President Bush’s War on the American Middle Class

The Bush administration has done a lot of damage to America in general, from peeling back our Constitutional rights either in secret or in unconstitutional “signing statements” to making the world a more dangerous place through its ineptitude in the war in Iraq. But there seems to be an especially concerted effort on the part of the administration to target and ruin the American middle class.

Education
NCLB – The No Child Left Behind Act (discussed more generally in a previous post) will leave the majority of American high-school graduates with an education in competence, pretty much what millions of students in China, India, and elsewhere are getting, so that not only lower performing students, but now average and even above-average students will have to compete in a global market with others who have the same skills, but require much less in wages. The result is that the opportunities for Americans to attain the American Dream will be the exclusive right of the privately-educated, the well home-educated, or the very talented and exceptional.

Adult Education – The Bush Administration has reduced adult education funding by 70%. This most notably includes general equivalency diploma (GED) and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. This means that fewer teens who make bad choices will get a second chance at a middle class life. It also means that more immigrants (including the legal kind) will be marginalized, kept from integrating/assimilating, and kept from the American Dream just a little bit more.

More frightening is that those whose jobs get exported (thanks to NCLB) have less help in getting retrained in something new that they can make a living at.

Environment
A laissez-faire environmental agenda, although detrimental to all, is specifically hard against the lower and middle classes; it creates more health problems (and subsequent deaths) for those who cannot afford the health care. It also lets us know what is important to the administration and whom it will choose in a decision between big business and Joe American.

Bush and his cabinet have refused to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate for ratification and have not been sufficiently aggressive in limiting soot emissions and increasing CAFE mpg standards; and they have peeled back reporting requirements for pollution emitters. If you want details, let me know.

Finance
Privatizing Social Security—This would allow Americans to put a portion of their Social Security withholdings into investment accounts. This has several adverse effects on the middle class.

    1) Those who have the confidence that they can invest it better than the managers of the trust fund will take the chance. These will be two kinds of people: those who really know how to invest and those who don’t. Those who don’t stand a high chance of losing theirs, creating a whole class of Social Security “prodigal sons” who come back to society needing support, if not in the form of Social Security, then in the form of food stamps, housing subsidies, etc. Who has better training on investing, the upper class or the middle and lower classes? Therefore, who benefits from this policy?
    2) It takes money out of the Social Security trust fund. This means that the fund runs out of public money sooner. Does this adversely affect the wealthy? No, but it does adversely affect the cautious middle class who are trusting enough to leave their money in the fund, and it incrementally affects more drastically the future middle and lower class wage earners whose Social Security contributions must be increased to keep the fund alive.
    3) Joe Kennedy came out of the Great Depression worth 10 times more than he was at the beginning of it; need I say more?

Deficit Spending—The government is just like a household when it comes to finances. If it spends more than it makes, it has to go into debt to do it. The government’s “credit card” is treasury securities, bonds, etc. that the government sells on the open market to finance its overspending. And just like credit cards, there is interest attached, the interest that is paid to you and me if we buy T-bills, T-bonds, etc. In 2003, 16.3% of the budgeted revenues was spent on financing debt (and it goes up every year under Bush and his war). Multiply your monthly income by 16.3% and see if that is an acceptable amount to pay each month to finance your debt. But, just like you and I have to do, the government has to eventually pay off its debts if it wants to get ahead. This means someone has to pay more than the “minimum payment,” and, again, incrementally the burden falls on the middle class (of the future). (By the way, 44% of the U.S. debt is held by foreigners (64% of that (or 28% of total) is owned by foreign central banks).

I could go on, but I think I’ve illustrated my point. Bush and his supporters (the wealthy ones who have access to him, not Joe and Edith Nascar) are out for themselves at the expense of the middle class. In the short term, this means more money for them. In the long term, it means the death of the American Dream and all the creativity, energy, innovation, and economic power that facilitates it. But do they care?

