The Road Not Traveled Lets Imagination Wander
January 27, 2006
President Bush concluded his 2005 State of the Union Address by quoting Franklin Roosevelt’s invocation that “[e]ach age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.” When President Bush stands before Congress next week, we should parse his lofty rhetoric and exhortations about the need for tax cuts and the Iraq war and consider the costs and results of the Bush agenda to determine which age the President has delivered to us.
President Bush has “spent” over $1 trillion in tax cuts, primarily targeted towards the wealthiest Americans, based on the unsupported assumption that this would stimulate the economy and create jobs. The Bush tax cuts were followed by an anemic recovery which has already begun to falter. Even worse is that the administration got very little “bang for its buck,” since between October 2001 and December 2005 the economy only produced 3,011,000 private sector jobs at a price of $308,537 per job.
In his 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush criticized the Clinton administration for viewing “terrorism more as a crime,” and declared that “[t]he terrorists . . . declared war on the United States and war is what they got.” Yet despite the fact that the terrorists who “declared war on the United States” were based in Afghanistan, the Afghan campaign has been characterized more by timidity and neglect than “shock and awe.” Even though Afghanistan is more populous and nearly fifty percent larger than Iraq, it has received less than twenty percent of the troops and one-third of the resources spent on Iraq. By the end of fiscal 2006 we will have spent $82 billion to topple a defanged Saddam Hussein, while Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda remain alive and well.
The tax cuts and the war in Iraq add up to a $1.164 trillion blunder, money which over the same five year period could have been invested to make us safer and more secure at home and abroad. This includes addressing the shortfall in funds needed to rebuild Afghanistan ($1.7BB/year) and doubling the number of Special Operations Forces who play a critical role in fighting terrorism ($15.5BB/year). We also could have increased our defenses against future terrorist attacks by providing the funds requested to safeguard our ports, rail and transit systems ($1.7BB/year), equipped all domestic commercial airplanes with defense systems to deflect shoulder-fired missiles ($2BB/year) and added 100,000 police officers ($1.4BB/year). In addition, we could have struck a devastating blow against the disease and poverty which fuel terrorism by immunizing every child in the world ($3BB/year).
The “blunder fund” also could have invested in our future prosperity by adding one million teachers (a 33% increase at $44.7BB/year), funding 50,000 additional scholarships to state universities ($1BB/year) and reviving New Orleans by replacing 216,000 affordable housing units destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina ($4.8BB/year). The fund also could have financed a program ensuring universal access to health insurance for all Americans that reduced health costs by emphasizing preventative medicine ($54BB/year). The “blunder fund” could have accomplished all of these things while also balancing the budget and adding over $200 billion towards the solvency of the Medicare and Social Security Trust funds.
The Bush “blunder fund” does not include costs which cannot be quantified. On September 12, 2001 the front page of Paris’ Le Monde declared “We Are All Americans.” Three years later, twenty-seven former defense, intelligence and diplomatic officers released a statement that “[n]ever in . . . our history has the United States been so isolated among nations, so broadly feared and disgusted.” The United States that once stood as a beacon of liberty is now viewed through the prism of illegal spying, indefinite detentions and torture, leaving The Economist to note that by compromising our ideals, President Bush has “blunt[ed] one of America’s most powerful weapons against terrorism.”
Each State of the Union address presents only one of the diverging paths that lay ahead and it is for us to decide if that is the path towards a dream being born. Time and time again, however, President Bush has blundered down the path towards a dying dream and that has made all the difference.