In Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge was forced to view his own death in order to gain some self-awareness of his life as the epitome of cruelty and selfishness. This Christmas it is unlikely that George W. Bush, Scrooge on the Potomac, will be transformed by any ghostly visits. Indeed, since the November 5 election (in which the Republicans’ narrow majorities in the Senate and House were mirrored by a slim majority of the popular vote), Bush and his cronies seem to believe they have a mandate to outdo themselves in rewarding the corporate class that helped bring them to power.
Yes, this holiday season–even as Bush prepares the nation for war–selfishness is back in style for those at the top of the economic pyramid. Sacrifice and “compassionate conservatism” are out.
It almost calls for resurrecting the phrase “ruling class,” a notion once popular in left-wing circles that claims that the primary function of the highest levels of government is to protect the interests of the very rich. According to this view, big business and the ultra rich influence government at various levels through campaign contributions, personal relationships and ideological affinity. Policy-making becomes not a “mediation” of competing interests but a not so subtle capturing of policy-making institutions by the rich and powerful.
While the Bush Administration is doing all it can to focus our attention on the threat of Iraq and Al Qaeda to the “American way of life,” a close look at the current Republican domestic agenda makes you wonder whether this crude radical theory warrants a closer look. Ironically, while the GOP and much of the media apply the term “class warfare” any time the Democrats and their allies in the labor and environmental movements push for even the most timid reform, it is the Bush Administration that perfected the most blatant version of ruling-class politics.
During its first two years in office–from its $1.35 trillion tax cut (including elimination of the inheritance tax), which primarily benefits the wealthiest 2 percent of the population, to its repeal of Clinton-era “ergonomics” standards, affecting more than 100 million workers, that would have forced companies to alter their work stations, redesign their facilities or change their tools and equipment if employees suffered serious work-related injuries from repetitive motions–the Bushies have acted without shame to serve the interests of their friends in corporate board rooms and the very rich.
But ever since November 5, W. and his cronies have been even more blatant. Virtually every week since the election, the Administration and Republicans in Congress have made or proposed changes in our laws designed to help the rich and powerful while harming the most vulnerable people in society. It is easy to read the newspaper and be appalled by the crude class warfare being waged by the President and his Congressional allies. But the list of daily horrors can be so numbing that one can lose sight of the cumulative impact of the Bush/GOP agenda.
Taken together, it adds up to the most direct assault on working people, the environment and the poor that the country has seen since the presidency of William McKinley a century ago. President Bush has packaged some tidy Christmas gifts this year for his allies and friends, but the vast majority of Americans will receive a lump of coal in their stockings from this Administration. Among them:
§ Cut $300 million from the $1.7 billion federal program that provides subsidies to poor families so they can heat their homes during the winter–a move that leaves 438,000 families in the cold.