Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).
I am not a conventionally religious man, or even a very superstitious one, but I do wish George Bush would stop asking God to bless America. Every time he does, we seem to be visited with another plague, suggesting divine wrath over our president’s evil ways. How else to explain the persistent calamity that has marked this administration: a pointless but very costly war over nonexistent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the devastating New Orleans flood, the betrayal of the nation by the money-changers–from Enron to Goldman Sachs–that Bush welcomed into the temple of the White House?
What’s next? Pestilence, frogs, locusts or incurable boils? Dare we risk four more years of catastrophic misrule by a “W.” alter ego? For those indifferent to the serious implications of that question, I recommend Oliver Stone’s new bio-flick, which brilliantly captures the “banality of evil” that has controlled our political life these past eight years. This phrase from Hannah Arendt’s characterization of the mundane cruelty that so marked the daily experience of European fascism has a frightening applicability to the Republican leadership that has done so much damage to this nation’s reputation for democratic integrity.
Cynicism rules even as ritualistic prayer breaks, as depicted in the film W., abound. The pretense of piety earns the president and his accomplices a get-out-of-jail-free card; at no point in the film do any in the top ranks of this administration–captured so accurately and depressingly–accept one iota of accountability for how much damage they have wrought. Unrepentant, the same Republican apparatchiks are employing the familiar Rovian tactic of divide and conquer in seeking to continue their hold on power. Once again, they seek to focus attention on hot-button social issues and patriotic litmus tests to draw attention from the fact that family values are being destroyed by the loss of job and home.
Perhaps John McCain is not a perfect replica of George W. Bush, but the parallels go beyond the senator’s enthusiastic support for the toxic mix of Bush’s imperial foreign policy and his arrogant indifference to the travails of our domestic existence. Neither man seems to have any sense of how we actually live or what we need from government. How else to explain their common antipathy to Social Security and Medicare, which, after public education, represent the nation’s most successful programs? Can you imagine the panic today if McCain and Bush had succeeded in tying Social Security to investments in the stock market? They view government as nothing more than a proud sponsor of the military-industrial complex, while ignoring the threat to homeland security from corporate pirates.
Don’t say we weren’t warned. Bush came into office believing fervently that what was good for Enron and its CEO, Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Lay, Bush’s top financial sponsor, was good for the country. So, too, McCain, who chose Phil Gramm as co-chair of his presidential campaign, ignoring the huge loophole in Gramm’s Commodity Futures Trading Act, which allowed Enron, where his wife, Wendy Gramm, was on the board of directors, to so shamelessly game the energy market.
Trumpeting the benefits of the legislation he tacked onto an omnibus spending bill the day before the 2000 Christmas recess, then-Senator Gramm stated: “It protects financial institutions from over-regulation. It provides legal certainty for the $60 billion market in swaps.” Those swaps created the toxic investments that US taxpayers are now stuck with as the nation struggles to save those unregulated financial institutions from bankruptcy.
McCain, who should have learned the cost of radical deregulation from his own involvement in the savings and loan scandal as one of the infamous “Keating Five,” totally bought Gramm’s line. McCain was the chair of Gramm’s 1996 presidential bid and up until major Wall Street firms collapsed continued to echo the insistence of the former-Texas-senator-turned-banker that there was no real crisis in the financial markets.
McCain evidences the underlying motivator attributed to Bush in Stone’s movie: the distorted priorities of a son of privilege doing battle with the legacy of more gifted and responsible family ancestors. Both grew up as spoiled screw-ups repeatedly bailed out of trouble by their highly accomplished fathers, in McCain’s case an admiral. Both assume, as a matter of legacy, that they have a right to rule. What they ignored in their legacy was a Christian’s obligation to make the economic system that handsomely rewarded their kin at least minimally responsive to the needs of ordinary folk.