The United States: Bush's Record
The United States: Bush's Record
Despite the usual voter apathy of Americans, the turnout on 2 November is expected to exceed European levels (1). Will that be because of 9/11 and George Bush's response to it - the provocative policies coming out of the White House; the enthusiasm with which, on the pretext of reacting to the attacks on
This is as much a referendum on the current administration as an election. Bush has two rare, if not unique, distinctions: he was elected even though he received fewer votes than his opponent and he is the son of a former president. His enthronement was less democratic than dynastic. The election result conferred no particular mandate on him, and certainly no endorsement for a terrible leap to the right, an imperial inflection of the international order or the militarisation of American society and foreign policy.
The Democrats - for whose victory many European politicians and commentators hope so that once again they can say "We are all Americans" (2) - prefer to attribute this transformation of the political landscape of the
The Republicans have the security of knowing that they hold the White House, Congress and the governorships of
The first of the two major policy initiatives of the White House is mired in a murderous military stalemate. The second has ruined the
So for the first time since Herbert Hoover (1929-33) an outgoing
The Republicans' plan is crystal clear. They help the rich by lowering federal taxes. This creates deficits which force them not only to reduce public spending (apart from the army and "homeland security"), but also to make people pay for things that used to be free and pay more for everything else. In the last decade
That is how the Republican scheme works. First you cut taxes for the most wealthy on the pretext that deficits don't matter; then - when it turns out that they do matter somewhat - you increase taxes and "voluntary" contributions such as health insurance, higher education fees and childcare. In October 2003 Bush outlined his plan to privatise pensions and professional training, which in future will, he hopes, be funded by lifelong, tax-exempt accounts managed by each individual. Then the president explained his premise: "There's an old saying, 'No one ever washes a rental car.' You see, when you own something, you care about it. When you own something you have a vital stake in the future of our country." That's his idea of a social policy - collective solidarity compared with a badly-maintained car. That's some philosophical project... And other countries are currently trying to emulate it.
Since the Reagan presidency, Republicans have been prepared to acknowledge class struggle, but they view it one-sidedly. According to a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, Bush's tax policies mean that in 2004 the 1% of Americans who earn more than $1.2m a year will be, on average, $78,460 better off. The 20% of Americans earning a mere $16,620 a year will gain on average only $250 from tax cuts, which will surely be promptly be eaten up by increases in indirect taxation. Even in percentage terms the rich have done better. As for the minimum wage, which, at $5.15 an hour, has not been increased since 1996, its real value has fallen to a 1955 low.
While millions of people were still transfixed by the television images of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, an advisor to the
To be fair to the Bush administration, it has not allowed such anxieties to distract it from priorities. Even when the wars in
So calamitous is Bush's record that without the help of fear and the war on terror, he would long since have faced an election defeat like that of his father in 1992. But Kerry is less wily than Clinton, the 1992 winner, and the incoherence of his position on
If there is a Kerry victory, the Democrats have promised modest domestic policy improvements (tax, health insurance, the minimum wage), largely dependent upon the outcome of the Congressional elections, also on 2 November. Bush's re-election can only benefit those whom the last four years have already blessed. They would love to quicken the pace of change further by giving the current president the popular mandate that he failed to secure four years ago.
(1) The usual comparison between the turnout in the
(2) The title of Le Monde's editorial the day after the attacks.
(3) The remark was made during a conversation in November 2002, according to Paul O'Neill,Treasury Secretary between 2001 and 2003. See Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill,
(4) Peter G Peterson, Running On Empty : How the Democratic and Republican Parties are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It, Farrar,
(5) Some states have already begun. See Fox Butterfield, "Many Local Officials Now Make Inmates Pay Their Own Way", The New York Times, 13 August 2004.
(6) Amy Goldstein and Sarah Cohen, "Bush Forces a Shift In Regulatory Thrust", The
(7) On the wisdom of the war in