My Turn: A vision of Bush's future America

Posted: Monday, December 27, 2004

As the Bush administration gears up for the next phase of its agenda, here's what to expect:

1) Crushing debt: Last year, nearly 20 percent of your tax dollars, or $322 billion, went simply to pay interest on the national debt. Not for schools, defense or Social Security. Interest. That percentage will increase.

Despite their rhetoric, "conservative" Republicans don't really believe in paying down the national debt. They've incurred staggering deficits every year they've been in power since Ronald Reagan. The myth is that their tax "incentives" will someday boost tax revenues so high we'll be able to pay down the debt. In reality, Republicans continue to grant tax cuts and run massive deficits, hoping to debilitate and shrink government by crippling it financially. Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, called this tactic "starving the beast.

Unfortunately, such fiscal irresponsibility has other consequences. As our debt and trade deficit increase and our currency weakens, we'll have to pay higher interest rates to refinance our debt. This makes interest payments soar, at best sucking the life out of our schools, pensions, infrastructure spending, and national vitality. Other likely consequences include high commercial interest rates, high inflation, credit crises, economic stagnation and unemployment.

2) Corporate rule: Bush-type Republicans style themselves as the party of freedom, and foster the myth that by taking power away from government, it devolves to the individual. In reality, that power is devolving to corporations, not individuals. Corporations regard environmental protection, media fairness laws, product liability laws and government oversight as obstacles to profit, and they have mounted a wide-ranging offensive on all these areas.

Big corporations regard government as a potential cash cow waiting to be milked. Wall Street firms are already rubbing their hands as they contemplate a fresh influx of dollars in the form of privatized Social Security, just as Haliburton and other well-connected corporations have profited handsomely on the Iraq war. Watch for attempts to "partially privatize" the Post Office, the IRS, and other citizen-built entities. Partial privatization means they sell the profitable parts to corporations and leave the rest to the taxpayers. In such cases, it's not unusual for the corporations to indirectly control negotiators on both sides of the table, as in the recent no-bid Haliburton contracts.

3) Reduced individual rights and benefits: Americans spent the period from the 1880s to the 1930s fighting for things like the eight-hour day, overtime pay, workers' rights, Social Security pensions, and medical assistance for the old and poor. These benefits will gradually diminish as corporate-sponsored "conservative" Republicans work hard to undermine most laws which benefit the individual against the rich and powerful. Middle- and lower-income Bush supporters think they're striking a blow against welfare cheats and liberals. They're really striking a blow against themselves and their children.

4) Permanent war: When a regime's agenda is to debilitate government and reduce its citizens, it needs a sideshow to keep them distracted. War, with its ability to rally citizens to blind support of the state, is the perfect vehicle. Expect war as a permanent fixture of American culture.

• Stuart Cohen lives in Juneau.

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