7 Comments

Mike W. says:

Dave,

I agree with you that NCLB is a joke and a bad thing for America; however, other administrations have done nothing much to reform and improve education.

I also agree that big business has an entire legal and financial code written into the laws to give them a huge advantage in so many ways over the small business man. However, to lay this at the feet of the Bush administration is wrong-headed. This is a systems problem created because capitalism is essentially an aristocratic system. Once money is able to influence politics, the laws are made to protect the wealthy. Our country has been in this situation for about the last 100 years.

Do you really think that government is the solution to the health care crisis, the Social Security Crisis, and the education crisis? What are the alternatives to what the Bush administration has proposed? Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are systems on life-support (well Social Security is just getting ready to be intubated). These are federal programs that should not be within the purview (sp?) of the federal government. If state governments want to take them on, that’s great, but the federal government shouldn’t be involved in this. The problem is that as soon as government gets involved in anything, force is involved in the execution of the program. If a person doesn’t want to participate in Social Security and have that as an option for him, good luck trying to convince the government that he shouldn’t contribute. The over-arching question here is what is the role of government.

The Founders saw it one way, very limited and very checked and balanced, getting out of the way so that human individuals and familes are free to live their lives and pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Others like Rousseau and Hobbes saw government as the solution to every problem under the sun.

The problem with government solving everything is two-fold (at least) First, they never solve it; secondly, they force solutions.

Centrist says:

Mike, I wasn’t saying that Bush’s is the first administration to beat up the little guy. Any my political memory is very short (everyone kept talking about how great Gerald Ford was; all I remember is him tripping a lot). But I think Bush has done a lot more bald-faced, in-plain-sight abusing of the middle class than most.

Government is not the ideal solution, but if it’s not legislated, it won’t happen. We can wish it would, but it wouldn’t. In fact, I would probably one who looks at my bank account and says, “Should I contribute this voluntarily to Medicaid, or should I buy me a new xxxxx?” I think if we want these programs to exist, until we are prepared to run a city of Enoch-type operation, they have to be forced. Ideally (and I know that’s where you’re coming from) we would all give until it pinches, but we don’t.

I agree that state governments would probably administer these programs better, but they would still be forced. I think there IS a possible working medium between Libertarianism and Liberalism. It will never be the ideal, but it might get done what needs to be done.

Mike W. says:

But the thing is, Dave, is the purpose of life to have someone else provide for us officially? Once there exists a method where the government forcibly takes away your money to give it to someone else, there is an oppression that is potentially as profound as wire-tapping and mail-reading. It just involves oppresion of economic liberties instead of civil liberties.

I agree that there are problems that need solving (like dealing with fundamentalist Islam). I just think that the solutions (just like toppling Sadaam Hussein) are often (dare I say always) worse than the problem anytime force is involved.

Mike W. says:

By the way, when I use the term “economic,” I don’t just mean money-based decisions. I use it in the philosophic terms, meaning the choices available and motivations on which those choices are based.

Centrist says:

Mike, the purpose of life is to LEARN to fulfill our potential. In order to do that, we must understand our potential, but we must also cope with our reality. Idealism is a great destination, but a very disappointing vehicle for getting somewhere. I believe in baby-steps toward the ideal.

Three gospel-related examples:
1. A quote I was looking for and never found is from a G.A. at the beginning of the last century who said (paraphrased) that if the priesthood organizations functioned as they should, there would be no need for the auxiliary organizations.
2. Christ said essentially that there should be no such thing as divorce based on anything by adultery. And yet, the church grants temple divorces for other things.
3. The giving of the law of Moses.

All three of these are backing off from the ideal into the practical/realistic so that we can continue to learn and progress. I don’t think that auxiliaries or divorces should be abandoned/outlawed because under ideal circumstances they shouldn’t be necessary. I don’t think people should have to be forced to contribute to the needy through taxes, but I do think the needy need help. So as our loving Heavenly Father puts up with our slow progression as he guides us toward the ideal, I think we must accept that progress will be slow in getting ourselves and our fellow man to take care of the widows and orphans and lift up the hands which hang down.

