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Political Animal

Greed and Panic

By Brian Morton | Posted 8/6/2008

Here we are near the end of the long, hot summer, and that odor wafting toward you isn't skunked beer or uncollected trash--it's desperation. You can tell when campaign ads talk about "celebrity" and feature Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, both of whom might be hard-pressed to answer how many years are in a U.S. senator's term (quick--somebody cue Jay Leno's "Jaywalking!").

It was around this time eight years ago when the traveling campaign press seized on the "Who would you rather have a beer with?" test for the presidency. And five years after that, we learned that the winner of the beer test appointed the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency before a hurricane wiped out an American city. We saw how that turned out.

Now we're back in the stink of it again. Barely a month left before the conventions, and the second sentence in a front-page Wall Street Journal article reads, "But in a nation in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is overweight and 32 percent is obese, could Sen. Obama's skinniness be a liability?"

As blogger Duncan Black, who writes under the name "Atrios," says, "The stupid, it burns me."

The appearance of Spears and Hilton in the presidential stakes makes it very apparent that despite $4 gas, a slow-motion mortgage industry collapse, rising unemployment, an accelerating hurricane season, and every month bringing a new contaminated food item, John McCain intends on running a campaign for Most Popular Kid in the Playground, and he seems petulant that he's not winning.

Despite appending "Straight Talk" to every vehicle that transports him, McCain is now pushing away national political reporters--once the people he called "his base"--and their substantive questions about actual issues of policy in order to field softball questions from local media. And there are reasons for that: The GOP has run out of intellectual steam.

Eight years of George W. Bush have shown conclusively that the entire raison d'être of the Republican governing machine was to steer federal money to private industry, enriching the few at the expense of the many. Six tax cuts in as many years left the nation's infrastructure crumbling while corporate profits soared. Two wars accompanied by hundreds of no-bid contracts siphoned billions of dollars out of the treasury and into politically connected companies like Blackwater and Halliburton before draining into the sands of the Middle East. Year in and year out, the Bush administration predicted that tax cuts would stimulate the economy, leading to the end of deficits--and yet the budget bled more and more red ink each year, culminating in a administration-projected deficit of $482 billion by the time the president leaves office.

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee told the Los Angeles Times, "If we gave Olympic medals for fiscal irresponsibility, President Bush would take the gold, the silver, and the bronze, because he's got the three highest record deficits ever. . . . He sets records in every single category: 2009 would be the gold; 2004 the silver; 2008 the bronze."

The surpluses that Bush inherited (after the Clinton administration's 1993 deficit-reduction plan erased the deficits from the Reagan and Bush I years) might as well have been poured directly into the pockets of the top 1 percent, which is why, before and after the '04 elections, you saw the deification process (last used for Ronald Reagan) beginning, such as the our leader billboard put up by Clear Channel on Interstate 4 outside of Orlando. In 2006, that 1 percent took the highest share of the country's adjusted gross income since the Gilded Age of the 1920s, while its average tax rate fell to the lowest level since 1990.

Now, the same oligarchy that has been the beneficiary of the Bush largess is starting to see the writing on the wall: The good times may be coming to an end. Large Republican-leaning corporations like Wal-Mart are reportedly calling managers and supervisors into meetings featuring dire warnings ab0ut what might happen if a Democratic administration takes over. A Wall Street Journal article states, "The actions by Wal-Mart--the nation's largest private employer--reflect a growing concern among big business that a reinvigorated labor movement could reverse years of declining union membership."

Imagine an administration without a toothless Department of Labor corrupted by years of corporate complicity. Imagine an administration that believes government exists to do more than privatize federal assets for corporate gain.

The friends of Bush and McCain sitting in their executive suites aren't feeling comfortable about the way the winds are blowing. One percent of the country by itself can't outvote the other 99 percent that aren't sitting quite as pretty. Which is why this summer's media stories are stinking of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

They're hoping you'll be distracted by the smell.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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