27 August 2004

Bush: Bad President

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that George W. Bush is a liar, a hypocrite, a religious phony and misguided to the point of actual evil who surrounds himself with genuinely evil yet incompetent idiots. Let's just put all that aside for a moment.

There must be some way to objectively measure a president's performance independent of their personality or political agenda, right? Measurements such as economic performance, respect within the world stage, peace and democracy around the world, good jobs and good wages for consumers at home, housing starts and media housing prices, crime statistics, drug usage rates and so on. In short, we can and should measure this and every president's performance by independent data of the overall quality of life in the country. In short, as Ronald Reagan said, "Are we (as a country/society) better off than we were four years ago?"

(Would that the SCLM would pick up on this idea, which has only been a world standard for elected leaders since forever.)

I hope my Republican friends (and yes, I do have some -- quite a few, in fact) will accept the central premise of this exercise, which is that individual presidents, regardless of party affiliation, political agenda or personality, can do better or worse their their peers in the job. IOW, Franklin Roosevelt (D) is generally accepted to have been a good president, whereas Herbert Hoover (R) was considered a bad one. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln (R) was one of the greatest, whereas Lyndon Baines Johnson (D) was, on balance (and civil rights advocacy nonwithstanding) not too good. Even Richard Nixon (R) has with time and perspective been regarded as having done a number of good things (to balance out the evil things), while Jimmy Carter (D) has equally been recognised as someone who's heart was genuinely in the right place and who did a number of good things, but was generally ineffective and weak as a president.

There have been times in our history, my Republican friends should remember, when the president has been seen to be a bad president and lost support of the population at large, including their own party. Republicans rose up against Richard Nixon when it became obvious that he was, in fact, a crook. Democrats abandoned Lyndon Johnson when it became obvious that he couldn't get us out of Vietnam to the point where Johnson didn't even run for re-election.

Likewise, mainstream American voters have, when motivated, easily crossed party lines when it comes to voting for presidents. Ronald Reagan enjoyed a lot of support from Democrats during his first run for president, and Bill Clinton obviously persuaded a lot of Republicans to pull off the two large mandates he enjoyed (the likes of which we may never see again, I might add).

Finally, let's also accept and recognise that both parties have, at times, fielded incredibly weak candidates. Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis (both D) come to mind, but so does Gerald Ford and Bush41 (R), who were both poised to get creamed due to the perception of poor on-the-job performance -- and did indeed get their asses handed to them in the next election.

So, removing all aspects of rancour and politics out of the equation, how has George W. Bush done in his first term as president? The answer, if Republicans were honest, would be: very poorly.

Economics: Whoever heard of a jobless recovery? Whoever heard of financing a recovery with a record deficit without much to show for it? How can any president defend their economic record when statistics consistently show them to be deliberately misleading people? Honestly, I've tried to look at this as objectively as possible, but from an economic standpoint Bush has been a disaster and that's just all there is to it.

Bush continues to claim that the economy is improving, but the facts say otherwise: poverty is on the rise (by more than a million people!), health insurance coverage has shrunk (by a million and a half, largely due to people either being laid off or forced to take jobs that don't offer health insurance), unemployment is actually much more significant than the (rising) numbers say (because the gov't simply doesn't count people after they've exhausted their benefits and/or given up looking for work), housing prices are completely out of control and so is the trade deficit (look at how badly the dollar is doing worldwide), real wages are shrinking to the tune of $500 a year (not counting inflation!) and most importantly, nobody in Washington seems to care.

To be fair, inflation remains low, interest rates are still kind of reasonable (creeping back up though), and the stock market thankfully has only a tenuous link to economic realities on the ground, meaning that the enormous deficit has yet to impact on American's daily lives very much. But gas prices are ridiculous, housing costs are ridiculous, energy costs are ridiculous, healthcare prices have gone well beyond ridiculous (what was an emerging and serious issue during the Clinton admin is now a full-blown crisis), and food prices have spiked as well. Despite innumerable reports that offer solid proof to the contrary, the Bushies continue to say that the "recession" was inherited from the Clintons. Folks, that just isn't true. Republican economic theory of the last 20 years (which is in stark contrast to their previous fiscal responsibility) seems to be:

"Republicans will help a handful of other Republicans get incredibly rich, but heaven help you if you're not in that group, because the rich Republicans will definitely not help you. Oh, and the deficit is Somebody's Else's Problem."

Maybe I'm showing my age, but that's not a Republican Party I recognise. The old Republican party were real conservatives -- budget hawks as much as they were war hawks (the last Republican president to submit a balanced budget was in fact Nixon, who did it while financing a war). You notice how the Republicans no longer use the phrase "Tax and Spend Liberal" much anymore (well, apart from Zell Miller, but he's truly talking out of his butt -- Georgia has far higher taxes and a far bigger deficit than the state of "Taxachusetts" as he loves to say)? There's a reason for that.

The World Stage: It's quite clear to any rational person that the US has lost a lot of prestige in the world, and by "the world" I mean all over, not just those countries that never liked us much anyway. Bush alienated our allies with his "fuck you" attitude, then descended into exactly the same sort of torture, rape and murder that we railed against Hussein for committing, and then followed that up by demanding to come crawling back to the UN on his own terms. "Hubris" doesn't even begin to describe it. When you compare our standing in the world today to what it was on, say, Sept. 12th, 2001, it's obvious that anyone -- absolutely anyone, from either party -- couldn't have screwed this whole Iraq thing up worse than this bunch. It is exceedingly difficult to believe that these losers even remember the first Gulf War, let alone were part of the planning of it as so many of them were ...

