Times Gone By

Four more years?

Seems like every group and its hamster has put out some kind of dossier on the last four years. Top Bush Lies. One Hundred Mistakes Bush could admit to. Best scandals. Biggest Bush flip-flops. Iraq. The economy. The environment.

Corporate pork and payoffs galore. Homeland insecurity. The deficit. On and on it goes.

But I like to remember the little things, those itty-bitty things that really made it special. Those touches of style. The je ne sais quoi of it all. Like choosing Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to announce his administration would oppose affirmative action in the University of Michigan case, calling it "divisive," "unfair" and "unconstitutional." Classy timing. Of course, Bush (Andover, Yale, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Harvard Business, three failed oil companies rescued by Daddy's friends, set up by Daddy's friends in baseball and given a huge cut for a tiny investment) never experienced affirmative action in his life. Made it all on his own, pulled himself up by his bootstraps – black people can do it, too.

Timing is kind of a Bush specialty. In February 2001, the day a major earthquake hit the Northwest, Bush killed a federal program designed to help communities deal with the effects of natural disasters. Of course, Florida in an election year – different story.

Remember when he went to visit the rescued miners from Quecreek, Pa.?

It was a great photo op. Except the year before, Bush had cut the mine safety budget, halted regulatory improvements and reduced enforcement of safety standards. The Department of Labor stopped work on more than a dozen mine safety regulations from the Clinton years. But hey, Bush was really glad those nine guys made it out alive. And what a photo-op it was.

You probably don't remember the time he visited the Youth Opportunity Center, a job training site in Portland, Ore. Hailed it as a model, praised the center and its staff. A month later, he cut it out of the budget.

Here's one of my faves. In his big address of 2002, Bush said: "A good job should lead to security in retirement. I ask Congress to enact new safeguards for 401(k) and pension plans." The Bush plan allows companies to switch from traditional fixed-benefit plans to what's called cash-balance plans. It saves corporations millions a year – in the case of large companies, as much as $100 million. Older workers can lose up to 50 percent of their pensions. The Bush rules not only permit the conversions, they also give cash-balance plans a tax advantage, as well as protection from age discrimination lawsuits. It's the perfect Bush plan: Corporations get to screw workers, and they get a tax break for it – plus, nobody can sue.

Nobody paid any attention to this one except the beneficiaries, since it was during the Iraq war: The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the one that laid the groundwork for Enron and is supposed to protect investors from abusive practices, passed three new rules in March 2003. According to The New York Times, the rules "reduce the quality of disclosure required in reports of past performance, increase the opportunity for advisers to put some clients' or their own interest ahead of others and curtail the already lax regulation on operators of hedge funds."

Hedge funds are derivatives on steroids, and the near collapse of one hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management, nearly caused the financial equivalent of "the China syndrome." Alan Greenspan and Fed officials convinced bankers to join the LTCM rescue effort only when they pointed out that failure would result in "chaos" in financial markets and could damage economic growth worldwide. Less regulation, you bet.

Bait and switch is a constant Bush tactic. Right after 9-11, Bush went to Ground Zero and threw his arm around a firefighter and assured him and other rescue workers he was with them. It was the photo-op seen 'round the world and was endlessly memorialized at the Republican convention. Except in August 2002, Bush pocket-vetoed $150 million in emergency grants for first-responders. The New York firefighters never got their money.

My favorite mixed metaphor: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom-shaped cloud."

Mission accomplished.

I have so many other favorite moments – hilarious promises like $15 billion for AIDS in Africa. Those amusing judicial nominations, so bad even the spineless Democrats finally had to filibuster. All the precious photo-ops with the little children of color just before he squashed some other program to help them. The time they threatened Turkey, our oldest democratic ally in the Middle East, with a military coup so we could bring democracy to Iraq.

It's been a ball. But I've had enough.

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