OPINION: As election nears, a reminder: Remember Bush — and don’t repeat
As events speed by, what seemed so immediate and momentous soon becomes ancient history. So with the presidency of George W. Bush. Concerned that we are already forgetting and may therefore be liable to repeat something too much like that history, James Gannon has written “The Reckless Presidency of George W. Bush” (Aeon Academic Press, Seattle, 264 pages, $16.95), in which he concludes that Bush “brought America unnecessary war, income inequality, serious debt, and deep recession,” and warns against voters electing “a Republican spouting the same Bush nostrums.”
James Gannon was a colleague of mine at NBC, a deeply serious and conscientious researcher and writer who worked much as a field producer. The home viewer of television news who sees a report by some familiar face is rarely aware that the report is largely the work of a field producer, who has looked into the issues, scouted the location, found the interview subjects, supervised the filming, and written much if not all of what the on-camera reporter says. The on-camera reporter arriving on the scene usually finds that the basic work on the story has been done by the field producer.
In “The Reckless Presidency,” Jim Gannon front-loads the book with assessments of Bush that may put off a reader who, even if agreeing with those assessments, may feel impatient to get on. But it would be a mistake to stop there, for the detailed history Gannon proceeds with will bring back to even those who follow the news more closely many incidents, miscalculations and harmful decisions that have by now slipped the mind.
Once again we are reminded of the many distortions of intelligence and outright fabrications that went into the case for invading Iraq. A president whose acquired good ol’ boy manner was at variance with his patrician New England background, and whose appeal was in seeming “just like us,” proved susceptible to the hawkish counsel of advisers with grandiose ideas about our military power, wildly overestimating how quickly and easily success could be won. Cheney, Libby, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Rumsfeld and others are seen again steering an all-too-willing president who had never displayed an interest in foreign affairs and had no clue to the underlying conflicts within the Middle East.
Gannon not only delves into the false justification for the war but also reminds us of the brutalities that followed, sullying America’s good name as an upholder of justice and decency, and he links the bullying mentality of the war policy to a domestic policy that favored the rich against the poor. Against Republican charges that Democrats are stoking class conflict, Gannon maintains that both under Bush and now the Republicans have been conducting what amounts to class warfare. After Bill Clinton left office with a $236-billion national surplus, in part achieved through a budget that raised taxes, Bush within five months had wiped out that surplus through “a $1.35 trillion tax cut that heavily benefited the richest 1 percent of the population,” Gannon writes. With the escalating costs of war a steep budget deficit ensued. Deregulation (Gannon holds Clinton also responsible here), the busted housing bubble and bank failures all added to the cascade of the Great Recession.
The book went to press before Mitt Romney became definitely established as the next Republican candidate, and Gannon devotes several pages to the earlier field of wannabe candidates. Regardless, he sees deficit-cutting without offsetting taxes on the wealthiest as a given in the Republican campaign — a guarantee that the highest level of wealth inequality in American history will be protected. While he faults Obama for having tried too long to accommodate an obstinate Republican opposition and thereby losing time for stronger moves on the economy, Gannon judges that “Obama and Hillary Clinton have attended carefully and competently to American interests abroad.”
“The Reckless Presidency of George W. Bush” may not have quite the style or resonance of the late Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land — occasionally gratuitous comments follow a point already well made — but in spelling out what went wrong under Bush, Gannon gives a powerful warning of what to look out for as the next election draws near. The concern about inequality shared by Gannon and Judt is also emphasized in a new book by the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, “The Price of Inequality.” Just how great that inequality is, and how well it has weathered the Great Recession, was brought home this past weekend, when my wife and I took a drive along the road closest to the ocean front in Sagaponack, Long Island. One grossly oversized beach mansion after another was either going up or nearing completion. One looked more like a hotel than a family residence. The very rich live on their own planet.
We need the labor unions back!
Henrik Krogius is editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News
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