President Tlevesoor rides again

The power of a fantasy is not always reduced by its ludicrousness. Tin-pot “Il Duce” of Italy, Benito Mussolini, envisioned himself as heir to Julius Caesar and proposed twentieth-century Italy as a “New Roman Empire.”

 

George W. Bush, whose personal fondness for dressing up in costumes has been amply demonstrated, apparently fancies himself the rightist avatar of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a figure on the world’s stage on course to reverse everything accomplished by FDR and by the New Deal.

 

The parallel, which exists only in Mr. Bush’s mind, is becoming progressively more overt. CNN reports that the president is about to set out on a course of public speeches to compare the “war on terror” to WW2. The objective, bizarre as it is, is to make the “war on terrorism” seem a global war, and thus to make it into a global war. That innocent people are dying by thousands, and that American service personnel are being injured and killed, hardly weighs in the scales. The odd unit in the White House wanted to invade the Middle East (“We’re at war,” Bob Woodward quotes Bush as saying immediately after 9/11), and they did it; they want to exert an inappropriate control over the other branches of government, the states, and the press, and they’re doing that too.

 

The objective is not to reduce terrorism but to pump it up into the “global war” that administration mouthpieces keep claiming it is, relying partly on the self-evident fact that every nation includes a young male population, and partly on the reliability of their own policies to inspire hatred around the globe. Any thinking person knows you can’t actually fight “terror” with a “war” or send legions around the world to deal with guerrilla tactics, but the administration and its media outlets use the most transparently offensive Orwellian language to discredit peace itself, or any notion that maps onto rationality, and every Bush appointment and policy amounts basically to throwing gasoline on the flames. Meanwhile, that we actually have, in office, in the White House, an odd crew that at some level wants a world war is so genuinely unthinkable that it is almost impossible to state in public discourse. The unthinkable has become unmentionable, but it’s happening: our President Tlevesoor is operating to reverse Roosevelt on every significant foreign and domestic policy.

 

The signs are accumulating. Bush has made increasingly explicit criticisms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt personally, including remarks about “Yalta” made abroad. Inveterate antagonists of New Deal policies including Social Security are being nominated by Bush for positions they would never have gotten before, including judgeships. The White House has even attacked Social Security (backing off for now), and according to Professor Yoshi Tsurumi of Baruch College, who taught Bush at Harvard Business School, Bush referred to Social Security and Medicare as “socialism” thirty years ago. Tsurumi has confirmed these remarks to me in a telephone interview.

 

The assault through private depredations is not just on Social Security but on all security. The Bush administration is not merely attacking Social Security; it is bent on undermining all security for a huge and self-confident middle class. The attacks are indirect as well as direct. When an employer like Wal-Mart moves into an area without providing affordable health benefits, the cost of employee health care is thrown upon Medicare. Policy moves that weaken private charity or state services throw a further health burden upon Medicaid. Meanwhile, corporate employers are not exactly being encouraged to provide good pensions for their employees. While corporate income at the top goes ever upward with bonuses, stock options and “golden parachutes” either not tied to performance or tied mainly to stock price, pensions are joining health insurance as a benefit out of reach even for middle management. A court decision allowed bankrupt United Airlines to break its pension promises.

 

Meanwhile, the White House has not supported the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which was designed to shore up employees’ retirement plans like those at United. And while taxing huge inheritances is falsely called a “death tax,” the administration continues to impose what amounts to a “survival tax”; patients in long-term care or assisted living generally have to use up all their assets in the world to qualify for Medicaid. And it goes without saying that any effort to prevent or to redress abuses through collective bargaining, public agencies like OSHA, or private litigation is savagely opposed by everyone working with the White House.

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