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REICH: Why Bush is Winning

Tax cuts. Missile-defense shields. Expansion of oil, gas, coal and nuclear energies. Bush is winning on these issues because he manufactures crises around them.
 
 
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The puzzling question is why George W.'s three big plans are moving forward. The immense tax cut whose benefits will go mostly to the rich, the hugely expensive missile-defense shield of dubious technical possibility, and the aggressive expansion of oil, gas, coal, and nuclear-energy availability coupled with a rollback of environmental regulations -- all of these are said to be necessary to the nation's continued prosperity and peace. Each move is ostensibly in response to a current or pending crisis: a major economic downturn; an escalating probability of attack from China, North Korea, or a "rogue" state; an energy crisis.

But in fact, these so-called crises have been manufactured by the White House. The economy has slowed, but it's hardly in free fall. The fundamentals (growth, productivity, unemployment) continue to be in relatively good shape. And the Fed is responding to a countercyclical slowdown with interest-rate cuts.

There's no new foreign peril. China is every day growing more dependent on global capital that would flee if the People's Republic even slightly threatened the West. Russia is weaker than ever. North Korea was on the verge of making peace with South Korea before the Bushies pulled the plug. There are dangers, to be sure, but no rogue nation has nearly the capacity to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile in our direction.

And apart from California's zany energy system, America has no energy crisis other than a long-term need to conserve. Gasoline prices are moving upward because of a temporary shortage of refining capacity. For the short run, the nation needs more electric-power generators, but this is hardly a new problem.

Bush's solutions were cooked up in the early days of his presidential campaign, before these concocted crises even hit. He was trying to sell his giant tax cut long before the economy slowed. He advocated a missile-defense shield way before the tensions with China and North Korea escalated. And he was flogging gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power before California utilities collapsed and before gas prices around the country started rising. It's possible that Bush was remarkably prescient; but it's more likely that since the election he and his crew have cleverly exploited every event that could be twisted or exaggerated to support their preconceived plans.

It gets only more bizarre when you realize that Bush's proposed solutions won't even deal with the supposed problems. A huge tax cut mostly for the rich will not turn the economy around, because the rich won't spend or invest their new windfall quickly enough to affect the current slowdown. Trickle-down economics is, at best, a trickle. This particular tax cut is also back-loaded (for reasons of budgetary sleight of hand), which makes it even less of an anti-recession stimulus.

A missile-defense shield won't protect America from nations or groups bent on terrorism, because terrorists don't launch ICBMs. They put bombs in cargo holds, send lethal germs through the mail, and destroy computer software through the Internet.

And an immense program to get more oil, gas, and coal out of the ground and build new nuclear plants won't keep up with America's energy needs, because the "needs" themselves are the problem that has to be addressed. Consumer prices must rise before Americans begin taming their appetites and conserving in a big way, and before alternative sources of energy become economical.

Even more puzzling is the fact that the American public is not exactly enamored of any of these three big plans. Polls show scant support for a giant tax cut. For years now, "Star Wars" schemes have been greeted with widespread skepticism. Bush's giant back-step on the environment and simultaneous push for coal, oil, and nuclear power are profoundly unpopular, especially among all-important independent and suburban swing voters.

So if the crises have been manufactured, the proposed solutions don't even solve them, and the public is dubious at best, why are these three big plans still on track? First and foremost, all are deeply held tenets of the Republican right, and George W. and Prime Minister Richard Cheney are true believers (for ideological reasons rather than for those publicly enumerated). Second, Republicans run Congress and have basically held together in support of these goals, while the Democrats are in disarray. Third, the big plans are big, and their sheer boldness has given them momentum.

The basic reason for all of this moving forward is that the Bushies simply don't care what anyone else thinks. They feel under no compulsion to respond to facts and arguments summoned by distinguished scientists, academicians, policy experts, or journalists that show how wrongheaded they are. They figure that if they stick to their script, reiterating the same illogic and perpetrating the same deceptions, the public will come around to seeing the world their way, eventually. The overall strategy is to eschew reasoned debate, focus on the three big goals, and keep pushing. They're corporate executives paying singular attention to the bottom line -- which is just getting it done.

The strategy is the exact opposite of Bill Clinton's. The former president was happy to talk and to debate everything, anything, at all hours. He spread his (and his administration's) energies over a vast terrain of ideas, initiatives, and programs. After the health care debacle, his initiatives appeared in so many tiny morsels and incremental steps that the public lost interest in them. Clinton also paid inordinate attention to the polls.

Yet Bill Clinton respected the process of democratic deliberation in which science, logic, and common sense counted for something. These guys don't.