We all know what the “R” on the shift lever means: Reverse. Funny, isn’t it, that there’s an “R” behind all the names of those now sitting in the Office of the President and commanding the majorities in both houses of Congress. Less funny is that the “R” behind their names seems more and more to stand for the same thing as that on the shift lever. Far from propelling us into a better future, the Rs have this nation stuck, it would seem, in Reverse, and the consequences couldn’t be worse for us, our children and future generations yet to come.
Perhaps the most significant indicator that we are going in the wrong direction is the Republican fascination with what would appear to be a Cold War mentality toward defense spending. The Republican icon, Ronald Reagan, has been artificially blown up into a bigger-than-life hero for “winning” the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, a nation he liked to call the Evil Empire. Don’t laugh—if it sounds like Star Wars, that’s just about where such absurd rhetorical posturing has led, and continues to lead, this country.
What’s not talked about much is the brutal reality behind that so-called “victory.” Far from being any kind of military success, Reagan’s defense-spending spree racked up trillions (that’s trillions) in deficit spending that crippled this country for years. But, in the spirit of Mutual Assured Destruction, the prophetically-titled MAD doctrine of the war against Communism, it literally bankrupted the Soviet Union, which then disintegrated, almost overnight, into its component states.
Once the “threat” of communism was gone, Americans looked forward to what was then being called “the peace dividend.” In other words, since we were now the sole superpower in the world, the hundreds of billions of dollars drained from the budget annually on runaway defense-spending would be available for other pressing societal priorities—say, like educating our children, taking care of our elderly, ensuring a clean and healthy environment for all our citizens, and moving our nation into a hopeful, peaceful future as a responsible, loved and respected force for good.
For a little while, those hopes and dreams were, at least in a small way, realized. George Bush the Elder, who followed Reagan, had to have his war, too, and like his son, found Iraq and all its oil a perfect target. Under President Clinton, the nation crawled its way out of the deficit and, for the first time in decades, enjoyed a temporary budget surplus.
But then came George W. Bush, and the nation found itself suddenly and inexplicably going backward. A loser who was awarded the presidency by the Supreme Court appointees of his father, Bush got exactly the low marks he deserved in his first year in the White House. With Democrats still in control of the Senate (albeit feebly at best), whatever murky agenda he hoped to implement seemed doomed.
The advent of September 11, however, changed all that. Suddenly, we were struck by shadowy enemies, using our own planes against us. Spurring the nation’s fears by using a compliant media with endless repetition of 9/11 images, the Bush cabal came into its own.
Thrusting defiantly in Reverse, as if it were the only possible course, Bush started not one but two wars, and immediately dumped hundreds of billions of dollars into defense—and aggression—spending. And once again, just like in the past we seem intent on imitating, the national deficit soars into the trillions as America sinks back into seemingly bottomless debt.
The consequences of going backward so fast are neck-snapping. Here we are, back to drilling, mining and blasting our way to some supposed energy independence. It’s the same rap used to justify construction of the Alaska Pipeline across a pristine environment 30 years ago—only once it was built, the oil got sent to Japan. Pollution of the environment was something not just tolerated, but taken for granted—it was part of the “trade-offs” for energy independence and “national security.”
When you’re a president and Congress out of ideas and stuck in Reverse, the way you deal with problems is to throw money at them. So, when natural disasters like killer hurricanes strike, the Rs leap to take care of the victims by letting no-bid contracts go to their corporate cronies, exempting provisions to hire locals and minorities, getting rid of union wage requirements, and slashing, once again, any concerns for the environment. And since more than a billion dollars a day is going into the military machine, Congress intends to pay for the hurricane aid by cutting benefits to the nation’s poor, sick, elderly and homeless.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, who should be leading us forward while the Republicans are stuck in Reverse, are instead complicit in this backward slide. Who can forget the near unanimous votes of those brave congressional Ds who cheerily went along with the Patriot Act’s reversal of our cherished personal freedom—or that it was the Dems who willingly gave George W. Bush the power to start the ill-fated quagmire known as the Iraq War?
But what is the Democrat message? Where are the Democrats to at least comment on the fact that we seem stuck in Reverse—and to suggest a change of direction? Instead, it’s all the rage for Democrats to imitate Republicans in their flag-waving and foolish fiscal policies.
The good news is that recent polls show that two-thirds of Americans now think the nation is headed in the wrong direction. No matter the Washington propaganda, the mistakes of the Rs are too obvious to ignore— and even the most apolitical feel the pinch at the gas pump, the soaring medical and utility bills, and the disappearance of pensions and benefits once believed to be secure.
The path to the future lies before us. We only need to take it. But first, we have to get out of Reverse.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.