A pep talk for “Dubya”: Presidentin’ & the politics of sacrifice

 

I stumbled across something on the news wire today and couldn’t help but get a little irate as I read the thing.  It seems airports across the country are raising cane over new policies instituted by the Transportation  Security Administration.  The policies, which went into effect on October 1st of this year, include more extensive background checks for all airport employees, including janitors, store clerks etc…

The airports are complaining the vetting process takes entirely too long, and as a result this is creating longer delays in all aspects of their day to day business.  While I know firsthand just how annoying travelling can be, whether the delay is at the airline ticket counter or while just trying to grab a up of java in between flights, I find it rather disheartening to hear a story like this.

Are we really such a self-centered society of “I want it alls” that we are willing to forgo the most sensible of security processes merely for the sake of convenience?  Are the events of 9/11 that far behind us that we would be willing to stoop so low?  Sadly, for some, it appears that the answer is yes.

Frankly this is just yet another symptom of an ailment that has been plaguing this country for far too long.  I like to call it “Iamagreedybastarditis”.  And make no mistake, unless the government intercedes this disease is going to quickly become a plague of biblical proportions.

Now for those of you who either know me personally or are familiar with my writings, I am NOT the biggest fan of George W. Bush.  I never thought the guy had the mental capacity to hold the Office of the President and he has done little to change my opinion since being sworn in.  But please don’t take what I am about to say as “just more Bush Bashing”. 

Listen to my argument then come to a conclusion as to whether the argument is valid or not.  This former Republican (and yes, I am a conservative of the Reagan era that has become quite disillusioned with the GOP since Bush and Cheney started running it into the ground) thinks you may tend to agree with me in the end.

To me, one of his greatest “lost opportunities” came on the day the the now iconic picture above was taken.  It was at this time when he could have asked anything of our country and we would have complied.  Rather than ask us as a society to sign off on a dubious invasion of Iraq, and like it or not the preponderance of evidence now indicates that no one- including the administration itself- saw Iraq as a significant threat at the time of our invasion, he should have (and could have) asked us for so much more.

Rather than ask us to make the same kind of sacrifices our grandparents did during World War II, donating blood on a regular basis, rationing our fuel usage, recycling our precious metals and completely forgoing luxury items for the betterment of the war effort are but a few examples, we were asked to continue with life as usual, to be a “part of the growing economy”.  In other words we were told to “shop our blues away”.

While I fully understand the rationale behind needing a growing economy to fuel a war effort, this is merely another example of this administration “dumbing down” another complex issue.  Much like when he says “they hate us for our freedom”, President Bush is only touching on one of many factors in an issue.  Whether he thinks we don’t have the ability to understand the rest of the factors involved or just care not to, he is doing our nation a disservice every time he does this.

We as a people are not stupid.  Sure we can stumble across several examples showing the opposite simply by making a trip to the end of the driveway to check the mail, but collectively we have always shown the capability to accomplish great things.  And it’s not like self-sacrifice is an alien idea in western culture. The notion of personal sacrifice for the common good is a cornerstone of Christianity and has featured prominently in the rhetoric of previous wartime Presidents. But this brand of sacrifice is not supported by the President’s materialistic conservatism.

Not only did this President choose to be the first “wartime” president to NOT either raise taxes or drastically slash government spending in areas outside of the military budget to finance an ongoing conflict, he merely asked us for a more materialistic brand of sacrifice.

And even more disappointing, after a few years of that approach not really getting the job done, he refuses to see it’s shortcomings. 

This past January, PBS News Hour host Jim Lehrer interviewed President Bush. This encounter told us a lot about Bush’s brand of conservatism, in particular, his feelings about sacrifice.

Towards the end of the interview, Lehrer posed this question to President Bush:

[If the struggle in Iraq] is as important as you’ve just said… why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military – the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They’re the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.

The President said Americans had sacrificed “peace of mind,” then added:

Now, here in Washington when I say, “What do you mean by that?,” they say, “Well, why don’t you raise their taxes; that’ll cause there to be a sacrifice.” I strongly oppose that. If that’s the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I’m not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life’s moving on, that they’re able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table.

The PBS interview made it pretty clear clear that Bush’s notion of acceptable sacrifices is remarkably narrow: expecting Americans to pay more taxes would be asking too much.  This brand of conservative ideology argues that we’re all materialists: in other words, all Americans care about is money. 

I, for one, am both insulted and could not disagree more.  We are a proud, resilient people.  One only needs to look at the outpouring of support for the cities affected directly by the events of September 11th or to the quick response of charitable organizations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Where FEMA failed the average American citizen rose to the occasion.

Even more disconcerting, for the past six years, Bush’s disdain for real sacrifice had a terrible impact on the American psyche. We have all been made keenly aware of Bush’s “war on terror”, but have been given no role to play other than to struggle to respond when the “threat level” was elevated from yellow to orange or red. This situation– being continuously informed that we are at risk from a terrorist attack, but given no concrete way to respond– has produced widespread public anxiety.

The Bush “no sacrifice” mandate has led to a variety of Administration policies that run counter to our core beliefs, the most notable of which was the decision to invade and occupy Iraq and not raise taxes. As a consequence, America went deeply in debt, and jeopardized the long-term viability of our economy. And yet our government continues to spend more than it earns; an economic condition replicated in the lives of average Americans, who also spend more than they earn–typically financing their debt with home equity loans.

The administration’s unwillingness to call for a real sacrifice produced a mentality where we have refused to deal with the long-term. As a result, the President has not prepared Americans for the coming decades of dramatic oil shortages and possibly devastating weather produced by global warming.

Experts leave little doubt that in order to prevent the worst consequences of both occurrences Americans must turn away from materialism and begin to conserve energy at an unprecedented pace. The conservation practices we could be asked to enact in support of the war in Iraq could serve as the first steps in this process.  Nonetheless, conservation remains a dirty word with conservatives.

President Bush and conservatives, in general, don’t like to talk about real sacrifice. They prefer to pretend that Americans can have it all: wage an expensive “war” on terror and continue to run a deficit economy fueled by tax cuts; enjoy artificially priced gasoline and ignore global climate change. They are materialists who prefer to focus on the present: argue that tomorrow is another day, and until then, personal sacrifice is unnecessary.

This shortsighted approach could very well be leading us down the road to ruin.  It’s time that our leaders see in us what we already know is there…the ability to accomplish great things when we are called upon to do so.

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