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Bill Grigsby: George W. Bush, Change Agent

George W. Bush, Change Agent

By Bill Grigsby

If you watched George Bush’s nomination acceptance speech, you might have suspected he had recently emerged after 3 ½ years in a cocoon. He had no record, at least none he was willing to claim. And he had no wings. Team Bush did, however, substitute the corpse of the moderate republican wing, dress it in a suit, and set up its pitch man for the radical wing of the party. That's two wings. The cocoon thesis has holes, yes, but it could explain some of Bush’s reality-defying statements, for instance that freedom is on a worldwide rampage. Or that American teachers have never been happier. Also, the economy is doing really well. Really! Trust us! The Iraq war is making us all safer (but there may be a dirty bomb with your street name on it if Kerry gets elected). And he announced that we all know where he stands on the issues, so don’t bother checking to see if he’s lying. The president is also running as the incumbent-for-change, presumably because polls say most people think America’s headed in the wrong direction. So brace yourselves for a 360o—Trickle Down IV: The Ownership Society.

George Bush as the candidate of change? Once the right wing media sycophants, from Krauthammer to Limbaugh to Lowry, run BushCo’s industry-drafted policies through their meat grinders, they come out bold, daring and visionary. It’s the same story of massive redistribution of wealth to the top of the food chain, via the privatization of public assets and resources. Team Bush is just kicking into overdrive.

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It is certainly visionary—part of a strategy devised by Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and the rest of the neoconservative junta in DC to entrench republicans in power—cut the taxes of the haves and have-mores, and channel a good chunk of this lost public revenue back to conservative causes and campaign contributions. As the treasury shrinks, borrow money and force spending cuts on wasteful government programs and costly regulatory agencies, whose missions often included managing public resources and protecting citizens from predatory corporations. This is neoconservatism. New and improved supply-side economics. The Neo Con.

So what are the neocon artists selling, exactly? Like advertisers, they are selling dreams—safety, security, prosperity—the usual. We can all have lots of stuff, so long as we make those minimum monthly payments and vote republican! And they’re also perpetuating an individualist mythology—that everyone has equal opportunity to achieve the dream, and failure is nothing more than individual character flaw. Unless you’re President Bush, and then failure is redefined for you as leadership.

Marketing illusions is tricky business, though. If this neoconservative vision is indeed society’s salvation, wouldn’t a freedom-loving president want to lay it bare for all to see, to debate it in public with his critics, rather than cloak it in deceptive language, like ‘ownership society,’ crafted by the BushCo pollsters?

The sales pitches aren’t limited to the benefits of tax cuts, or cutting government spending, or private investment, health and retirement accounts. Timber, mining and development interests get the public lands and wetlands. Churches get welfare contracts. Insurance companies get $12 billion to help them better compete with Medicare. Wall Street gets your Social Security. Private schools get voucher payments in lieu of the feds fully funding the ‘no child left behind’ law. Private contractors get privatized government jobs a la ‘competitive sourcing’ (which, sadly, reduces union donations to democratic candidates). Insurance companies and physicians are still pining for malpractice damage caps. Oil, gas, coal and utility companies get to write energy policy. Iraq has become the Klondike Gold Rush of the new millennium for the war industry and enterprising carpetbaggers. Pharmaceuticals got a Medicare bill with lower-end price controls and subsidies to weaken overseas markets for generic AIDS drugmakers. Large businesses made sure that new ergonomics rules designed to address repetitive motion and other injury classes were gutted, after 10 years of research. The White House uses vast public resources and money to collect dirt and run smear campaigns against its critics, to collect money by invitation-only at taxpayer expense. Every policy of this White House is moving us toward private government. Consumers, workers, teachers, students . . . citizens, beware—your ever-shrinking role in representative government under BushCo begins and ends at the polls.

Is it possible that many people would be mildly upset if they grasped the true nature of the neoconservative agenda? Corporations paying for access to legislators and policy makers through lobbying efforts and campaign donations, writing their own legislation, receiving tax breaks and shelters that cost the treasury some $50 billion a year, demanding ‘regulatory relief,’ protection from competition, billion dollar contracts, or just massive subsidies? Why is it that over the last 40 years, the U.S. economy has more than tripled in size yet we still have over 35 million people living below the poverty line, a line which grossly underrepresents the struggles of America’s working class and unemployed to make ends meet? ‘Why it’s the failure of the welfare state,’ say the neocons. Well, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, define welfare.

How do they succeed? Good PR helps. News media corporations and their corporate advertisers are pretty excited about the ownership society concept. Their political and economic interests are so vast and diversified that they have little interest in upsetting the gravy train and actually serving the public interest. Hence we get a TV presidency—short on substance, lots of images, funded by commercials. George W. Bush is a leader like Brittany Spears is a singer—they’re commodities, and there are too many people and companies invested in them to see them fail or go too squirrelly. It's nothing that can't be controlled with heavy media management: image production, controlled access, a limited script of pre-approved, poll-tested phrases, and Rasputin-like characters running the show in the shadows and smearing their critics.

Many journalists are so easily distracted by White House PR swill that one of the biggest stories of the decade—a story of bald-faced corruption, of the systematic auctioning of governance to private individuals and large corporations, is being ignored, because even to suggest such a thing is so fantastically partisan, ridiculous and . . . radical. The true Orwellian meaning of ‘no child left behind’ is emerging—we’ll need every last one of those children to pay for the fiscal messes this White House is bequeathing to the American public.

As for the speech he read at the end of the GOP convention, the president is right, of course. He is a candidate of change. We’ve come a long way since John F. Kennedy said ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’

This president has a new message: ‘Ask not.’

© 2004 Bill Grigsby - Eastern Oregon University

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