Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
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Home » Archives » January 2005 » A President's place in history...

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01/12/2005: A President's place in history...

is often defined by the crisis or crises he faced. If that's the case, asks Harold Meyerson in a WaPo op-ed, what do we make of George W. Bush?:

Some presidents make the history books by managing crises. Lincoln had Fort Sumter, Roosevelt had the Depression and Pearl Harbor, and Kennedy had the missiles in Cuba. George W. Bush, of course, had Sept. 11, and for a while thereafter -- through the overthrow of the Taliban -- he earned his page in history, too.

But when historians look back at the Bush presidency, they're more likely to note that what sets Bush apart is not the crises he managed but the crises he fabricated. The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency. To attain goals that he had set for himself before he took office -- the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the privatization of Social Security -- he concocted crises where there were none.

So Iraq became a clear and present danger to American hearths and homes, bristling with weapons of mass destruction, a nuclear attack just waiting to happen. And now, this week, the president is embarking on his second great scare campaign, this one to convince the American people that Social Security will collapse and that the only remedy is to cut benefits and redirect resources into private accounts.

In fact, Social Security is on a sounder footing now than it has been for most of its 70-year history. Without altering any of its particulars, its trustees say, it can pay full benefits straight through 2042. Over the next 75 years its shortfall will amount to just 0.7 percent of national income, according to the trustees, or 0.4 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That still amounts to a real chunk of change, but it pales alongside the 75-year cost of Bush's Medicare drug benefit, which is more than twice its size, or Bush's tax cuts if permanently extended, which would be nearly four times its size.

In short, Social Security is not facing a financial crisis at all. It is facing a need for some distinctly sub-cataclysmic adjustments over the next few decades that would increase its revenue and diminish its benefits.
Paul Krugman in his most recent New York Times column, concurs:
Last week someone leaked a memo written by Peter Wehner, an aide to Karl Rove, about how to sell Social Security privatization. The public, says Mr. Wehner, must be convinced that "the current system is heading for an iceberg."

It's the standard Bush administration tactic: invent a fake crisis to bully people into doing what you want.
What Meyerson points out, rightly, however, is the corrosive effect of such tactics on the operation of a democracy:
With crisis concoction as its central task -- think of how many administration officials issued dire warnings of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein or, now, by Social Security's impending bankruptcy -- this presidency, more than any I can think of, has relied on the classic tools of propaganda. Indeed, it's almost impossible to imagine the Bush presidency absent the Fox News Network and right-wing talk radio.

With the blurring of fact and fiction so central to the Bush presidency's purposes, is it any wonder that government agencies ranging from Health and Human Services to the Office of National Drug Control Policy have been filming editorial messages as mock newscast segments, complete with mock reporters, and offering them to local television stations?

Is it any wonder that the Education Department paid commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 to promote its No Child Left Behind programs? In this administration, it is the role of a government agency to turn out pro-Bush news by whatever means possible. Fox News viewership in the African American community wasn't very large, and here was Williams, who seemed to have learned during his clerkship for Clarence Thomas that it was rude to decline any gifts.

We've had plenty of presidents, Richard Nixon most notoriously, who divided the media into friendly and enemy camps. I can't think of one, however, so fundamentally invested in the spread of disinformation -- and so fundamentally indifferent to the corrosive effect of propaganda on democracy -- as Bush. That, too, should earn him a page in the history books.

Len on 01.12.05 @ 07:41 PM CST


Replies: 2 comments

on Wednesday, January 12th, 2005 at 11:02 PM CST, Brock Sides said

Quoting Harold Meyerson:

To attain goals that he had set for himself before he took office -- the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the privatization of Social Security -- he concocted crises where there were none.

To be fair, GWB has faced a genuine crisis: the Sept. 11 attacks. How well did he respond to the crisis? I'd say it was mixed, at best.

On one hand, it's been a little over three years, and we haven't been attacked again. How much credit does GWB deserve for that? It's hard to say. Maybe some.

On the other hand, he's used the Sept. 11 attacks to advance a pre-existing agenda, including taking out Saddam Hussein, which has reinforced our negative image in the Arab world, putting us at greater risk for future attacks. Big negative on that front.

on Thursday, January 13th, 2005 at 7:47 AM CST, Len Cleavelin said

Well, Meyerson's first paragraph acknowledges 9/11 as a genuine crisis. My own assessment of his handling of that crisis isn't all that good, in large part because of Bush's stupidly remaining in the classroom to read "My Pet Goat", and in part in his craven cowardice in tucking his tail between his legs and flying around (eventually hiding out in Nebraska, IIRC), until his minions gave him the all clear.

What I don't understand about 9/11 is the people who, quite sincerely, voiced the opinion that we were better off with Bush in office on that morning rather than Gore. Assuming that Bush acted adequately on that day (debatable, but I won't dismiss that out of hand), I see no evidence to compel me to conclude that Gore would have done significantly worse. And I'm pretty sure that Gore wouldn't have bungled the aftermath (e.g., putting Afghanistan on the back burner in order to invade Iraq) as badly as Bush has.

I'm not sure how much credit Bush deserves for "keeping us safe", either. The 9/11 attack was itself a response to the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia since Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990, which shows that our enemy is very patient, and willing to wait a long time for the right moment to strike. Three years, in that context, isn't all that long.

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