Of George Bush’s many sins, one has remained unnoted. He and his aides are so absurdly inept at most of what they do that they have diverted attention from the fact that America’s collapse began well before Bush came into office and has continued under his command with considerable aid and comfort from the most respected, celebrated well paid subcultures of our society. In the end, Bush is but a painful caricature of a much deeper reality, part of which is that if we had not already been in a state of cultural, political and intellectual disintegration, he never would have been elected in the first place.
Just one year into Bush’s regime, I spoke at a punk concert and offered some thirty examples of civil liberties that had eroded during the life of anyone only 25 years of age. I also noted that the earnings of everyone under 25 – black, white, latino, male and female – had declined over the past twenty years, about 5% for the most part – with the earnings of black and white males under 25 down 17 to 21%. A typical young white male was earning $97 less a week in real dollars than two decades earlier. And this was all before Bush got his hands on the country.
It has become easy and fun to blame it all on Bush – and certainly he has contributed more than his share to the nation’s problems – but as we may discover when he leaves, he has had plenty of predecessors as well as many accomplices who will remain in power.
A fair judgment would be that America began falling apart about twenty years before Bush took office. The man in charge at the time was Ronald Reagan, who took two centuries of American history and turned it into a corny cowboy movie that he could understand but had little relationship to reality. Yet, like Bush, he could not have done it alone. The purported best and brightest told us it was true.
And they have yet to tell us the truth about the Reagan years that spawned the deadly philosophy that greed is good, nothing big needs to be regulated and the market will save us all.
It is useful – if a bit tardy – to review the Reagan facts rather than the legend, for it shows how the most mundanely accurate analysis might have led us in a different direction. For example, a study published in the Congressional Record in March 1984 looked at the first three years of the Regan administration and compared to the three that preceded it. The study found
– Real GNP growth down 59%
– Industrial production down 97%
– Housing starts down 27%
– Domestic auto sales down 26%
– Business failures up 189%
– Civilian unemployment up 389%
– Real disposable income down 32%
– Prime rate up 35%
– Federal budget deficit up 215%
– Farm income down 326%
Also during the Reagan years:
– Four members of the Reagan cabinet came under criminal investigation
– The Reagan administration had secret plans for an unconstitutional takeover of the federal government under an ill-defined national emergency. Members of the government created by the coup were selected and included Richard Cheney.
– Reagan’s policies led to the greatest financial scandal in American history up to that point: the Savings & Loan debacle which cost taxpayers billions of dollars. “”
– Reagan made major cuts in Medicaid, food stamps, aid to families with dependent children, and school lunch programs. Reagan fired 13,000 air traffic controllers in a devastating blow to government union members from which the labor movement never recovered.
– “”The AIDS crisis exploded (with 20,000 deaths) before Reagan could even bring himself to address the issue six years later. In his authorized biography he is quoted as saying that “maybe the Lord brought down this plague,” because “illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”
– Reported the Washington Post: “The administration in 1984 secretly sold arms to Iran — which the United States considered a supporter of terrorism — to raise cash for Nicaraguan contra rebels, despite a congressional ban on support for the Latin American insurgency. An independent investigation concluded that the arms sales to Iran operations “were carried out with the knowledge of, among others, President Ronald Reagan [and] Vice President George Bush,” and that “large volumes of highly relevant, contemporaneously created documents were systematically and willfully withheld from investigators by several Reagan Administration officials.”
– After a major tax cut, there was a long recession and unemployment that hit ten percent.
This was the foundation upon which the present disaster has been built – policy drawing upon fantasy, theological rigidity, fiscal myth and a faith in “free markets” actually created by hidden subsidies, thousands of lobbyists, runaway Pentagon purchases and manipulation of the law to favor banks and corporations rather than ordinary Americans.
By the time the truth was too painful to ignore – nearly three decades later – the myth had recruited major media from Fox and the Wall Street Journal to NPR and the Washington Post. It had been given the blessing of innumerable academics who developed complex justifications for primitive, simplistic and false assumptions. And even Democrats – from Clinton to Obama – paid regular homage to economic principles whose only true beneficiaries were the very few at the very top.
It became the core ideology of an American establishment that would turn out to be the worst and the dumbest. As Harold Meyerson pointed out recently, even the robber barons of the 19th century used European capital to build American industry such as railroads and steel. The contemporary establishment has taken American assets and turned them into a massive liability.
Yet a Rasmussen poll taken after the start of the Bush financial crash found that 59% of voters still agreed with Reagan’s inaugural declaration that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Even 49% of Democrats agree with only 34% demurring.
This is not Karl Rove’s fault. This is the result of nearly three decades of indoctrination in anti-social, anti-democratic and economically fallacious absurdities by almost every major instructional institution in the country including Harvard, and the PBS News Hour. Listening to the post crash coverage I heard words I had not found in the media for years, words like FDR, New Deal, government intervention and Keynes. Where had these phrases been all this time? Why was it only now respectable to mention Franklin Roosevelt again?
And why has the media and academia given so much encouragement to the myth of free markets while ignoring real things that have gotten worse since Reagan took office? Things like:
– Minimum wage as % of average wage
– Real income
– Real income bottom 60% of Americans
– Bottom 99% share of total income
– Income gap between rich and poor
– Workers pay as a percent of CEO pay
– Older families covered by pensions
– Workers covered by defined benefit pensions
– Annual personal savings rate of families
– Elder bankruptcies
– Housing foreclosures
– Child poverty rate
– Severe poverty rate
– Percent of Americans employed
– Pensions that include health care benefits
– Number of families without health insurance
– Number of public hospitals
– Number of corporations controlling most media
– Student loan debt
– Increase in wealth of wealthiest ten senators (up 13 times)
– Percent of workforce unionized
Four years before the Bush crash, Michelle Singletary wrote in the Washington Post:
“Authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi conclude that earning two incomes doesn’t guarantee financial security: In the past 25 years, the number of families in bankruptcy has increased 400 percent, and housing foreclosures are up 350 percent.”
You can find these stories if you look hard enough; what you can’t find is these stories being told in more than one or two places at a time during which those in the worst and dumbest establishment continued to peddle the wonders of the free market.
The self-defined best minds of our society have engaged in an act of such reckless negligence that it would have produced a criminal indictment if they had been behind the wheel of a car. But because they were only driving the politics and economy of a few hundred million citizens, they get to keep their jobs, their op ed pieces and their preferred place in society.
In the 1960s, a large number of Americans declined to permit such a fraud to continue, choosing instead to not only rebel against those who had done the damage but to remove their podiums, undermine their status, knock down their pedestals, discredit their reputations and hold them in ridicule.
And for awhile America gained breathing room to make things better; for a while we could dream, smile and get things done.
But it’s far more than just a matter of rounding up the usual suspects. If we settle for justice against Paulsen and Bush, for example, then we’ll be no better off than we were in Iraq after getting rid of Saddam.
For any rebellion to succeed, for America to rebuild itself, it must shatter the immunity of the status quo in all its vicious dimensions. We have three decades of false teaching, journalistic myth and political corruption to disassemble. And we need something to take its place just as the civil rights movement needed freedom schools to replace generations of lies about blacks and whites.
America has been deceived, defrauded and defeated by the worst and the dumbest. The first step in recovery is to let them know in every way that the party’s over.
THE CORPORATE CURSE How business culture dragged America down with it