January 14, 2004
By The Plaid Adder
In a Christmas newsletter that I just could not bring myself to spam my near and dear with, I began my description of 2003 in politics with the line, "I think I will always remember 2003 as the year when the gloves came off." Well, so far, 2004 looks like it's going to be the year when the wheels come off.
The latest problem for the Bush administration is The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, by Ron Suskind, published by Simon & Schuster. You can order advance copies through Amazon and Barnes & Noble; Simon & Schuster, who evidently are not diverting a whole lot of money to their web department, are still listing it on their site as "UNTITLED ON THE BUSH WHITE HOUSE." It is also not featured on their front page or in their "new releases" section, a mistake I hope they will soon rectify. Because if the rest of the book is anything like the tidbits we've been getting in O'Neill's interviews, it is going to be one red-hot seller.
Apart from O'Neill's claim that Cheney responded to his concerns about the growing budget deficit with "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter" - because you get re-elected anyway, and by the time everyone else has to pay the piper your 8 years are up? - and the 'revelation' that Bush, basically, 'ran' cabinet meetings like the overwhelmed and undercurious figurehead we've always sort of assumed he was, the main thing everyone has focused on is O'Neill's assertion that the plan to invade Iraq substantially pre-dated the September 11 attacks, and that essentially the Bush team was searching for an excuse to go to war as soon as they got him into office. Can O'Neill and Suskind make good on that claim? Who knows, the book isn't out yet - and no doubt Cheney and his goons will be rushing to their legal teams to try to get an injunction by any means necessary. Meanwhile, however, something interesting is happening. Bush is not denying this claim.
Instead, his line is to try to push the start date for the Iraq campaign back even farther, to Clinton's administration. Well, blaming Clinton has become a national pastime since the economy headed toiletwards; but there is one thing we can blame Clinton for, and that is for showing all of America how much trouble a president can cause himself by denying something he doesn't think is provable. Team Bush may or may not know what kind of proof O'Neill and Suskind have, but one thing they do know is that if Bush says O'Neill is full of shit and it turns out someone has a tape of the meeting at which this first came up, Bush has just bought himself a one-way ticket to impeachment country.
Which leaves the rest of us, of course, with one conclusion: O'Neill is telling the truth, and everyone on Team Bush knows it.
But big as that is, it's not the only problem Bush has picked up in January 2004. The much-ballyhooed economic 'recovery' has turned out to be a bust in terms of job creation, which is what most of his constituents (as opposed to his donors) really care about. The capture of Saddam Hussein has failed to stop attacks on American soldiers or to make piles of Weapons of Mass Destruction magically appear in a compost heap outside Tikrit. The Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute - just from the name you can tell they're a bunch of anarchist commie peaceniks - has published a paper calling the Iraq war a distraction and a mistake, and making the not unreasonable argument that "the United States may be able to defeat Al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil." What, you mean Bush isn't Superman, Jesus Christ, God the Father and John Wayne rolled into one? The horror! Nobody tell Pat Roberston, it'll kill him.
And then of course there are the more inexplicable things, like Bush suddenly announcing that despite our already gigantic deficit we need to spend billions of dollars to create a "permanent" human presence on the moon and a manned mission to Mars - what, have they run out of stuff to conquer on this planet? - and the unveiling of the universally perplexing "guest worker status" plan for undocumented immigrants, which appeared to be guaranteed to piss off just about everyone. Don't these people know a political liability when they see it? What the hell is the matter with Karl Rove?
Well, no doubt a lot's going on, but in my mind it all comes down to this. Bush has oversold his presidency, and the investors are starting to realize they've been had.
Last year I found out that I could cheer myself up, when the news got to be too much, by watching Mel Brooks's debut film, The Producers. I never liked any of his other movies that much - his incredibly immature use of women's bodies gets harder to ignore with each effort - but The Producers is not only hilarious from start to finish, it is a thousand times more topical now than it was when it was made.
Max Bialystock, a washed-up Broadway producer played with overwhelming and irresistible charisma by Zero Mostel, collaborates with neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (the equally inspired Gene Wilder) in what they think is the perfect con: they will find the worst play in the world, raise a million dollars more than they need to produce it, and then pocket the leftover cash after the show fails. (The worst play in the world turns out to be Springtime For Hitler, which only gets worse when the worst director in the world decides to make it a musical.)
The scam will work if and only if the show bombs; as Bloom points out, "once the show is a hit, you have to start paying off the investors, and with so many backers there could never be enough profits to go around." In one of my favorite scenes, Bialystock sits at the table wearily signing investor contracts as Bloom hands them to him, telling him what percentage of the profits each investor owns. Finally, realizing that this math is becoming surreal, Bialystock says, "Leo, how many percent of a show can there be altogether?" "Max," says Leo, "you can only sell 100% of anything." "And how much of Springtime for Hitler have we sold?" "25,000 percent."
