The Teflon is finally wearing off President George W. Bush. After getting elected through a legal coup, and diminished popularity, the atrocity of 9/11 sent the Bush administration’s ratings into the stratosphere as the mass of the population felt the need to support the President in the war against terrorism. For a few months, the Bush administration could do no wrong. With the Democrats fully supporting Bush’s program of the bombardment of Afghanistan, the internment of thousands of immigrants, and billions of dollars in handouts to big business, the wave of patriotism seemed to inundate everything.
But this honeymoon has now come to an end. Despite ducking the Enron scandal early on, now the Administration is facing its first possible casualty with the possible dismissal of the Secretary of the Army Thomas White and more subpoenas being issued for high ranking members of the administration. The recession over the past year rattled millions of workers who lost their jobs while the rich and big business were getting fat handouts from the administration.
The imposition of tariffs on European steel, the policy of the US in the Middle East, the embarrassment over the administration’s endorsement of the coup against Chavez in Venezuela have opened up splits between the Bush government and its European allies.
Bush has been made to look guilty and vulnerable in the media and in Congress by embarrassing questions about the administration’s intelligence failures. What did Bush know when? Why was no action taken on the basis of information about planned attacks on US soil by Al Qaeda network agents? These questions are especially embarrassing in the light of his administration’s secrecy fixation.
The tremendous popularity of Stupid White Men by Michael Moore – a book that openly attacks the Bush administration – is indicative of the fact that a growing segment of the population is fed up with the administration and is no longer prepared to give it carte blanche (see review on page 18).
Of course this growing sentiment could change in the event of another terrorist attack on US soil, with the population swinging back to the need for "national unity" and the need to support Bush and the Republicans.
However if the current trends continue, Bush and the Republicans can no longer count on an automatic sweep for the November midterm elections, as Republican strategists had anticipated early in the year. Bush’s popularity is threatening to go the way of Enron’s stock price. As Bush commented, pointing out the increasing voices of Democrats who now dare to criticize and question the president, there is the "smell of politics in the air."
It was the increasing recognition of the fact that the "war on terrorism" and Bush’s popularity were not enough to secure the House and win back the Senate for the Republicans in the midterm elections and Bush wanting to avoid serving the rest of his term as a lame duck president that can help us understand the 2003 budget that was proposed by the administration.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the new budget will create a $100 billion budget deficit for next year, considering the loss of revenue from tax breaks and the general weakness of the economy. Bush is also proposing to increase federal spending by 3.7%. Of course the this spending increase comes after more than a decade of budget cuts under the Bush Sr. and especially the Clinton administrations, which were obsessed with balancing the budget. But Bush cannot be accused of launching a war on poverty, by any stretch of the imagination! His main war is against any taxes being imposed on his friends in big business or any restrictions in their destruction of the environment and making huge profits.
A great deal of Bush’s spending increases will go to farm subsidies and enormous amounts of pork barrel federal projects. By far the biggest increase is massive military expenditures that will go directly to the corporations that produce military hardware. They are getting an additional $100 billion for this year, while many domestic programs with the exception of education, are either frozen or cut.
The main reason why Bush did not go even further in his budget cuts for domestic spending is that the Republicans are trying to avoid losing in the November mid-term elections. Several polls are showing that the majority of the population is at least as concerned about issues such as unemployment, healthcare, social security, and education as they are about terrorism. Bush and the Republicans, despite their anti-spending rhetoric, are quite prepared to spend massive amounts of money in order to get re-elected. They especially want to win control of the Senate by defeating perceived "enemies of the administration" like Paul Wellstone in Minnesota, as well as making sure that governors like Jeb Bush win re-election.
Of course if Bush and the Republicans win the midterm election, they plan to go on the offensive against budget deficits and implement massive cuts in the budget in the next fiscal year while continuing to pick the pocket of social security. Already, spending for education, which Bush proposes to increase by 2.8% in 2003 is slated to be frozen until 2007 after that increase.
The massive increase in the military spending and the tax cuts for the rich and big business will ultimately have negative effects in the economy and the federal budget. They will open a huge gap in revenue that will lead to new cuts and attacks against working families, [and] the needy, and the elderly [, etc.] Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institute warned that: "the revenue loss from the Bush tax cut in future years will begin to dwarf the spending increases of the recent past." (Washington Post 4/22/02)
The National Governor’s Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers reported in late May that state budgets are in the worst fix in 20 years. [with] Forty-eight out of the fifty states are finding revenues falling short of original estimates — often by wide margins (Washington Post, National Weekly Edition, 5/27/02).
This is because of the revenue losses from Wall Street, and sales taxes, as well as because of the explosive growth of national health care costs for which Washington is offering no help or solutions to the states. The prospect is now for state governments to be forced to roll back reductions in school class sizes, initiate cuts in environmental protection, and dismantle other social programs as well as raising sales taxes which will hit especially working families.
The Democratic party, after months of supporting Bush on everything, has begun to now make mild noises about Bush’s domestic agenda. Even Gore attacked Bush on his energy plan. This is partly self-preservation for the upcoming election but also reflects the beginnings of a change in the psychology of voters, a section of whom have had enough of Bush and want to see something done on burning domestic issues. This is reflected in the sales of the Michael Moore book, the mass rallies for Nader in Florida, and the anti-war rally in Washington D.C in April. The Democrats will not launch a serious campaign to undercut Bush’s war drive, or challenge the Anti-Terrorism Bill. They have not questioned the massive tax handouts to the rich after 9/11, or the hypocritical stance of the US in allowing Sharon to invade the West Bank and Gaza. Republicans and Democrats are united on all the key issues.
Meanwhile the AFL-CIO Executive in its recent meeting in NY decided to pour millions more of member dollars into the coffers of the Democratic party in order to gain "influence" in that party. Dissenting voices were those of Teamsters President Hoffa who argued for more money to be given to the Republicans so that the union movement can be more "bipartisan."
The November elections should be seen as an opportunity for all those who oppose Bush’s policies domestically and abroad, the emerging anti-war and anti-globalization activists, left Greens, dissident labor unions and activists, community and student groups to launch local coalitions that can campaign against Bush’s agenda and prepare the way to run independent candidates against both Democrats and Republicans in the November elections. Socialist Alternative will tirelessly campaign for such a plan of action to build a real movement based on workers and young people that can fight Bush and challenge the dictatorship of big business.
This article first appeared in Justice (Issue 30, June/August 2002), the paper of Socialist Alternative (US section of the CWI)