The left far too often dwells on gloom and doom. We postulate about
the failures of past movements, the crashing of the economy, the
bloodshed in the Middle East, and the wholesale destruction of the
environment. Not to say all this is not occurring. It most certainly
is, and much of the anger has landed on the doorstep of George W.
Bush. Sadly, many believe Barack Obama is about to reverse Bush’s
It is clear that Obama has amassed a foreign policy team that is pro-war, an economic team that is pro-business (see the latest CounterPunch print issue for Cockburn and St. Clair’s ravaging assessment) and an environmental team that will combat climate change with “clean coal” and nuclear energy.
No progressive would defend the Bush doings. He lacks any redeeming qualities. Yet, how bad has Bush really been over the past eight years? Has he done a worse job than Bill Clinton did? Let’s give it a quick whirl.
Let’s start with the environment. Bush has ignored science, weakened regulation and made a joke out of the EPA. In a nutshell, he’s been awful. Even so, the Bush forest plan was actually re-written with the help of two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California. As veteran forest activist Michael Donnelly wrote in 2003, “Perhaps the greatest irony is that the forests have fared far better under Bush than they did under his Democrat predecessor. Under Clinton’s [Salvage Rider] plan, some 1.1 billion board feet of Ancient Forest stumps were authorized annually. Much to industry’s chagrin, under Bush, around 200 million per year has been cut. Already, that means that 2.7 billion board feet LESS has been cut under Bush than would have been under a Gore administration with the Big Greens usual silence regarding Democrat stump-creation.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Clinton’s plan was actually worse for our national forests.
The economy, many believe, was in better shape under Clinton than Bush because of Clintontime policies. On Bush’s watch the economy has tumbled, sending shock waves throughout the markets. Of course, many of these job losses were leftovers from the neo-liberal Clinton years. Under the Democratic president, as economist Robert Pollin has pointed out in his book Contours of Descent, “The distribution of wealth in the U.S. became more skewed than it had at any time in the previous forty years. No question, an increasing number of U.S. jobs began to be outsourced at an unprecedented rate as well.”
Wage gains for average workers during the Clinton boom remained historically weak, especially in relationship to the ascent of productivity, Pollin argues. “This ‘heightened sense of job insecurity,'” he continues, “lies at the very foundation of the Clinton administration’s economic legacy.”
Things were not any better abroad. Under Clinton, the World Trade Organization (WTO) enhanced its strength, piquing the anger of thousands of protesters who took to the streets of Seattle in 1999 to demonstrate against the WTO’s power.
Clinton also bolstered the influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the developing world, and passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with few qualms from the liberal establishment. It’s no coincidence that neo-liberalism is now dictating the free-market economy despite the claims of some who argue that ideology is on its way out the door.
“Had [the original promises] come true, NAFTA would have been an enormous boom, and we would all be cracking champagne,” says Lori Wallach, director of the consumer rights group Public Citizen. “But instead we have got the 10-year record, and it’s pretty damn grim. NAFTA’s 10-year record,” Wallach adds, “demonstrates that under the NAFTA model, most people in the three countries were losers, while only a few of the largest corporations who helped write NAFTA were the major winners.”
For those still caught up in a love affair with Clintontime Democrats, beware: It was under Bush — not Clinton — that the U.S. briefly challenged the WTO’s legitimacy over steel imports. Bush eventually lifted the tariffs, but he held out much longer than expected. While it is conceivable that Obama would have done the same, the president-elect is no doubt an ardent free-trader, particularly when compared to Bush, who, unlike the New Democrats, was somewhat hesitant to embrace such dogma.
This reality stands in stark contrast to the boisterous cheers we hear whenever Democrats defend Clinton’s economy.
And what about welfare reform — or as the Democrats called it, “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act”? Could you have imagined Bush getting away with signing a piece of legislation into law as horrid as the bill passed under Clinton? In fact under Bush, Democrats halted the reauthorization of welfare reform on several different occasions. Where was this defense under Clinton? Don’t think so many would have watched silently had it been Bush who signed it into law in 1996. “It is the end of welfare as we know it,” Clinton declared.
How right he was.
