Transcending incompetence, reframing Bush

It's soooo easy to see George W. Bush as this Nation cover did--as a doddering doofus who's blundering his way towards hell in handbasket (with America in said basket). But not so fast. To assume that Bush's failures--Katrina, Iraq War intelligence, through-the-roof budget deficits, to name just a few--are the result of stupidity misses a key point, as George Lakoff, Sam Ferguson, and Marc Ettlinger point out: these disasters "are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy."

This frame places the blame for many of America's problems today firmly where it belongs, with a conservative governing philosophy that believes "government’s positive role in people’s lives outside of the military and police should be minimized; the President is the moral authority; and free markets are enough to foster freedom and opportunity." While Bush is the figurehead of this philosophy, you can bet conservatism's adherents will be running to replace him in 2008.

In fact, as Lakoff et al contend, the failures progressives point out might actually be viewed as successes by "starve the beast" conservatives:
One of the goals of Conservatives is to keep people from relying on the federal government. Under Bush, FEMA was reorganized to no longer be a first responder in major natural disasters, but to provide support for local agencies. This led to the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. Now citizens, as well as local and state governments, have become distrustful of the federal government’s capacity to help ordinary citizens. Though Bush’s popularity may have suffered, enhancing the perception of federal government as inept turned out to be a conservative victory.

Conservatives also strive to get rid of protective agencies and social programs. The deficit Bush created through irresponsible tax cuts and a costly war in Iraq will require drastic budget cuts to remedy. Those cuts, conservatives know, won’t come from military spending, particularly when they raise the constant specter of war. Instead, the cuts will be from what Conservatives have begun to call “non-military, discretionary spending;” that is, the programs that contribute to the common good like the FDA, EPA, FCC, FEMA, OSHA and the NLRB. Yet another success for the conservative agenda.

Both Iraq and Katrina have enriched the coffers of the conservative corporate elite, thus further advancing the conservative agenda. Halliburton, Lockhead Martin and US oil companies have enjoyed huge profit margins in the last six years. Taking Iraq’s oil production off-line in the face of rising international demand meant prices would rise, making the oil inventories of Exxon and other firms that much more valuable, leading to record profits. The destruction wrought by Katrina and Iraq meant billions in reconstruction contracts. The war in Iraq (and the war in Afghanistan) meant billions in military equipment contracts. Was there any doubt where those contracts would go? Chalk up another success for Bush’s conservative agenda.

Bush also used Katrina as an opportunity to suspend the environmental and labor protection laws that Conservatives despise so much. In the wake of Katrina, environmental standards for oil refineries were temporarily suspended to increase production. Labor laws are being thwarted to drive down the cost of reconstruction efforts. So, amidst these “disasters,” Conservatives win again.

Where most Americans see failure in Iraq – George Miller recently called Iraq a “blunder of historic proportions” – conservative militarists are seeing many successes. Conservatives stress the importance of our military — our national pride and worth is expressed through its power and influence. Permanent bases are being constructed as planned in Iraq, and America has shown the rest of the world that we can and will preemptively strike with little provocation. They succeeded in a mobilization of our military forces based on ideological pretenses to impact foreign policy. The war has struck fear in other nations with a hostile show of American power. The conservatives have succeeded in strengthening what they perceive to be the locus of the national interest — military power.
Our days with George W. Bush are numbered, but as Jeb Bush, Bill Frist, and a gaggle of like-minded conservatives seek annointing as his successor, progressives need to clearly name--and take an accurate and mind-bogglingly large metric--of the enemy.

(Thanks, Leif.)

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