For years this column has addressed the glaring contradictions between the professed ideology of Republican conservatives and the actions they take when in power. Now, the collapse of the global financial markets spurred by the deregulated greed of Wall Street and its Republican goons in the White House and Congress, has finally brought conservative ideology crashing down like the walls of Jericho.
Let’s see, how many times have we heard “fiscal conservatism” fall from the lips of Republicans? No need to waste time counting, since it’s easily in the thousands. Remember Ronald Reagan? He left us with trillions in national debt after his “conservative” presidential stint. Or George H.W. Bush, who fell on the sword of his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge and was unceremoniously swept out of office by Bill Clinton.
Closer to home, who can forget that inimitable joker Conrad Burns who, despite his campaign proclamations to the contrary, rarely met a pork-filled rider he didn’t love—especially if it was for one of his infamous lobbyist buddies or yet another military boondoggle.
Or how about the latest President George W. Bush? The “compassionate conservative” who ran against wild spender Al Gore has literally emptied the U.S. Treasury into the pockets of his pals, adding so much borrowed money to the national debt that the famous “debt clock” has now run out of room to display the rapidly increasing amount. How much would that be? Well, as of early this week, it was $10,150,603,734,720—or put another way, about $34,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Or you could add in the unfunded obligations for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and bring the real national debt up to a staggering $59.1 trillion, which comes out to be more than a half-million dollars of debt for every U.S. household.
Now, however, Wall Street’s collapse and the confused political response have wiped away the final pretense of Republican fiscal responsibility. How is it even possible that any true conservative could vote to have the government buy out failing insurance, banking and investment institutions? How could any real free market advocate vote to throw billions into the blind automotive industry that, faced with the impending challenges of peak oil, continues to build cars they brag will get mileage in the teens? What twisted logic could explain how these bailouts, buy-ins and takeovers fit any possible definition of free market economics, let alone fiscal conservatism?
The inescapable truth is that Republicans have misled the citizens of this nation for years while they’ve wobbled along on a drunken D.C. spending spree that has finally caught up with them. Unfortunately, the pirates responsible for this will not be forced to walk any planks. Instead, they will continue to enjoy their federal pensions and perks, while citizens lose their homes, businesses, families and lives in tragic scenes now being repeated daily in cities across the nation.
There is one chance, however, that the populace can extract some small retribution for the total failure of political leadership at the polls next month. And from the looks of it, the Republicans are going to take a well-deserved drubbing nationwide.
Bush has now set a new low on approval ratings in the history of U.S. presidents. How low? In the latest polls, he’s right down where Judy Martz, Montana’s former governor, was when she gave up any thoughts of running for a second term, with about 22 percent approval. For what it’s worth, Congress is even lower at 9 percent, just in case anyone thought the incredibly lame and complicit Democrats were somehow immune from being held responsible for their part of this stinking morass.
Moreover, this week’s polls find that Americans have no confidence that Bush, Barack Obama or John McCain have what it takes to somehow pull our nation out of this situation. And why should we? After all, these are the same people who got us into this mess in the first place by denouncing earmarks on the campaign trail, but voting for them by droves in D.C.; who say they’re against the wars, but vote to continue funding them; who promise fiscal responsibility, but merrily give away the store. Despite the campaign rhetoric, so far there’s little real change to look forward to no matter who steps into the White House. Put more bluntly, what change happens in the near future will be brought on not by brilliant, long-sighted policies, but by the inevitable fiscal disasters that Bush, his Republican cohorts and a considerable coterie of all-too-cozy Democrats have bequeathed the future.
What we are offered for choices in the coming election may well be, as one political wag puts it, voting for “the lesser of two weasels.” But even so, it looks like the Republicans are going to come out on the shorter end of the electoral stick. Obama now has a double-digit lead on McCain, which may well be attributed to McCain’s poor performance in the face of the financial crisis. Obama, meanwhile, is credited with being calm. Not, I might add, for offering solutions that may actually work and benefit the citizens, but for being calmer than the wrinkly old guy, who has even lost the confidence of his own party as his campaign collapses in the dust.
Here at home, Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown has failed to inspire the masses, let alone carve out a lead over incumbent Brian Schweitzer. So far, their debates mostly seem intent on which one of them can best turn Montana into an energy colony for the nation, which is little reason for cheer to anyone except the energy companies to which they both kowtow.
How we’ll ever find our way out of this dark tunnel is unclear. But one thing seems certain: The phony rhetoric of Republican fiscal responsibility is finally toast—and that, in the end, may be the sole upside to this whole disaster.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.