Moreover, our freedoms are not taken away any more than they are by God’s plan. We can choose to disobey and we will be removed from His presence. We don’t have the freedom to re-enter His presence unless we repent. If we continue to disobey, we will continue to be barred from His presence, from His blessing, etc. In the same way, If I refuse to pay my Social Security, I will be fined. I have the freedom to either pay the fine and the back taxes, or go to jail. If I exercise the right NOT to pay them, I will go to jail where I have the freedom to be a good prisoner, pay my fines and back taxes, and get out early or refuse to cooperate and stay in jail longer. Freedom does not operate in a vacuum; it is contingent on our situation and actions. Lucky for us, we are “forced” to do something good (pay for programs for the needy) rather than something bad (as far as we know) as happens in other countries.

Mike W. says:

Dave,

In order to LEARN from to fulfull our potential we must be subject to the consequences of our decisions. What the Inquisitor, and often large government programs do, is give the appearance of a solution, but do so by removing the consequences that often are the greatest teachers. That said, I feel that it is my obligation as a brother to every human being to relieve as much suffering as I can. It’s just that when government gets involved, it most often bungles the entire thing, removes the consequences that teach us, and disencourages those who would serve, give and love from doing so.

I agree with your last paragraph that we don’t have the freedom to chose the consequences for the decisions we make; however, this is not the force that I am talking about.

For millenia, the dominant world cultures have been convinced that it is large institutions that will solve the world’s problems, be they governments or authoritarian churches linked with governments. This comes from Plato’s writing the teachings of Socrates (which I think Plato misunderstood). Institutions cannot solve the problems. Individual human beings working with individual human beings applying eternal principles is what solves the problems. What large institutions (like government do) is apply a solution that looks benevolent and good, but is really not a solution. This discourages people from looking for the real solutions. The only real solutions are the ideal ones. Otherwise we settle for band-aids on spurting arteries.

Idealism is the only thing that will really make changes. Realism is exemplified by the solutions to WWI that laid the groundwork for WWII (Gandhi had very different ideas about that solution). Realism is exemplified by the solutions for WWII that led to the Cold War (oppression of many in Eastern Europe by the USSR, oppression by many in the western hemisphere by the U.S. in efforts to fight the idealogical battles). I just don’t see any time in history where realism through government intervention every solved a problem. The New Deal worsened the economic crisis of the Great Depression. The Great Society led to the “stag-flation” of the 70’s. These are well-meaning programs that didn’t take into account the following from Aristotle. He is talking about legislation to make all things in common as proposed by Plato: “Again, we ought to reckon, not only the evils from which the citizens will be saved (by any legislation), but also the advantages which they will lose.”

Often we see a piece of legislation and only see the potential solution that it can provide; we fail to consider the unseen, more long-lasting, more profound consequences.

Aristotle also states (regarding specifically changes to make all private property in common, but applicable to much of what government wants to do today): “Such legislation may have a specious appearancee of benevolence; men readily listen to it, and are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody’s friend (because of the legislation), especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men, (insert your favorite evil here). These evils, however, are due to a very different cause (not the existance of private property, the presence of illegal immigrants, etc)–the wickedness of human nature.”

Sorry about the long comment. I will make it a post. You can respond there.

Centrist says:

Quote from GWB, September 20, 2007, regarding S-CHIP and the Senate’s attempt to increase the funding from GWB’s recommended $5 billion to $35 billion: “instead of encouraging people to drop private coverage in favor of government plans, we should work to make basic private health insurance affordable and accessible for all Americans.”

In other words, the people he wants to exclude from this are the middle class, in order to benefit the owners and investors of private health insurance companies. Heaven forbid their clientele be given a more affordable state-run option that would counter their falling real-wage.

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