By Robert Scheer
Let the record show that it was George W. Bush, the rich Texas Republican, who brought socialism to America, so don’t blame it on that African-American Chicago Democrat community organizer who made it into the White House. The government takeover of the banking and automobile industries not only happened on President Bush’s watch, it was also the deregulatory mania of this president’s family, beginning with his father, which took this country into such starkly unfamiliar territory.
What a betrayal of free-market capitalism. And who would have thought that it would be the candidates backed by conservative pundits Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh who made it possible? You actually could trace the destruction of corporate capitalism to the much-ballyhooed “Reagan Revolution” of the movie actor who got his main training for the presidency as a huckster for General Electric, where he honed the message of “getting government off our backs.” The revolution of unfettered corporate capitalism led to an era of unfettered corporate greed, which sowed the seeds of its own destruction.
True, the Democrats deserve much blame. The Wall Street runaway wouldn’t have happened if President Bill Clinton hadn’t cheered it on. The Great Triangulator provided seamless continuity between the administrations of the two Bushes in systematically dismantling the proven regulatory system, introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that saved capitalism from itself during the Great Depression. The danger with the incoming Democratic president is that Barack Obama has turned to some of the Clinton alums, most prominently former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, to get us out of the mess that the Clinton administration worked mightily to create.
At least in the auto bailout there is some talk from the Democrats that the failed corporate leaders must be fired as a condition of salvaging their corporate entities—and stock options. Both political parties are tougher in the auto bailout than they were in the Wall Street rescue, but what do you expect when leadership on this issue is coming from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson? Like Robert Rubin, Clinton’s first treasury secretary and now Obama confident, Paulson came to government service immediately after heading up Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse at the epicenter of the banking collapse. For the key practitioners of America’s brave new game of corporate socialism, failure has its own lush reward.
It’s enough to drive one back to the invisible hand of Adam Smith. Personally, I would rather we took our chances these days with letting the corporations sink or swim on their own without government interference. If tough love was good enough for troubled families cut off the public dole by Clinton’s welfare reform, which summarily ended the federal poverty program, why have a poverty program for troubled corporations?
Forget saving the auto companies; let them become Japanese- or South Korean-owned, but sweeten the deal with U.S. government guarantees of extended unemployment insurance, health care, retirement plan protection and job retraining for laid-off autoworkers. Be generous on the worker end, and figure out ways to reclaim the big bucks from the banking and auto moguls who ripped off the American dream. The only reason the moguls are not going to jail for their shenanigans is that they got their supplicants in Congress from both parties to rewrite the laws to legalize activities that should have been judged as crimes.
If we are to have an expansion of government on this scale, we should start with extending health coverage to all Americans rather than with government bureaucrats micromanaging auto companies. Government-insured health care works. All the doctors I see want me to be on Medicare, and not one of them is eager to deal with the medical insurance provided to me as a retiree after 30 years of employment by the Los Angeles Times—insurance now threatened by my once-proud capitalist employer seeking bankruptcy protection. A protection, incidentally, that a bipartisan congressional majority made much more difficult for individuals to use when we get in personal financial trouble.
With the exception of my years as an undergraduate, when I sorted mail late into the night at the post office near Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, I have never been on the public payroll. Thanks to the Reagan Revolution, and its endgame of socialism for the rich, we all may end up on the public dole, scrambling for droppings from a too heavily laden nationalized table. Socialism for the rich is not the way to go.
Robert Scheer is author of a new book, “The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.”
AP photo / Charles Dharapak
President Bush shakes hands with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson at the Treasury Department after the House passed the $700-billion financial bailout bill on Oct. 3.