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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bush on Compassion

Reading the news paper can often be a jarring experience. You can read one story, then move on and find other stories that completely contradict it. At least, this has been my experience for the last six or seven years. The Bush administration has a very bad habit of saying one thing, while doing the exact opposite. Orwell's Newspeak slogans "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength" would seem right at home in the White House press room, where contradiction is embraced with a big bear hug.

So, it wasn't really surprising to see Bush practicing his own brand of cognitive dissonance on the occasion of the King Holiday.

Associated Press:

President Bush today hailed Martin Luther King Jr. as a towering figure and called on the country to honor his legacy by showing compassion to those in need.

"It's fitting that we honor his service and his courage and his vision," Bush said during a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library with first lady Laura Bush.

His comments came on the federal holiday honoring the birthday of King, who would have been 79 on Jan. 15. An advocate of peaceful resistance and equality for people of all races, King was assassinated in April 1968.

The entire speech is here.

Yeah, I know -- you're thinking Iraq. So was I. Not a lot of compassion is wasted on those people over there. But all I had to do was turn the page and a couple of stories undercut Bush's message of "compassion" a lot closer to home. Another AP piece, titled "Dems, Bush at Odds on Rebate Recipients" in my paper, offered the first contradiction:

The poor are the people most likely to spend a tax rebate, if they are handed one in an economic revival plan. Whether that happens depends on who prevails - the White House or the Democrats who run Congress.

Democrats want to make sure rebates get to more of the poor, including those who have jobs but earn too little to pay income taxes.

The idea is the more that people spend, the more it will energize an economy threatening to slide into a recession for the first time since 2001. According to many economists, the lower that people are on the income ladder, the more probable it is that they will spend a rebate and spend it quickly - just the shot for the ailing economy. These people are more likely to be living from one paycheck to the next, without other assets to draw on.

"The White House, for now, envisions providing one-time rebate checks to people who pay federal income taxes," the piece goes on. "That would leave out millions of the working poor, who do not make enough to pay income taxes but do pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes."

And here's where things get weird. AP quotes Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as saying that Bush "is focused on broad-based tax relief for those who are paying taxes. And that's - that was the principle he laid out. This is something that has worked well before. It's worked in 2001, worked in 2003."

Yeah, except it didn't work in 2001 and 2003. Bush added zero net jobs in his first term -- the first time that had happened since Herbert Hoover. Bush is so committed to top heavy tax breaks that he's willing to ignore the obvious -- if you want money to move, you get money to people who need it. The CEO of MegaCorp isn't going to look at his rebate check and say, "Honey, look! Now we can finally get that new fridge we need!" The fact is that money moves up the economic ladder a lot easier than it does down. Bush's supply-side economic voodoo doesn't work because it's bass-ackward and anti-capitalist. It's actually trying to force capitalism to work in a way that it doesn't. If the idea that money moves up the ladder wasn't true, capitalism would be a failed system and there would be no wealthy. There have been wealthy capitalists a lot longer than there's been a "trickle down theory" -- hell, there have been wealthy capitalists a lot longer than there's been the word "capitalists."

But the real story here is that Bush went one place to talk about " compassion to those in need," then formulated a policy that did the exact opposite. Screw the poor -- they don't pay taxes. Well, not real taxes, anyway. Just rinky-dink payroll taxes like Social Security and Medicare. In Bush world, this is equal to paying no taxes at all.

Bush's commitment to compassion for those in need takes another hit in another AP piece -- this one was "Bush Strategy: Hold Dems on Health Care" when I read it:

The Bush administration's health agenda this year will consist largely of fending off Democratic lawmakers until a new president and Congress take charge.

In a preview of what is ahead, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt says the administration will work to limit the government's role in the delivery of health care. That goal is at odds with several Democratic proposals, such as giving the health chief the power to negotiate drug prices and greatly increasing enrollment in federally sponsored health insurance for children.

So pharmaceutical companies will still be able to rake you over the coals and uninsured sick kids remain sick and uninsured. I know there's "tough love," but is there "tough compassion?" In fact, never mind how compassionate this isn't, this story is another story about how Bush is working directly against a strong economy.

For one thing, the lack of universal coverage is actually making US manufacturers less competitive than foreign companies. By providing health insurance and drug coverage to employees, a factory in Boise has an added expense that a factory in Japan does not. If you're really committed to trickle down BS, then call expanded health coverage "corporate welfare." The supply-siders will become instant fans.

And, in terms of economic stimulus, expanding coverage would be a long term boon. In 2007, 63% of Americans saw their health care costs rise. 50% put off going to see a doctor and 28% didn't fill or skipped doses of their prescribed medications. If coverage expanded, not only would we all be healthier as a whole, but consumers would get a boost in the money they'd be free to spend.

Economics is like a tree -- starve the roots and you starve the branch. It's the people at the bottom who move the money and it's the people at the top who collect it. The economy won't improve if you're only getting money to the people on top. Get money to people who need it and they'll spend it pretty much that same day. A hungry person doesn't lose a lot of time getting a lunch and people who need stuff -- as opposed to those who only want stuff -- don't lose a lot of time buying what they need.

Long, long ago, President Bush used to talk about "compassionate conservatism." But, in the intervening years, he's proved that his compassion is reserved for fetuses and stem cells -- in other words, hypothetical people. When it comes to compassion for actual people, Bush doesn't have any. He talks a good game, but he doesn't play.

So, the next time Bush manages to string together a few pretty words, remember that he doesn't mean them. They're just things he has to say, because saying the things he'd like to say are impossible in the circumstances. At the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Bush couldn't say that wealthy people need more money, that the taxes the poor pay aren't real taxes and don't really count, or that sick kids don't really matter much in the grand scheme of things.

So he talked about "compassion" and meant it as much as when the cashier at Burger King tells you to "Have a nice day." It's just something appropriate you say at the appropriate time. It doesn't mean a damned thing. And, since it's meaningless, it doesn't matter that his words don't match his deeds, that his commitment is to the least compassionate route or that his plans are to comfort the comfortable. In doesn't matter if none of his words are true.

They're just something meaningless and pretty you say when the moment calls for it.


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1 comment:

Emily said...

Very well said.

Feel like running for office?