Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bush's Presidential legacy and some future trends

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 8th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I pointed out the inconsistencies in President Bush’s defence of his economic policies in response to the strong criticism from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, of his and Congress’ lack of fiscal discipline over the last seven years. Today I want to elaborate a bit more on this issue and other steps President Bush is now taking to try and redefine his Presidency now that barely a year remains in his term as US President. But as has been his pattern for the past seven years, “Dubya” has undertaken these new initiatives with too little political capital and much too late in the game to make any real headway on these issues before he leaves office.
Still smarting from Greenspan’s scathing criticism of his administration’s ill conceived economic and monetary policies, the President finally decided to veto a domestic spending bill. Prior to this, Bush’s only three vetoes of spending legislation had been of two bills authorizing federal funding for stem cell research and one restricting his funding for the Iraq war. The message one might draw from these vetoes was don’t try to get me to spend money to fund medical research that will save lives and don’t try to stop me from spending as much as I want killing people in Iraq.
President Bush has vetoed the stem cell legislation twice despite the pleas of many Republicans in Congress and his own National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, who says “All avenues of research need to be pursued. We must continue the research at all levels, or there will be no progress.” Thus it should come as no surprise that Bush’s fourth veto in seven years was of a bill that would have expanded health care coverage for children whose families are poor but not poor enough to qualify for Medicare. His decision to do so has baffled many Republican allies and has left Bush as politically isolated as he has ever been.
Because this measure was supported by many Republicans in Congress, they are openly questioning why the President has decided to take such a hard line on a bill that will actually reduce overall government outlays for children’s medical care. That is because without the expanded coverage these children will instead be forced to go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment which ends up costing the government far more than federally insured visits to a doctor’s office. What the heck, no one has ever claimed that our President was one of the brightest bulbs in the pack now have they?
The President has also undertaken a number of other initiatives in an effort to rewrite his place in history. No president wants to be remembered as the author of an ill-fated and unpopular war so Bush’s advisers hope to broaden the picture and soften history’s judgement of his failures as a President before he hands over power January 20th 2009. Since the most ambitious items on Bush's second-term domestic agenda have died, most notably his ideas for restructuring Social Security and immigration laws, Bush has now tried to draw attention to a number of other highly visible issues.
On the foreign policy front, Bush went to the United Nations late last month and tried to rally support for his Middle East peace initiative, insisting that his vision of a new Palestinian state was still “achievable” before the end of his presidency. Too bad Bush chose to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last seven years otherwise maybe this “vision” might have been achievable. But I am afraid it is once again a case of too little too late when it comes to resolving this long standing dispute.
He also pressed for more U.N. action against Iran, acutely aware he has only a year left to stop Tehran's nuclear program. But the reality here is that it was his own administration’s sabre rattling and refusal to negotiate with Tehran for the past seven years which has served to harden Iran’s stance and embolden Tehran’s hard liners. It was fortunate however, that he finally reversed course in the spring after six years of belligerent intransigence and allowed the US to negotiate with North Korea to put an end to its nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, this will probably be “Dubya’s” lone foreign policy triumph after eight years as US President.
The Bush administration has finally accepted the grim reality that it has no hope of winning the war in Iraq by January. 20th 2009 and so has undertaken a new strategy to stabilize the country and then withdraw some of the additional “surge” forces Bush deployed there by next summer. The President hopes this will leave his successor as President with a less volatile situation that would reduce demands by American citizens to pull out completely. Bush believes that if he can do that, even a Democratic Presidential successor will be compelled to continue his Iraq war policy.
Bush is also now trying to find another way to handle suspected terrorists and close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities before he leaves office. The President is concerned about how history will judge this aspect of his legacy and believes that by taking the initiative to do this before his term expires he can avoid future investigations and harsher judgements about these anti-terror tactics. He is also rushing to institutionalize other controversial tactics he has employed in the “war on terror” so they will outlast his presidency. That is why he finally agreed to put his warrantless surveillance program under the jurisdiction of a secret intelligence court.
Embarrassed by the sight of a former Presidential rival being awarded a Nobel Peace prize for his work to address climate change caused by global warming, President Bush has finally decided he also needs to adopt a higher profile on this issue. We are talking about the same President who for years expressed doubt that human activity has anything to do with warming and who renounced the Kyoto treaty and mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions as soon as he took office in 2001.
But now that his term as president is almost over, Bush has decided to summon the 15 nations that produce the most greenhouse gases to a conference in Washington in hopes of producing a plan to cut their emissions by the end of 2008. While I am glad to see him attempting to address this issue one cannot help but question his motives for finally doing so. No matter. I just wish Bush had decided to undertake all of the aforementioned initiatives while he still had some power and prestige to put behind these efforts. As its stands now, Dubya’s new interest in these issues is again symbolic of a Presidency defined by the phrase “too little too late”.
Of course there is always a chance that maybe they will one day decide to start awarding Nobel prizes for War to counter-balance the ones awarded for Peace. I mean, we need a war in order to have a peace don’t we? If so, then “Dubya” still has a chance of winning a prize worthy of his failed Presidency. lol

