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The New Cheerleader | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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The New Cheerleader

The favorite spin of the Bush administration and its amen corner in the media in recent weeks has been the line that: Aside from quagmire in Iraq, things are going great -- especially with the economy.

Apart from the fact that Iraq is a mighty big "aside," the whole pitch about how "the economy is going gangbusters" is a ridiculous simplification of circumstances that are far more complicated and far less positive than the White House would have Americans believe.

As part of the administration's campaign to convince the American people that don't know how good they have it, the president announced last week that, "America's economy is on the fast track."

That was an echo of recent comments from the man they call "Bush's Brain," Karl Rove, who has emerged as spin-doctor-in-chief for the administration's "It's the economy, stupid!" argument. ``The president's tax cuts, trade liberalization and spending restraint helped strengthen the economy's foundation and added fuel to our economic recovery,'' Rove declared in a recent speech. ``Not a bad record!''

Actually, the record is pretty bad. That's why Treasury Secretary John Snow is exiting.

The fine hands of Rove and new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten -- who shares the White House political czar's faith in the "big-lie" brand of politics -- are exceptionally evident in the administration's latest attempt to spin its way out of the approval-rating ditch in which the president has been sinking in recent months.

The abrupt conclusion of the long political death watch for Snow is a merely the lastest of many desperation moves for an administration that is longer on wishful thinking that actual accomplishments.

Snow, who campaigned harder and more visibly for the president's reelection than any other Cabinet member, has been on the way out almost since Bush's second term began. Why? The American people have not for some time been of the impression that the president and his aides are doing enough to "strength the economy's foundations." A Gallup Poll of 1,002 Americans, conducted May 8-11, found that that they were growing ever more ill-at-ease with the state of the economy. Seventy percent of those surveyed said the economy was in poor or only fair condition; that was up from 63 percent a month earlier.

Administration insiders are now trying to sell the line that the president's pick to replace Snow, Goldman Sachs Group CEO Henry Paulson, will be a better cheerleader. With Paulson, a Bush campaign fund-raising "pioneer," selling the White House's economic "success story," the line goes, the president's fortunes are sure to rise.

It's a bad bet.

Americans understand that Cabinet members don't quit when things are going great; and, certainly, treasury secretaries are not elbowed out of their positions when the economy is going gangbusters.

The fact is that Paulson's an able man, as was Snow, as was Snow's predecessor, Paul O'Neill. But it is absurd to think that this wizard of Wall Street will be able to relieve fears that the economy is headed in an unsettling direction.

Those fears are grounded in the reality that even those sectors of the economy that experienced the growth spurt so loudly trumpeted by Bush and Rove are now showing signs of a slowdown.

And much of the economy never really got going in the first place.

The "success story" the administration has been trying so hard to sell was always uneven -- benefiting some regions and industries far more than others. For instance, workers in the auto manufacturing and auto parts sectors are not enjoying their rides on the "fast track" as some of the biggest names of those industries spiral downward into bankruptcy or painful cycles of plant closings and "restructuring."

For Americans who are paying attention -- and the polls suggest that a lot of them are -- there is the even more troubling reality that the United States has in recent years been living far beyond her means.

The U.S. trade deficit is at a record level, as this country imports far more than it exports month after month. Federal deficits and debts are skyrocketing. Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates regularly warns that the widening U.S. budget and trade deficits are undermining the dollar, saying in one recent interview, ``It is a bit scary. We're in uncharted territory when the world's reserve currency has so much outstanding debt.'' Investment guru Warren Buffett has been warning for the past several years that "unless we have a major change in trade policies," the U.S. economy is going to take a hit.But, of course, Bush is not betting on a change in trade policies. Nor is he embracing fiscal responsibility when it comes to federal budgeting.

All he is doing is hiring a new cheerleader. And cheerleading is not going to relieve the anxiety of Americans who are paying $3 a gallon for gas, facing the end of a period of artrificially-low interest rates and relatively easy money, trying to keep track of plant-closing notices, fretting about whether their pensions will survive the next corporate restructuring, and coming to recognize that record-high trade deficits and mounting federal debts are nothing to celebrate.

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