“[M]ajor research studies now report that welfare reform harms families. Young children are going hungry, rushing to emergency rooms, being hospitalized and being abandoned at higher rates,” welfare expert Sanford F. Schram wrote in 2002. “A personal responsibility act that simply pushed single mothers into low-wage jobs without making any provision for the care of their children was a contradiction in terms – it was irresponsible. It was immoral. It still is, and now the evidence proves it.”
Iraq? That was the last straw for most, who simply did not want to believe that a Gore administration could have attacked Iraq under false pretenses. Never mind the fact that the Democrats authorized bombings throughout Clinton’s tenure and passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 (supported by Al Gore and Joe Lieberman), giving the U.S. the right to whack the country for the slightest provocation-or no reason at all. And forget about those UN sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It is also worth mentioning that the Democrats overwhelmingly supported Bush’s invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, with Obama planning to ship off more troops to the Taliban controlled land.
How about the Patriot Act? This of course, was a bipartisan nightmare based on the assumption that curtailing our civil liberties would make us safe from terror. Given that Clinton had a version of his own following the Oklahoma City bombing called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, there is little reason to believe the Democrats would not have moved forward with a more egregious version following 9-11, with their mass support for John Ashcroft’s version, as our conspicuous souvenir.
For those that looked with an open mind, it was difficult to discern any tangible difference between Bush and the Democrats, who supported his most damanging policies.
Affordable health care? Both parties deride real universal health-care as outlandish radicalism, even though Richard Nixon was the last to propose it. Surely there must be some distinction, you say? Certainly not the war, empire, tax breaks for the working class, or trade. In fact, if the Clinton years are anything, they are a testament to how the left reacts to Democratic administrations. They get by with whatever and however.
Obama supporters take heed.
Invading Syria or Iran? Might happen given Obama’s rhetoric, as he has entertained the possibility of “surgical strikes” on Iran.
The antiwar movement is on life-support; even the radical reincarnation of the Vietnam era’s Winter Soldier hearings weren’t enough to awaken the corporate press from its slumber. Obama will be inheriting an economy that is caught in a downward spiral. Hundreds of thousands have perished as a result of the US wars in the Middle East. Thousands of species on Earth face extinction as our polar ice caps melt and the climate warms beyond repair.
These are dire times indeed.
Desperation is no way to invigorate the soul, whether it’s your own or that of a movement. In fact while the last eight years of George W. Bush may have seemed like an eternity of sorrow and misery, there may be a silver-lining to all that’s transpired.
No other president in modern history has done more to expose the dark side of US imperialism than Bush. The international community is not behind the Iraq war and doesn’t trust our half-baked intelligence toward Iran, making it even more difficult for us to get away with bombing the country in the future. US power, while not fully-deflated, is fast leaking hot air.
Old alliances are becoming obsolete. NATO has weakened and the US go-it-alone strategy has damaged the trend of US isolation in foreign hostilities. The US is unequivocally deemed a global menace. We have become, against Washington’s better wishes, a more humble nation.
It’s a sure sign US dominance is on the skids.
So too is our economic prowess, as witnessed by the subprime mortgage collapse and decline of the dollar. The US banking system is in flux due in large part to the dismantling of Glass-Steagall under the reign Bill Clinton’s economic henchman, Robert Rubin, who is now reemerging as an Obama advisor. Sure Bush’s Fed has overstepped its boundaries and attempted to “bailout” the credit sector, but hasn’t this whole debacle also exposed the fallacies of neoliberal ethos?
These events sure seem to me to be something the left ought to be encouraged by. It wasn’t even ten years ago that we took to the streets of Seattle to rally in opposition to the WTO and Clinton’s free-trade pathology. Now even his wife is attempting to distance herself from the failures of NAFTA. Not that she’s sincere, but at least the language is beginning to change.
Many are also yapping away about the fate of the environment. Even McCain believes humans are impacting the global climate. While much of this is unadulterated green-washing, the tide is shifting. People are beginning to care about the planet they will are leaving future generations. Awareness is growing despite the campaign against it.
The reaches of Empire are being destroyed quicker than you may realize, so let’s continue our fights and not let Barack Obama and the Democrats repair this one fine aspect of the Bush legacy.
JOSHUA FRANK is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the new book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the new Red State Rebels site at www.RedStateRebels.org