America Goes Backward

George W. Bush
George W. Bush; drawing by David Levine


Less than two and a half years after it came to power, the Bush administration, elected by fewer than half of the voters, has an impressive but depressing record. It has, in self-defense, declared one war—the war on terrorism—that has no end in sight. It has started, and won, two other wars. It has drastically changed the strategic doctrine and the diplomatic position of the United States, arguing that the nation’s previous positions were obsolete and that the US has enough power to do pretty much as it pleases. At home, as part of the war on terrorism, it has curbed civil liberties, the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and the access of foreign students to US schools and universities. It holds in custody an unknown number of aliens and some Americans treated as “enemy combatants,” suspected but not indicted, whose access to hearings and lawyers has been denied. The Republican majority in both houses of Congress and the courts’ acceptance of the notion that the President’s war powers override all other concerns have given him effective control of all the branches of government. The administration’s nominees to the courts would consolidate its domination of the judiciary.

The Justice Department is also supporting efforts to have the Supreme Court reverse its previous decisions on affirmative action and on women’s rights. The social programs that have softened the harshness of capitalism since the New Deal, inferior as they are to those of other liberal democracies, are threatened by the Republicans’ relentless war against the state’s welfare functions, their preference for voluntary over mandated solutions to health care, and for private over public schools. Large numbers of old, sick, or very young people, mainly among the poor, will be deprived of financial assistance as the result of administration policies. Those policies include the cuts that will result from the huge deficits caused by military expenditures and reduced taxes and revenues, and the gradual transfer of many welfare and educational costs to states that are broke, must balance their budgets, and receive little aid from the federal government.

The political forces that many expected to question policies and express dissent have been remarkably meek and mute. The Democrats are reluctant to attack a popular president. Before the war against Iraq and during the war itself, the press and television gave Bush the benefit of the doubt, with chauvinistic support being offered under the guise of patriotism. Anyone who tunes into BBC radio and television can only be struck by the contrast in style and substance between its news programs and those on the American networks. (In no US newspaper or broadcast that I have seen has the French position on Iraq been accurately presented.1 ) It sometimes seemed that the press had become “embedded” not only in the fighting forces but in Washington officialdom itself.

The US remains a liberal democracy,…

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