April 23, 2003

The Most Dangerous President Ever

"At heart, the current Bush is a warrior for a region, a faction, a part of America. No national calamity has tempered his zeal for his factional agenda. His determination to reward the "investor class" (that is, still, the rich), to appoint socially reactionary judges, to favor his business cronies has not waned in wartime. His desire to make Americans reliant on the market, rather than social savings, has not been deterred by the worst decline in the markets since the Great Depression.

"Throughout American history, presidents have downplayed the most divisive elements of their agenda at times of crisis. As the nation moved toward World War II, Franklin Roosevelt announced a cessation to New Deal experimentation and brought in Republicans to run the War and Navy departments. Lincoln came to power in a disintegrating nation and appointed all his major Republican rivals -- such national leaders as William Seward and Salmon Chase -- to his cabinet. (Imagine George W. Bush giving the Department of Defense to John McCain!) Bush, by contrast, has in his policies and appointments remained resolutely a president of faction. Colin Powell is the one exception here, but consider whom exactly Powell represents in the Bush coalition: Bush's father.

"This factional tilt is partly a matter of strategy. Bush and his political consigliere, Karl Rove, place great stress on rewarding the Republican right-wing base. As they see it, George Bush Senior was defeated in 1992 because he broke his pledge never to raise taxes, thereby alienating the conservative activists without whom a Republican cannot win. In fact, the senior Bush's failure to alleviate, or even address, a serious recession is what cost him the election, but Rove is convinced that by governing on the right, providing military security for all and voicing a threadbare rhetoric of compassion, his boy George can win re-election.

"And so, by strategy, inclination and conviction, George W. Bush has been pursuing a reckless, even ridiculous, but always right-wing agenda -- shredding a global-security structure at a time requiring unprecedented international integration, shredding a domestic safety net at a time when the private sector provides radically less security than it did a generation ago. No American president has ever played quite so fast and loose with the well-being of the American people.
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"That government which governs in secret is inherently dangerous. Contracts go to cronies, regulations get lifted, troops get deployed, all with no public scrutiny. Halliburton is currently putting out fires in Iraqi oil wells, on a contract that didn't go out for bid.

"Which brings us to Dick Cheney, the most influential figure in the administration after Bush and the most influential vice president in U.S. history. By a number of accounts, it was Cheney who convinced Bush, early last July, that we had to go to war with Iraq. But Cheney's most distinctive contribution to this administration is his penchant for near-absolute executive power. Serving in the House during the Reagan administration -- and as the first leader of the more militant conservative forces that later came to power with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- Cheney argued that the president should be able to back the Contras' war in Nicaragua free from congressional oversight. As Bush Senior's defense secretary, he contended that the president needed no congressional approval to wage the Gulf War. As vice president, Cheney has insisted that the composition of his energy-policy task force be kept secret, and opposed going to the United Nations for a second resolution. In an administration determined to free American power from all constraint and business power from most regulation, Cheney's particular contribution has been to keep power as unchecked -- and often as unseen -- as possible.
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"None of these presidents, great or awful, seems quite comparable to Bush the Younger. There is another, however, who comes to mind. He, too, had a relentlessly regional perspective, and a clear sense of estrangement from that part of America that did not support him. He was not much impressed with the claims of wage labor. His values were militaristic. He had dreams of building an empire at gunpoint. And he was willing to tear up the larger political order, which had worked reasonably well for about 60 years, to advance his factional cause. The American president -- though not of the United States -- whom George W. Bush most nearly resembles is the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis.

"Yes, I know: Bush is no racist, and certainly no proponent of slavery. He is not grotesque; he is merely disgraceful. But, as with Davis, obtaining Bush's defeat is an urgent matter of national security -- and national honor."


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