What Reagan Started, Bush Is Finishing
By David Martin
10/26/05 "ICH" -- -- In recent weeks, every morning’s newspaper seems to carry another headline documenting the accelerating tailspin of George Bush’s administration into disastrous fiasco. Political pundits may attribute the ongoing self-immolation of George Bush to the general ineptitude of the Mayberry Machiavellis with whom he has surrounded himself.
But there is another, more historically correct explanation for the current presidential unraveling: the disaster that is George Bush is the inevitable culmination of the “revolution” wrought by Ronald Reagan.
The Great Charlatan swept into office proclaiming that government was the problem. If only it got out of the way, the energy, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector would be unleashed and a golden economic age would dawn. A rising tide of affluence would lift all boats, and we would all sail off into a rosy sunset.
Now after eight years of the Gipper, four years of Bush I, eight years of Republican Lite under Clinton, and five years of Shrub, we see the truth of the Reagan Revolution. The gradual withering away of the welfare and regulatory state has not unleashed the American entrepreneurial spirit. Rather, it has set loose the predatory greed of the 19th century robber barons, the class cannibalism of Social Darwinism, and the winner-take-all rapacity of laissez faire capitalism.
The bright and shining “morning in America” that Reagan touted has turned into a cold, gray dusk as the sun rapidly sets on the American dream. In the 25 years since Reagan was sworn into office, the middle class is shrinking and the gap between wealthy and poor is reaching Grand Canyon proportions. During this period the average after-tax income of the lowest fifth of Americans has increased by 5%, the middle fifth by 15%, and the top fifth by 48%. The income of the top 1% of Americans, in contrast, has more than doubled, growing from $298,900 to $631,700, an increase of 111%.1
The trickle down promised by supply-side economists has diminished to a slow drip. The tax policies of George Bush have only exacerbated this problem. The combined effect of his tax cuts has been to reduce federal tax revenue to its lowest level as a share of the economy since 1950.2 The inevitable result is the return of Reaganesque tax deficits that Bill Clinton worked so hard to erase. George Bush is mortgaging our future, and the Chinese hold the note.
Reagan came into office promising to shrink government to keep it from stifling private initiative. He and his successors may not have been too successful in shrinking the size of the government, but they have certainly magnified its ineptitude. The government that once put a man on the moon now cannot deliver ice to the Gulf Coast.
The American military that conducted a multi-front war to defeat the formidable powers of Germany and Japan cannot subdue shadowy car bombers in Iraq or the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A military logistical system that was able to supply its armies across two oceans somehow can’t coordinate the delivery of armored Humvees to troops stationed in Iraq or supply them with up to date bullet proof vests.
Privatization was another of Reagan’s sacred tenets. The theory was that privatizing services once provided by government would result in greater efficiencies at lower costs. The Iraq occupation was to be a textbook case for the miracle of privatization. First the American forces destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure (except for the oil industry), then the job of rebuilding was turned over to large, private, well-connected construction firms.
Two years after the American invasion the Iraqis have only intermittent electrical service and inadequate water supplies. But the construction firms did prove efficient in at least one area: ripping off the American taxpayer. Billions of dollars have disappeared into the black hole of Iraq reconstruction, and contract administrators can only shrug and mumble about difficult circumstances.
The Bush administration may have fumbled relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But it was well prepared to apply the lessons of Iraq reconstruction to the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. The Katrina clean up could have been one huge WPA project to help alleviate the widespread poverty so cruelly exposed by the monster storm. Instead George Bush rescinded wage and environmental regulations and turned the Gulf Coast into a free fire zone for crony capitalism.
The same well-connected, underperforming firms from Iraq were given the same no-bid, no oversight contracts in Louisiana and Mississippi. As a result, illegal immigrants are being paid at below minimum wage rates to do the work that should be done by displaced residents at Davis-Bacon wage rates. One can anticipate the importation of workers from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan as New Orleans displacees are shuttled from one government trailer park to another.
Politicians and their supporters love to wax romantic about the legacy they leave behind. Here’s the Reagan/Bush legacy: failed wars, support of terrorists, environmental degradation, the income distribution of a banana republic, a credit rating a third world country would be ashamed of, falling health standards, the disappearance of guaranteed retirement pensions, and corporate malfeasance on an unprecedented scale.
George Bush loves to end his speeches with a request for God to bless the United States of America. What he really needs to ask is for God to save us.
David Martin -
1 Figures taken from Congressional Budget Office report, Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979 to 2002, March 2005.
2 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Tax Returns, A Comprehensive Assessment of the Bush Administration’s Record on Cutting Taxes, April 23, 2004.