Bush Ad Infinitum
Sun Feb 10, 2008 at 01:33:47 PM CST
While most calendars start on January 1 and end on December 31, I think I'm not alone in saying that the X's on my fridge are counting down toward January 20, 2009. I might mention the alarm set to go off at the stroke of noon, but that would seem obsessive. Still, while I may give a hearty cheer (and I'm trying to select between a set of appropriate quips) the truth is, we won't be shed of George W. Bush on that wondrous day.
He's not leaving. He's never leaving.
By that I don't mean that Bush has a nefarious plot to exercise the Poppa Doc President for Life clause. I mean that the Bush legacy will not be restricted to that "the less said, the better" note he'll receive in future history books. The evil that presidents' do lives after them; the good is left as a target for the next conservative president. Bush hasn't left much good behind him, but what he has left is a set of policies and decisions that may cripple whichever of our Democratic candidates is so unfortunate as to succeed Bush.
First up in the things we may have to live with for a long, long time is the gift of a radicalized Supreme Court. While it's easy to say that it will take a generation to mend, the truth is a generation might not be enough. Of the sitting Supreme Court justices, two of them are Reagan appointees from the mid-80s. One of them is an appointee of Jimmy Carter who has been in his robe since 1975 (thank you, Justice Stephens, and hang in there). That means that we could still be dealing with Alito's snarling rants when Malia Obama is facing off against senior senator Hillary Duff. Even a couple of back to back Democratic administrations might not be enough to patch the tears put into the Constitution by the "strict constructionists," as the three youngest members of the court are Roberts, Alito, and Thomas.
Moving beyond the court, there's the perennial target of the Republicans: the people, their pocketbooks, and the planet.
There's a popular theory of a "business cycle" in which the economy goes up and down in somewhat regular waves. I can't help but view it as a political cycle, one in which a decade or so is enough to make people forget that conservatism does not work. Watch the folks around you for the next few years. As the Iraq Recession cuts into their lives, they'll momentarily get that splash of cold water awareness that the Laffer Curve has absolutely no evidence, that trickle down economics is a joke, and that the Magical Invisible Hand of Greed only ends up bankrupting the nation to the benefit of a chosen few. Then, as Democrats gradually put the world back together again, eyelids will droop, and the siren song of "you can have your cake and eat it too" will once more ring out across the land.
The only thing that might prevent this cycle from repeating again over the next few years is how spectacularly conservatism has failed during this spin of the wheel. Having presided over seven years of the spendthrift's ball, wrecked most every fundamental of the economy, invested a couple of trillion as a downpayment on the new Hundred Years War, and cheered an "expansion" in which the average American went backwards, you might think that the public would be in no hurry to trust Republicans with the check book again. Don't bet on it. After all Saint Ronald of Death Valley Days reversed thirty years of saving in a single decade while taking the national debt from 30% to 60% of the GDP. The expanded spending under Reagan so outpaced economic growth that a plot of it looks steeper than the Nepalese approach to Everest. Yet Ronnie is now regarded as a champion of sound economic practices. Why are we that stupid? Well, there are at least three television networks completely dedicated to spreading the "go greed!" message 24/7 (for every other TV network, promoting greed is only on 23 hours out of 24). Wake me when the Sustainability Network gets on the air.
In casting his inky-red shadow across coming administrations, Bush is still insisting that his tax cuts for the wealthy be extended -- right now, today -- even though they don't run out until 2010. Expect that theme to be a part of the race next fall and, no matter who wins, expect any effort to allow these cuts to expire to be portrayed as a "massive tax increase." In fact, I'll give you 10:1 odds it's called "the greatest tax increase in American history" before we get to pull the lever in November. This will be done by using revenue projections that run from now until the entropy death of the sun.
A great deal will be made of how, after seven years of residing over skyrocketing Republican graft and record setting corporate handouts, Bush has decided to play fiscal hardball when it comes to "earmarks." Except, of course he hasn't. He's only threatened to put into effect an executive order that would limit the number of earmarks to something greater than that ever passed by a Democratic president. And that limit starts in fiscal 2009. So any program cuts resulting from this new flowering of restraint won't come due under Bush's watch, they'll only affect the next president. And yet, should our next president rescind this order, you'll have to cover your ears to keep from being deafened by the howls of Republicans who are suddenly dead set against anyone doing what they've been doing for a decade.
That's the Bush economic goal at this point: lay mines around the gravy train they've built, pretend that they left something less than the worst fiscal catastrophe since the Big Bang, and scream if anyone touches their cheese. We had better hope we can land 60 Democrats in the Senate, because otherwise everything the next president attempts to do will be filibustered in support of the "economic discipline" Republicans were never able to practice when they had control.
Of course the Bush legacy will include Iraq. Not just the unsustainable deployment of troops, but the shotgun marriage to the dysfunctional Iraqi government. And then there are the permanent enduring bases in Iraq. At this moment, the Bush administration is negotiating a treaty that will "maintain our current level of authority to conduct operations in Iraq" indefinitely and secure those permanent enduring bases. You can bet that any attempt to move a single soldier from Iraq will bring cries of "retreat" and closing those bases will be "surrender." Oh, and expect the same Republicans who have spent the Bush administration sneering at any international treaty, to suddenly discover that any treaties negotiated by Bush deserve a reverence somewhere between mom and apple pie.
But as bad is the situation in Iraq is and will be, perhaps the worst thing Bush can still stick us with in this final year is something less visible in the short term, but vitally important in the long term. Having started his administration destroying the environment through executive orders bearing laughable names like "Clear Skies," Bush is ending his official tenure by systematically dismantling out last wild places.
In the last month, Bush has placed a giant "for sale" sign on America's largest national forest, the Tongass rainforest in Alaska. 58 million acres there have been opened up to development. The same thing has happened recently in Idaho and Colorado. It's not just the trees that are threatened. Last week the Bush administration auctioned off oil drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea, just off Alaska's northwest shore, despite the fact that it's an environmentally fragile area where polar bears are struggling to hang on. You'll be happy to know that Shell and ConncoPhillips now hold the rights to drill an area about the size of the state of Pennsylvania.
It may not seem like it, but on many fronts the now Democratic congress can act as a check on the Bush administration and stifle their worst impulses, but when it comes to the lands held in public trust, the president's authority is expansive. And where recovering from the foolish economic voodoo of conservatism can take decades, public lands surrendered to private greed is forever. Wilderness squandered is wilderness lost.
Repairing the damage that Bush has done is going to be an enormous task. Before the next president can move the nation forward, that president will first have to fill in the massive hole dug during this administration. Education. Our right to privacy. Trade policies. The tarnished reputation of the United States around the world. Even locating all the damage Bush has started rolling could take the next President most of her/his tenure.
To save time, I suggest the next president start with Executive Order #1: Every executive order issued by George W. Bush is hereby rescinded. Effective immediately.