Karl Rove and George W. Bush thought they could ride the Baghdad victory march to re-election but the way things are going in Bush's "War on Terror," national security might not be the silver bullet they were counting on.
Instead, the election likely will turn on how the economy is doing. If the Democrats nominate a candidate who cares more about the middle and working classes than he does about corporations -- and promises to clobber al Qaeda every chance he gets -- they can win.
Already several good candidates are in the race but retired Gen. Wesley Clark is welcome if he decides to make it a 10-person field. On Sept. 3 Clark finally pronounced himself a Democrat, saying the party "stands for internationalism. It's a party that stands for ordinary men and women. It's a party that stands for fair play and equity and justice and common sense and reasonable dialogue." Deciding on a party is a good first step, but if Clark is expecting to have the nomination handed to him he has another think coming. He can ask John Kerry how it feels to be a frontrunner among the Beltway pundits while Howard Dean widens his lead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, Kerry's back yard.
The only thing that will rescue Bush against a credible Democrat is if he can get unemployment back under 5%. To do that he'll have to start making a dent on the 5 million jobs he promised to create before the election. It looks like the US is more likely to lose 5 million jobs on Bush's watch, having already booted 3 million off the payrolls since he took office. The recession may technically be over and the economy may be growing, but demand is being filled from overseas, and to meet the increasing global competition, businesses are holding down costs by not hiring.
The latest report from the Labor Department showed another 93,000 Americans lost their jobs in August. The unemployment rate dropped slightly, from 6.2% to 6.1%, only because so many people have been stranded without a job for so long that they have lost their unemployment benefits and have become discouraged, so they are no longer counted. When you figure in those who work part time as well as those who don't have a job, the underemployment rate is 10%.
The percentage of jobless workers who had used up their regular unemployment insurance benefits without finding new work reached 48% in July, the highest figure on record since 1950. And a recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York report said most recent job losses will be permanent, thanks to the employers' race to the bottom, which sends US jobs to countries where workers get lower wages and less, if any, workplace protections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed that working families are enduring the worst jobs loss crisis since the Great Depression. In response Bush has dusted off Herbert Hoover's playbook, arguing that tax breaks for millionaires ensure that prosperity is just around the corner. Treasury Secretary John Snow, on a "Jobs and Growth" tour of the Midwest on July 29, actually told a jobless Minnesota man to "just wait" for the recovery.
At the same time, the Brookings Institution reports that after years of downsizing during the Clinton administration federal employment has rebounded under Bush to 12.1 million, its highest level since 1990. But the vast majority of employees, about 8 million, work for government contractors and grant recipients. Only 1.76 million workers were in civil service. The contract- and grant-generated workforce has grown by 1 million employees -- 15% -- since 1999, and most of that growth took place after Bush became president.
"It's the end of the end of the era of big government," said Paul C. Light, the author of the study and a government scholar at Brookings and New York University, in the Sept. 5 Washington Post.
Congress should adopt Tom Harkin's amendment to the Labor appropriations bill to protect overtime pay. Any privatized federal jobs at least should stay in the USA. We will need a new populist president and Congress to make real changes: Trade agreements should enforce labor standards and environmental protections. Tax breaks for the wealthy and investors should be replaced with tax breaks for low- and middle-income families and small businesses. Congress should work toward establishment of a national health care plan that covers every American. And the federal government should enforce workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively.
It has been two years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The civilized world was united in revulsion against the murder of more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. But George W. Bush alienated Democrats by choosing to push ahead with partisan issues and questioning the patriotism of those who disagreed with him. Then Bush alienated our allies around the world with his decision to invade Iraq, which had negligible ties to al Qaeda.
Bush and his cohorts sold the war on Iraq as a quick and easy action to remove a dangerous dictator who they claimed had weapons of mass destruction and were allied with al Qaeda. Congress and the American people were informed that there would be little cost because Iraqi oil reserves could be put to use in the reconstruction of the country.
It turns out intelligence officials never really thought Saddam Hussein had any real connections with Osama bin Laden, who detested the secular Ba'athist regime in Iraq almost as much as he hates the USA. Now US and British troops have been unable to find any evidence of the promised weapons of mass destruction and the only thing the Iraqis agree upon is that they should be left alone.
As Islamic radicals move into the vacuum created by the fall of Saddam, Bush asked Congress for $87 billion more to expand the US military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and pay for reconstruction. He earmarked $51 billion for military operations in Iraq and $20.3 billion for Iraq reconstruction. That's on top of the $79 billion already approved by Congress for the war.
In his nationally televised speech Sept 7 Bush said we are in Iraq to help its people rebuild from, among other things, "decades of oppression and mismanagement." He knows something about mismanagement after a trail of failures in business and government.
To put it in perspective, his "War on Terror" budget add-on dwarves other federal discretionary budget items. The entire State Department, including foreign aid, costs $27.4 billion. The Education Department costs $53 billion, and that includes $29.5 billion in federal aid for k-12 education. Health and Human Services accounts for $66.2 billion, and that includes $27.7 billion for the National Institutes of Health. Homeland Security is budgeted $41.3 billion.
At the same time, with the federal budget deficit already expected to exceed $500 billion, Bush is proposing $107.8 billion in tax cuts for the fiscal year 2004 and has demanded that Congress make expiring tax cuts permanent, which would cost the Treasury $1.1 trillion over the next decade.
Congress should cover the costs of the "War on Terror" with repeal of those ill-considered tax cuts for the wealthy. The president should turn over occupation of Iraq to the UN Security Council. After the abuse the French, Germans and Russians took from the Bushites, it would serve them right if Dubya was told to look for his international aid where the sun doesn't shine. But the French and Russians have indicated they would go along with a Security Council resolution if the US lets go of the reins. We should take them up on the offer. -- JMC