Time to lead: Enough with the blame, backtracking and looking back

The month of June opened with two very different, but very telling opinions on who did what, when, in Washington, D.C., regarding the two most serious problems facing the nation today—the financial collapse and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while looking back can certainly be instructive, the reality is that America is far beyond the blame game and must, under the sole leadership of the Democrats, come to grips with the present and future to deliver the change we were promised.

Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics last year and is a New York Times columnist, took a long look back in his June 1 column, “Reagan Did It,” to place the blame for the current economic meltdown wholly on President Ronald Reagan. According to Krugman, it was Reagan’s misguided attempt to fix the savings and loan industry through radical deregulation that set the stage for our current disaster.

Those who remember that era will recall that the collapse of the savings and loan industry precipitated a federal bailout that cost American taxpayers $130 billion dollars back, as Krugman puts it, “when that was a lot of money.” The deregulation, if Krugman is right, then led to a reverse in the fiscal habits of financial institutions by encouraging wildly speculative loan practices since the risk was actually being backed by the U.S. Treasury and not the financial institutions themselves.

The result was a concurrent change in the fiscal habits of the American people, with a significant reversal from past practices in which we saved more and accumulated considerably less debt. As Krugman points out, “Household debt was only 60 percent of income when Reagan took office, about the same as it was during the Kennedy administration. By 2007 it was up to 119 percent.” 

As we now know, that accumulation of debt has resulted in bankruptcy and home foreclosures for millions of families who found themselves overwhelmed when jobs were cut back or lost. Even worse, the resultant tidal wave of failure eventually crashed onto the largest financial firms in the nation, bringing them to their knees and ultimately leading to the on-going bailouts using billions in taxpayers’ money.

At the same time Krugman’s column hit print, former Vice President Dick Cheney was addressing the National Press Club and finally admitting that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with planning or carrying out the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon—something he and President Bush steadfastly refused to acknowledge while they drove the nation into two wars that continue to consume billions of dollars, kill countless innocents abroad and kill or injure thousands of American servicemen and women.

While Krugman is probably correct and Cheney finally speaks a shred of truth, the real question facing the nation now is: “So what?” So what if Reagan threw our financial system off the tracks and the Bush administration lied to American citizens to launch unnecessary wars?  Other than being historically interesting and perhaps setting the record straight, the real impact of these two backward-looking analyses has minimal effect upon our current situation or what we do about it. And there, as they say, is the rub.

The political situation in Washington has changed considerably since Reagan’s days and, happy to say, the dark era of the Bush administration.  Republicans no longer have the votes to stop legislation, they no longer occupy the White House, and their industry operatives no longer get to dismantle the government agencies they had been appointed to administer.

Instead, we have a Democrat in the White House, a solid Democrat majority in the House of Representatives and, once Al Franken finally gets to take the Senate seat he won, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. In other words, the Democrats now have total control of American foreign and domestic policy and the votes to make the changes necessary to ensure the future of the nation. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, the old Washington, D.C., culture of corruption continues to prevail.

Take our own Sen. Max Baucus, for instance, who is up to his eyeballs in angry constituents over his refusal to include the single-payer option in his effort to reform U.S. health care. As many articles have pointed out, Baucus is the leading recipient of campaign dollars from the insurance industry, HMOs and big pharma. As a result, say the growing number of Baucus’ critics, his reform effort is actually serving the interests of those who fattened his campaign coffers instead of meeting the health care needs of American citizens. 

Or how about President Obama’s efforts to close Guantanamo? The Senate recently voted to pour another $100 billion into Iraq and escalate the Afghanistan War, but refused to fund decommissioning the facility by a 90-6 vote. Nor was that the only place in the military spending bill they failed to change for the better. In spite of Obama’s request to end funding for eight C-17 cargo jets, Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Norm Dicks went to bat for Boeing and the defense industry in their home states of California and Washington, thus keeping the military-industrial complex rolling merrily along.

Even Obama is backtracking. Remember his pledge to end the Bush secrecy? Apparently that didn’t apply to the torture photos, which now won’t be released. Or how about getting rid of military tribunals? Still going strong under a new brand. Instead of using our economic collapse to downsize involvement in Afghanistan, Obama is now taking ownership of this doomed Bush-era venture and even expanding it into Pakistan.

That our nation must change and do so quickly seems inarguable, and the Democrat excuses of the past no longer apply given their new majorities. It is likewise inarguable that it is the Democrats who must now lead us forward, not scuttle sidewise. And finally, they should remember what Baucus recently learned—that we’re all watching very closely.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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