Wait ‘til they see their home heating bills this winter. Too bad the election can’t be in February, eh? Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans have just been raking it in, hand over fist, these last years, while middle class workers have been stuck, with stagnant wages, now being eaten alive by rising inflation to boot.
The record surplus that Bush inherited was fast turned into a record deficit. Piled high on each other, year after year, we now have a national debt approaching $10 trillion. It’s worth noting here that it took every single one of Bush’s 42 predecessors more than two centuries to run up half that bill. Then he doubled all of them – combined – in one presidency, and it will be even worse if his time-limited (so we wouldn’t know the real impact) tax policies are renewed, as McGramm is now advocating.
McCain is, of course, being absurdly disingenuous when he talks about ending the deficit, which he says he can do in four years, especially while keeping the Bush tax transfers in place and continuing to spend a cool $10 billion per month in Iraq. In any other country – or even this one at any other time – this shameless deceit would also be considered so absurd as to be laughed off the airwaves. But this is selfish America, where we want it all, at any cost, even while we’re being served up continually less each year. So we narcissists will continue to believe that schools can be properly funded by the Lotto, that infrastructure and other government expenses come for free, and that people like John McCain aren’t treating us like complete imbeciles when they say that spending can be radically cut by trimming away the ‘waste and fraud’ in the federal government – none of which, conveniently enough, ever quite seems to reside in the Pentagon. Obama will have to go through the obligatory ritual of demanding that McCain specify the cuts he’ll make, with the Old Geezer then pretending to refuse to speculate about an unknown future. If Obama has half a brain, he’ll then demand that McCain show the cuts he would have made to the present budget. Watch what happens as he squirms, thinking of all the pork barrel votes that would be thrown to the wind if he did that.
The country is also a helluva lot worse off today than it was eight years ago foreign policy wise, and Obama needs to say this. Not only because it is true, and because even hapless Americans now recognize this, but also because he needs to steal a page from Karl Rove’s playbook and dismantle McCain’s only remotely plausible reason for claiming a nod from voters, however dependent even that rationale is on the shop-worn notion that only the most belligerent Americans can ever be trusted with handling our foreign policy. What in the world is Obama doing, letting this guy who has repeatedly shown the worst imaginable judgement on these issues – and, worse, who is running around questioning not only Obama’s judgement but even his patriotism – what is Obama doing giving McCain a pass on national security? Why is he not treating us to endless reels of McCain doing his absurd Baghdad market tour? My god, that is his Dukakis-in-the-tank moment. It should be in everyone’s face every minute their television set is turned on! Obama should also be driving home the notion, over and over, that every allied soldier who isn’t fighting and/or dying next to an American somewhere means another American soldier there instead, and that therefore stupid and arrogant foreign policy choices have very real consequences for very real and fragile American GIs. And why don’t we hear endlessly about how Osama bin Laden has still not been caught, and how Afghanistan is worse than ever, with al Qaeda free to hatch new terrorist plans? America is worse off? No kidding, McLame.
Well, at least that whole environmental thing has been looking up since Bush and Cheney came to town, eh? Oops. Okay, never mind on that. Sure, it’s true that we only have one planet to live on, and yep, there’s some evidence that while we Americans continue to exacerbate the problem, global warming may possibly now have surpassed the tipping point from which no remedy is even possible. But, hey, no worries there! If McCain really wants to talk about the damage done to America and to the world by his homies, he should start right here. And if Obama wants to effectively challenge McCain’s absurd positioning of himself on this issue as an environmentalist leader, he should push him to get the GOP filibuster crowd in the Senate to promise they’ll allow meaningful legislation to emerge. Good luck with that.
America is also so much the worse because of the coarse and cheap politics that Karl Rove and his minions have perfected these last decades. This was nothing new, but it did get uglier and more sophisticated in its application. There were at least two reactions it might have produced in John McCain, who was himself among its earlier victims. One was to abhor such practices and the damage done to the frail social fabric of democracy. The other, which he instead adopted, is particularly ironic given his Big Lie motto of “country first”. Instead of being disgusted at Rovolitics, McCain recognized it as the way to win his greatest prize – the presidency – and thus hired the next generation of its practitioners. In doing so, he has absolutely put country last. Just like when he traded governmental favors for campaign support, or when he sold-out black Americans on the confederate flag issue, or as he’s politicized Iraq mercilessly – only worse this time – McCain has a clash between personal ambition and the welfare of the country to grapple with, and his choice of another round of Rovism is intensely dishonorable.
There are so many other ways in which America is worse off than it used to be since the Republicans rode into town, but surely one of the worst of these is the degree to which the country has been polarized, especially between rich and poor, as well as politically. George W. Bush had the opportunity to unite America and bring it together in the wake of Election 2000 and especially 9/11. But he instead has taken every opportunity to divide us and exploit our fears for the crassest purposes of looting and wealth transfer. This has been unconscionable, and McCain has hardly been standing in the doorway blocking the looters, the lone voice of reason in his party.
We could go on and on here. The wreckage of the Bush years is as wide as it is deep. I found Newsweek’s cover story last week on “What Bush Got Right” unintentionally telling in this sense. I was surprised to find inside the covers of the magazine that Fareed Zakaria excoriated Bush’s devastation almost as aggressively as I might have. Turns out that Zakaria’s answer to his own title question is ’just about nothing’. He more or less gives Bush credit only for abandoning some of his own insanely destructive policies from the first term, and lamely shuffling back to the center-right policies of his own party (and father) and the so-hated Clintons. Me, I don’t call it “getting it right” when you set the neighborhood on fire and then decide that playing with matches ain’t such a great idea just before the last house goes down.
So what’s up with the title of the article? No doubt that – even now – wimpy centrist American media outlets can no longer just come right out and say what everyone knows, themselves included – that this administration, and more broadly, the regressive ascension of the last decade (and two more behind that) has been catastrophic.
McCain should be made to own this disaster fully.
Because he does.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.