To me, that's a perfect description of the state of the Bush presidency. As much as we hear about what a champion fundraiser he is, nobody seems to point out what would seem to be the obvious consequence, which is that each of those chumps ponying up $2000 a plate to have lunch with their pet President is essentially putting money down now for a share of the profits later. A few hundred million dollars later, Bush has too many backers, and there are not enough profits to go around. He is beholden to so many different interest groups that he cannot make them all happy at the same time, and after patiently waiting for a couple of years for their investment return, they are now starting to make noises about lawyers and collection agencies.
Take the "guest workers" program, for instance. Doing anything to ease the plight of illegal immigrants seemed so wildly out of character for the Bush administration that the immediate response was a collective and bipartisan "Wha...?" But in fact it's not too hard to figure out what this is about. As Bush and many of his backers have always known, the xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric that fuels so many of the more extreme right-wing elements in the Republican party masks the simple fact that businesses in this country are always looking for cheaper labor, and nobody comes cheaper than an undocumented immigrant. This is especially true now that the service sector is becoming dominant as the manufacturing sector wanes.
The difference between service jobs and manufacturing jobs is that service jobs cannot be shipped overseas. If you run a hotel or a restaurant or a housekeeping service and you want to pay your workers Third World rates, you can't ship your business to the Third World; you have to bring the Third World to your business. The Republican party's dirty little secret is not the racism that drives its anti-immigrant rhetoric - all of that is pretty blatant - but the fact that many of the donors in the corporate wing would like to see more undocumented and exploitable immigrants coming into this country.
Meanwhile, in the post 9/11 world, Bush now has to keep yet a third constituency happy: the national-security nuts who, if they could, would like to hermetically seal U.S. in plastic and duct tape to keep anyone from going in or out. The "guest worker" plan is an attempt to a) placate the corporate donors by finally allowing them to exploit cheap immigrant labor without being in the embarrassing position of violating immigration laws and b) placate the national-security nuts by promising to register and track every immigrant who comes into the country.
Left out in the cold are the racist anti-immigrant elements of the party who simply can't stand the idea of any 'foreigner' sneaking into America and taking a job away from a white man. Why, they might ask Bush, should we let immigrants into this country at all? Well, he might reply, I'm afraid we need them to grease the wheels of American megacapitalism, and the fact is that the megacapitalists gave me more money than the white supremacists this year. Sorry.
Similarly, there is a big fight brewing in the Big Tent between proponents of classic "conservative" fiscal values - balanced budgets and small government - and Bush's backers, who apparently believe that shoving billions of government dollars down the throats of their major corporate donors while simultaneously cutting taxes again and again and again makes fiscal sense. Finally, people are starting to do the math, and realize that even if Bush's extravagant overspending isn't going to those nasty social programs that do crazy things like, you know, provide food, shelter, education and medical care for actual human beings, it is still extravagant overspending.
And then of course there is the libertarian wing, which has long been dissatisfied with the Big Brother antics of John Ashcroft - but of course Bush can't do a damn thing about Ashcroft without pissing off the religious fundamentalists who believe he has come to deliver them from their Babylonian captivity. And speaking of religious fundamentalists, the drive to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage has now sparked an ad campaign in which prominent conservative types - by and large figures that queers like me would cross the street to avoid, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual - explain to their followers that this amendment would be a huge blow to the principle of states' rights and a major increase in the intrusive power of the federal government. So now we have a celebrity deathmatch shaping up between the American Familiy Association and the Federalist Society. Hey, there's a fund-raising idea - sell ringside tickets to that bout on eBay.
And then of course there's the war in Iraq, which apparently so far has disappointed and/or alarmed just about everybody apart from Rumsfeld, Cheney, Halliburton, and Bechtel. Which is how we know where Team Bush's priorities are, even if it has taken some of his other investors a while to figure that out.
So there it is. Bush can go out there and spin like he's Sasha Cohen, but as Leo Bloom says, you can only sell 100% of anything, and he hit the 25,000% mark a long time ago. He has given out way too many IOUs, and unfortunately he has distributed them to a bunch of people who are not liable to offer debt forgiveness. If he's coming apart at the seams now, it's simply because too many people have a piece of him. Let this be a lesson to future Republican administrations to try to keep the whoring within sustainable parameters. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the infighting from a safe distance while I eagerly await the arrival of my very own copy of The Price of Loyalty.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at the Adder's Lair.