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 15th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I have noticed a number of trends in government and amongst my fellow Americans while I have been back in the states the past two months. Some are worrisome while a couple give me cause for hope, so I will begin by discussing the ones that worry me before trying to end this column on a more optimistic note.
With only about a year left in office, President Bush has left acting or interim appointees in charge of many agencies of the federal government. In many cases, the White House has shown no inclination to find permanent replacements which would require confirmation by the US Senate. By following this course Bush is effectively circumventing the Senate’s right to review and approve such appointments, but it also means these agencies are being run by people who lack the clout to make decisions.
The fact that the President’s low standing among American voters has rendered almost any foreign or domestic policy initiative he undertakes as a colossal waste of time doesn’t mean that our government agencies should also be left in the same ineffectual position our nation’s President finds himself in. Unfortunately, President Bush appears to be more concerned about the bruising of his ego, which might result from the loss of a Senate confirmation battle over one of his permanent appointees, than he is with ensuring that these government agencies can effectively continue to serve the interests of the American people. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though because President Bush’s agenda over the past seven years has always been one that consistently puts his own self interests ahead of those he was elected to serve.
As for my own Republican Party, the current cast of Presidential candidates continue to leave me decidedly unimpressed. On the same day that the stock markets hit record highs, Republican presidential candidates held a debate where they all continued to espouse lower taxes and free markets while warning that Democrats like Hillary Clinton pose the greatest danger to the nation's future prosperity. Although Fred Thompson finally met his rivals in a televised debate, he simply joined them in singing the praises of reducing government spending and regulation while ignoring the real threats to our nation’s prosperity, such as the lack of affordable healthcare, damage to the environment, persistent budget deficits and the growing national debt.
The Republican Party appears to be hopelessly stuck in the past and I for one am sick and tired of hearing the same old rhetoric from its Presidential candidates. It has yet to dawn on any of them that there are many other Republicans who are just as Fed-Up as I am with both President Bush and those Republicans in Congress who have supported and rubberstamped all of his foreign and domestic policies for the last seven years. We are Fed-Up with the ill-conceived war in Iraq, Republican legislators’ total lack of fiscal responsibility and their refusal to take action over the poor disaster management responses by the Department of Homeland Security.
During the primary season, Republican business leaders always rally around the establishment candidate. But this time it's a Democrat, not a Republican. And it’s a woman, not a man. For example, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, a life-long Republican who raised more than $200,000 for Dubya's 2004 re-election campaign, announced his support and plans to do the same for Hillary Clinton this past spring.
And James Robinson III, the former CEO of American Express was recently quoted as saying “I've been a Republican all my life. I believe in fiscal conservatism and being a social moderate. (but regarding my support for Mrs. Clinton) It seems to me she's the person who has got the broadest experience. She understands the importance of business development, innovation and entrepreneurship.”
But it's not just CEOs who are abandoning the Republican Party in the upcoming election. Since 2004, the percentage of professionals who identify themselves as Republicans has fallen from 44 percent to 37 percent, and their main concerns are healthcare, climate change and the economy (according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll). But in the last Republican economic debate, all of the major candidates continued to sing from the same old GOP hymnal, hailing rising income inequality in the US as a wonderful by-product of the free enterprise system while simultaneously blaming lawyers and Democrats for all of our country’s woes. No need to wonder why young professionals are now deserting the Republican Party.
Regarding the ongoing conflict in Iraq, I am also worried because of recent statements by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of American forces in Iraq, who called the Bush administration’s handling of the war “incompetent” and said the result was “a nightmare with no end in sight.” General Sanchez went on to criticize his former boss for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” and denounced the current surge of additional American forces as a “desperate” move that would not achieve long-term stability. His comments worry me because I have seen nothing to suggest that his assessment is off the mark and yet Bush is determined to stay in Iraq for as long as he remains President. How many more lives will we sacrifice on the altar of “Bush’s Folly”?
But I have noticed a couple of positive trends over the last two months. While I could be wrong, during the course of my travels throughout the southern United States this fall, I have noticed a change in the attitudes of many younger Americans. They are beginning to question the wisdom of their establishment elders and as a result are becoming more involved in the political process. They are more tolerant of those who are different from themselves or their friends as well as of those who don’t agree with them. They are also showing a real interest in being of service to their local communities by getting involved in civic affairs and by serving as volunteers for organizations which help those who are less fortunate.
Even those who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians reflect this change. In talking with several members of my younger brother’s church I was very impressed by their thirty something views on what “moral values” actually means. They don’t have a problem with gay rights or marriage nor do they think that school sanctioned prayers should be reinstated in the nations public schools, both of which are the top concerns (along with restricting abortion rights) of Christian conservatives over the age of fifty. Instead, they told me that their religious faith informs a need to help the poor, improve education and provide better health care.
It’s because of my faith in these younger Americans that I can return to Ireland with a sense of optimism about my country’s future prospects.

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