The thing I'm probably angriest about, though, is the loss of our leadership role in the world. The US used to be able to go to other countries and say "respect human rights" with authority because we could back it up by pointing to our own record and show that you don't have to handle things that way -- you don't have to impose order with violence and fear. We used to be able to go to other countries and say "get rid of your totalitarian/communist/socialist regime, because democracy works better." The 2000 non-election screwed that one up for good. We used to be able to say to other countries "pre-emptive attacks are wrong." Now we are in no position to say any of those things, and the Chinese (for starters) are already throwing it back in our faces. It did not have to be that way.

Good Jobs, Good Wages: Give me a freakin' break. This administration actually continues to promote the shipping of jobs overseas, even in the face of massive voter dissatisfaction with this "strategy." The statistics prove that the jobs created under Bush pay significantly less than the jobs exported, and of course this just puts the squeeze on the middle class, since the poor are already underpaid and the rich are of course overpaid. Do we really want to live in a country where only the wealthy can really enjoy life? Because that's where we're headed.

Again, it wasn't like that under Clinton. The facts are out, and show clearly that under Clinton, the rich got richer and the poor got richer and the middle class got richer. And he did it all while submitting budgets that not only destroyed the deficit, but actually made a start on the national debt, and without raising taxes significantly. He finished up his second term with a surplus that would have easily paid for this Iraqi nonsense 20 times over if Bush hadn't already wasted it all. It all seems rather like a dream now ...

Housing Costs, Crime, Drugs: Up, Up, and Away. There have been some definite, and welcome, shifts in crime and drug use patterns during the last four years (away from excessively violent crimes and a dramatic lowering of middle-level drug use), but just like the rest of country the stats at either end are up, up, up. Low-end recreational drug use (pot, X, pills, alcohol, smoking) is increasing and getting to younger kids, and very high-end serious addiction (PCP, Heroin) is also on the rise.

Crime isn't much better. While burglaries and muggings are down, rape and murder are up. People are generally acting more savagely towards their fellow human beings. There have been times when people felt more afraid generally than they do now, but as 9/11 taught us, much of that sense of security is a false one -- and it doesn't help that this administration (and particularly this campaign) uses fear as one of its main weapons.

In my own life, it's hard to give an easy answer to the question "are you better off than you were four years ago?" In terms of raw income, yes I am better off, because I've now learned how to make my freelance business profitable -- a skill I'm still learning, and knew a heck of a lot less about four years ago. I suspect this would be the case under any administration, at least as applies to me.

But our rent has gone up every year, our power bills creep up, our health costs have soared (to the point where, if they continue at this pace, we will be unable to afford health coverage in another three years), our food and transport costs have risen very noticeably, and there's a lot more stress in our lives thanks both to the "war" and to Bush's seeming ability to combine policies that we feel are wrong-headed with an inability to even execute the wrong-headed policies correctly. The conservative swing by the media doesn't help much either -- there is so much blatant, easily-spotted lying going on (particularly on the cable news networks) that you begin to not even recognise the country you're living in. We're obsessed with ridiculous details and parsing games rather than the real problems that face us. It takes a terrorist attack on a scale like 9/11 to get us to shut up about trivialities, and even then it only works for a year at most.

I guarantee you that if Al Gore had been in office when 9/11 happened, the rest of the world would be happily joining us in kicking some serious ass in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan (and perhaps North Korea as well) right now instead of wasting our time (and $200 billion+ in badly-needed funds) on dictators who turn out to be no better or worse than a host of other dictators, had nothing to do with 9/11 and didn't have any terrorists or WMDs hiding there when we invaded.

Long Post, Short Summation: By any yardstick, George W. Bush has been a bad president. Quite possibly the worst one ever, inasmuch as his blunders and agenda spread far beyond our borders. Most fascinatingly (at least for me), Bush comes off particularly badly when you measure his performance by a traditional Republican yardstick -- he has plunged the country deeply into debt, he has hugely expanded the government, he has savaged privacy laws, he has engaged in foreign adventures that have produced no positive result and cost us a huge portion of our GNP, he has taken cops and firefighters off the streets, weakened homeland security, cut veteran and active-military benefits, conscripted the National Guard into service they are not trained for, angered our allies and visibly strengthened our enemies. He has ruined environmental safeguards, endorsed "pork barrel" spending, sent good jobs overseas, allowed more illegal immigrants access to our workforce/benefits/school system, and his administration has been caught and convicted of breaking the law far more times than the Clinton administration. You would think the Republicans would be unhappy about this ...

About the only thing George Bush is strong on is undoing gun control laws, opposing abortion, giving religious institutions government money, and ... hmmm, come to think of it, that's all I can come up with. I can't think of a single thing inside this country that's gotten noticeably better under George Bush's stewardship, even including the issues I just mentioned as his strong points. Can you?

Update: My own analysis of the Bush administration's objective failures pales in comparison to the more thoughtful and in-depth look already done by my Canadian chum and blogmate James Bow. I believe James speaks (very articulately and fairly, as always) for a lot of Canadians, and quite frankly I'd add that opinions from outside the US such as his are woefully missing from the national debate on both George Bush and our future as a country. Go read.

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