Sunday, December 05, 2010

Did George W. Bush finally kill liberalism?

In a phenomenal article in the Wall Street Journal, R. Emmett Tyrell, Jr. outlines the supposed history of the demise of the liberal movement in America. Starting with Kennedy's departure from Ike's foreign policy and following with Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, Tyrell states that liberalism has collapsed under it's own weigh of overreach. Finally, he draws a straight line to Obama's tenure and the massive current budget deficits as we have found ourselves mired in an entitlement tsunami that is causing much consternation in the electorate.

He claims that only the failings of Nixon and Watergate allowed the liberals to "hide from the American electorate their fantastic delusions", with Clinton's moderate policies counted as a necessary departure for liberals after the roaring success of "12 years of conservatism' under Reagan and George H.W. Bush." But what other tack would we expect from Tyrell who is an acolyte of Richard Mellon Scaife?

Classical liberalism stated that the welfare of the individual was paramount. Society benefited when every individual had access to education, health care and livelihood regardless of their means. We believed in the individual to make important decisions. Yes, this brand of liberalism is dead and the new concept of liberalism is that of liberal welfare for industries and corporations.

Tyrell's piece is phenomenal in it's revisionist quirkiness, careful omissions and outright ballsiness--but such is the conservative movement of the new century. The utter failure of corporatism must look for a scapegoat, and that scapegoat is-- as always-- the miasmatic notion of liberalism, but by liberalism they mean social programs that help individuals. Those programs and policies that transfer wealth to corporations are just fine thank you.

I suppose we can travel in time back to the 1950's and 1960's when these same forces of classic liberalism saw the iniquities of Jim Crow, crushing poverty and lack of health care for the elderly, and forget the benefits enjoyed by individuals by liberal programs such as the Great Society and civil rights. Where would be today if old folks relied on the generosity of strangers for their health care and living expenses?

No doubt the voters today are enraged-- correctly or not-- with the profligate government spending and seeming lack of accountability. Deficits are now soaring and commissions are being set up to determine who will bear the burden of budget cuts. The irony is that such rage was not present until very recently, yet the most egregious spending occurred previous to the current administration.

Tyrell's most glaring omissions are the corporatist policies passed under George W. Bush and the Republican controlled Congress. These are not new topics, and ones that I have mentioned and will keep mentioning because of their sheer audacity and the utter silence from all involved. The first significant omission is the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, passed in 2003 with predominantly Republican support, which is the poster child for a bill that transfers wealth from public coffers to private industry with little no benefit to taxpayers. How else would you describe a bill that allows any and all prescriptions to be filled with no test of efficacy and fully paid for without the usual volume discounts? Pharmaceutical executives have retired to their own private islands on the proceeds from this legislation.

The second glaring omission in Tyrell's article is the Iraq war, fought with public funding for the benefit of private contractors who have been enlisted to first destroy, then re-build a nation. Literally, truckloads of US dollars have gone missing to operatives , governmental officials and private industry. But these dollars are invisible to the American voter, invisible even when Ahmed Chalabi sits with the President's wife at the SOTU address.

The third omission in Tyrell's screed is the corporate bailouts of 2008. How can this not be part of the equation when discerning which liberal policies led to the budget deficits? Not only are we harmed by the initial outlay of $700 billion, but also by the damage to the economic system by removing moral hazard. Why should any corpoarate task master feel compelled to act responsibly now? Without question, this was the largest extortion committed upon the US taxpayers in history, the US President and Treasury Secretary pleading in 2008 that unless the we hand over nearly a trillion dollars by Monday, "this sucker could go down." Lost on everyone is that this astounding quote was the final installment of the Bush legacy, the maraschino cherry on top of an entitlement sundae for corporate America during a tenure of conservatism.

Sure, I left out some other highlights, such as Reagan signing the Emergency Medical Transfer and Active Labor Statutes (EMTALA) in 1986 that made health care a de facto right in America. A fine policy as policies go, but certainly one that would need to be paid for eventually, and would certainly transform our entitlement state as 42 million uninsured are now legally entitled to health care, although not legally responsible to pay. Another topic not broached by me would be the two waves of federal tax cuts given to high earners under Bush. Another reasonable policy if not for the fact that the GOP were increasing spending at the same time that they were reducing revenue. I also failed to include the record subsidies for corporate farms under Bush, but I only have so much space.

On the surface, none of these entitlement and spending programs seem outrageous, except when we consider the sheer size and nature of the transfer of wealth, and the complete lack of utility gained, and in the case of the Iraq war a negative utility, from this mis-allocation. Medicare Part D not only gave a handout to the corporate overlords, but also gave discounted medications to a large electoral voting block, so in political parlance, this was a twofer, a win/win. Added to that figure is the additional 10% paid by individuals into Medicare Advantage accounts in order to participate. And the cost to taxpayers: nearly a trillion dollars over ten years, and projected to 2030 the program (just Part D, not Medicare in general) will account for 1% of our GDP.

Grover Norquist, a Republican advocate of small government, once famously said "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

The opposite has come about. Liberalism is alive and well-- welfare for the corporations.

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