A triumphant George W. Bush, emboldened by finally being elected to office, will inaugurate his second term on January 20. Festooned with gospel imagery, his address will rededicate this nation to waging the "war on terror" and championing democracy abroad, and call for building a new "ownership society" at home. His lavish celebration will produce limousine gridlock in the capital, as right-wing Republicans, corporate chieftains, lobbyists and retainers pay tribute to the President who has consolidated their hold on all three branches of government.
Bush starts this second term blind to the consequences of the havoc he has wrought and misleading the very voters who returned him to office. His record is one of failure: aggressive war on Iraq that has led to thousands of American and Iraqi deaths; officially endorsed policies that led to torture in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and elsewhere; a botched assault on terror that has isolated America while replenishing the ranks of terrorists; exploding fiscal and trade deficits, with the dollar sinking in value; inequality not seen since the Gilded Age; the worst jobs record since Hoover; and indifference to the threat of catastrophic climate change combined with growing dependence on foreign oil. Meanwhile, Bush's failures have increased Americans' kitchen-table concerns: good jobs leaving, replaced by jobs with lower wages and fewer benefits; a broken healthcare system, with millions unable to afford adequate care; failed promises to invest in schools along with cuts in college grants at a time of soaring costs; a retreat on clean air and water.
Now Bush promises to make things worse. The ideologues who crafted the disaster in Iraq have been rewarded and retained; the realists who dissented have been purged. His first legislative proposal is to curb the rights of citizens to recover for damages caused by the negligence, fraud or malpractice of corporations or doctors. His highest priority is to privatize Social Security, most likely by slashing guaranteed benefits by some 40 percent while borrowing $2 trillion to pay for private accounts that will primarily reward Wall Street. His budget will extend the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans while cutting investment in education, healthcare and support for essentials from food stamps to home heating for the elderly. He's announced a renewed effort to pack the courts with right-wing judicial reactionaries intent on rolling back the rights and liberties of Americans and returning to the days when labor unions and environmental, wage and safety standards were outlawed as illegal restraints on trade.
Bush won re-election with the most negative campaign in memory, wrapping himself in the flag, assailing his opponent's character and practicing a politics of fear and division. Right-wing appeals mobilized his base while he disdained efforts to woo moderates and independents. He now pledges to govern the same way, using the right to discipline GOP dissenters and scorning bipartisanship, even on matters of war and peace.
The Bush team is sophisticated in propaganda, well versed in the uses of deception to avoid accountability. Bush's policies, however, are damaging this country, and his priorities are not widely shared. Democrats would be well-advised to oppose them, but with the fainthearted among them already wringing their hands and sounding retreat, an aroused progressive movement will be needed to provide the necessary backbone. A majority of Americans are already experiencing buyers' remorse; Bush's razor-thin victory on election day may have witnessed the height of his popularity. The central question of his second term is how soon Americans, recognizing their error, will demand a change in direction.