The Bushite Strategy ...

Salim Muwakkil

Soup kitchen in Chicago.
A September report by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that more than 1.3 million additional Americans fell into poverty last year, and children accounted for almost one-half of that rise, with more than 600,000 added to the ranks of the poor. What’s more, poverty among children under age 5 increased by a full percentage point, from 18.8 percent in 2001 to 19.8 percent in 2002. Analysts expect an increase in that percentage, as well as an even bleaker picture for African Americans, when the Census Bureau releases more detailed data later this month.

This rise in poverty reflects the overall weakness in the economy and in the labor market, says Sharon Parrott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think-tank. More distressingly, it comes at a time when the Bush administration continues to shred an already tattered social safety net.

The Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, recently announced the continued decline in funding of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides assistance to ease economic hardship and help parents find and keep jobs. Many of the families targeted by TANF are those with the young children who now are more likely to be living in poverty.

The connection between gaps in the safety net and increasing poverty is obvious, but by bankrupting the U.S. Treasury the Bush administration is rendering that link irrelevant. Were the stakes not so high it would be fascinating to sit back and watch just how far the Bush administration will go to achieve its right-wing agenda. Indeed, the administration, having squandered the national surplus, would have to add the government to the poverty rolls were it not for the forced beneficence of future generations.

With debt as far as the eye can see, some critics blame that calamity on the Bushites’ incompetence. But the agenda of the right wing always has been to de-legitimize government as an agent of social welfare. If the right can’t completely change the government’s mind (those darn congressional liberals), the next best thing is to make it domestically impotent.

Then, even if the American people, deeply hypnotized by the drone of corporate media, were to suddenly awaken to this nightmarish reality, it likely would be too late to do anything. After all, we would have to deal with the facts on the ground.

Much like the Iraq invasion. We were neoconned into invading Iraq and now we have to stay the course or chaos will erupt. The facts on the ground demand we compound our mistake by making it over and over again.

This motif is reflected in other Bushite policies: the war on drugs and the war on terrorism.

The Bush administration’s war on the poor is muted in the face of those other efforts, but it may turn out to be the most significant of all. The president’s public demand for $87 billion additional dollars to occupy and reconstruct Iraq has started the ball rolling in the opposite direction as Americans grow increasingly discontent.

With nearly every state facing fiscal difficulties, with unemployment insurance running out for jobless workers, with prescription drug prices hitting the roof, with anxieties about an overstretched military and under-funded veterans programs, the Bush administration’s focus on Iraq is incongruent.

For even the densest among us, it’s becoming clear that U.S. communities clamor in vain for federal assistance for education and infrastructure improvement as the Bushites cavalierly demand billions of our dollars to execute a poorly conceived military occupation.

The $87 billion could make life a lot easier for many Americans were it allocated to domestic problems. For example, it is seven-times what the government intends to spend on Title I for low-income schools—after the administration cut more than $6 billion from its No Child Left Behind bill. The Iraq request is more than the $36 billion we spend on homeland security, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

This shift of resources to foreign adventures is no mistake. Just as the ideologues are seeking to cut government out of resource distribution domestically, they are desperately seeking to impose it internationally, a true Pax Americana.

The Bushite neocons realize there will be some protest against increasing poverty rates and growing wealth disparities. But with the media in the hands of corporations, these ideologues likely are gambling that social protest will be muted and ineffective. Progressive forces must mobilize to ensure they lose that bet.

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Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983. He is the host of The Salim Muwakkil show on WVON, Chicago’s historic black radio station, and he wrote the text for the book HAROLD: Photographs from the Harold Washington Years.
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