Friday, January 21, 2005

Best of the Gym Reading, Vol. II
Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect points out some sad and profound truths about two Texan presidents:

Before [Lyndon] Johnson became president, the United States had not had a president from the South since Zachary Taylor died in office in the summer of 1850. In the 40 years since Johnson's landslide victory, southerners have been president for 24 years -- at least if we grant Poppy Bush's claim that he was really a Texan. By ending southern exceptionalism, by steering to passage the great laws that ended legal segregation and enabled southern blacks to vote, Johnson made it possible for southerners to run for president freed from the burden of defending a profoundly racist system. He made it possible for them to win.

...For all the attacks leveled then and since on Johnson's programs, the numbers tell a different, far happier tale. In 1959, 22 percent of Americans lived in poverty. By 1973 that figure had fallen to 11 percent, and it has never climbed back to anywhere near its pre-Great Society levels. Poverty among the elderly in particular fell from 35 percent in 1959 to 10 percent today -- numbers to remember as we consider dismantling Social Security. domestic matters [Bush] is the anti-Johnson through and through. Bush's vision is to get people off the government's grid, not put more on. He calls this the "ownership society," and it would be a lovely vision if everyone could afford to buy into it.

...After decades of conservative rule, Texas is a pretty fair prototype for Bush's ownership society. There are no income taxes. There are scarcely any unions. Benefits are low. Regulation is scarce. Markets are unfettered.

And the results fall somewhere between sobering and sickening. As the president proposes to "reform" Social Security, it's notable that the state he served as governor leads the nation in senior poverty, with 17.3 percent of the elderly living beneath the poverty line. Texas may be a state of biblical values, but "honor thy father and thy mother" seems to have fallen through the cracks.

Texas also leads the land by a wide margin in its percentage of medically uninsured. Fully 25.2 percent of Texans, in the latest government figures, go without health insurance. New Mexico, which ranks second, with 21.6 percent uninsured, has a way to go to catch Texas.
The Texas difference is a political difference. In its resistance to taxes and services and unions, Texas has created an ownership society that excludes more Americans than any other state. And this is the model that Bush is commending to the nation as a whole.

That Lyndon Johnson made George W. Bush's presidency possible, then, has to rank as one of those great ironies that history apparently adores. For Johnson's mission was to bring Texas up to the standards of the United States. And Bush's mission is to bring the United States down to the standards of Texas.

You and What Army?
I haven't had the mental toughness to read through Bush's speech yesterday, let alone watch or listen to it; just watching the coverage on "The Daily Show" was almost enough to make me barf up my post-gym dinner. But for all the bold talk about how spreading freedom is the mission of this generation, etc, I have to wonder how exactly he thinks we're gonna do this.

Put aside the hypocrisy of talking about "freedom" and "liberty" while supporting the despotic regimes of Saudi, Pakistan, Uzbekistan et al--not to mention our bankers in Thugocratic China, who can cripple our economy whenever they have a mind to do so by just calling in all the US debt they hold. We're left hoping that none of the "bad actor" states we've targeted--Iran, maybe North Korea--calls our bluff. With a "broken" military reserve, we don't have the forces to do anything, and we probably don't have the international credibility to muster up a posse as George H.W. Bush did so effectively against Saddam in 1990-91.

Iraq very possibly will turn out to be the wrong war, at the wrong time, against the wrong foe. Iran is a lot scarier, and it's run by people much smarter (and, I'd argue, more motivated--none of the mad mullahs are writing romance novels) than Saddam.

But really, I couldn't care less what Bush says. I know Michael Gerson can write a beautiful speech, and I know Bush is an effective enough politician to deliver it well. (As the late NFL Films "Voice of God" John Facenda supposedly said to his producer/scriptwriter Steve Sabol, "You've given me a horse I can ride," Bush similarly owes Gerson.)

I'm watching the actions. What I see is promotion and praise for the same ideologues and incompetents that got us into the current mess, whose loyalty clearly is to the man who raised them up to prominence, not to the law or the country; free-spending economic policies so irresponsible that even many conservatives are starting to balk; ongoing politicization of government agencies that owe it to the American people to do their best work rather than pursue partisan goals (the Social Security Administration is arguably the most efficient organization in the world); and a near-total disdain for the almost 60 million of us who desperately wanted to change the national direction. There will be a reckoning.

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