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America After 9/11: Still Crazy After All These Years

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The death of Osama bin Laden is an opportunity to reflect upon the deterioration of the United States since the attacks on September 11, 2001.  We've entered into an endless state of war and our economy teeters on the brink of collapse.  And, as a people, we've developed a distinctive derangement.

America's craziness developed in four stages over an eleven-month period: First, on November 7, 2000, there was a controversial presidential election.  On December 9 th the US Supreme Court intervened, and, as a result, George W. Bush became President.  Bush had had an undistinguished business and political career and was the least qualified presidential candidate in eighty years.

Stage two: New Presidents have a brief "honeymoon" period; Bush used his to advocate tax cuts so extreme many Republicans opposed them.  The "Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001" made sweeping changes to the IRS code: income tax rates, estate and gift tax exclusions, and retirement plan rules. (It lowered the top marginal rate the millionaires' bracket from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.)  Although initially estimated to cost slightly more than $1 trillion, over time the impact of the act accelerated.  In 2008, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that, if continued until 2018, the Bush tax cuts would cost $4.4 trillion.  They've profoundly changed the US economic landscape.  Writing in the NEW YORK REVIEW, Journalist Michael Tomasky compared these $4.4 trillion with the $4.3 trillion in cuts to government services in the "Ryan budget" adopted by House Republicans and observed, "' ...all of this debate, all of this [so called] 'bravery,' is largely about paying for the Bush tax cuts.'"

Bush popularized a dysfunctional conservative belief that it is appropriate to enjoy government services without paying for them.  The Federal government didn't shrink under Bush; it grew and began running mammoth yearly deficits.

Stage three: On September 11, 2001, the US was savaged by terrorist attacks planned by Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda.  Traumatized Americans looked to our President for leadership. Not surprisingly, considering his history of failure, Bush responded with a series of dreadful decisions.

In a 2004 interview bin Laden observed that, as a consequence of the 1980's war in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union had been forced into bankruptcy and " We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."  Bragging, "[it has been] easy to provoke and bait this [Bush] administration," bin Laden stated, "Every dollar of al Qaeda [investment] defeated a million dollars [of US investment] besides the loss of a huge number of jobs... As for [the economic consequences of 9/11], it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars." Bin Laden's primary objective was to bring down the American economy.

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Despite intelligence warning of an imminent terrorist attack, George W. Bush didn't have a clue before 9/11 and, despite bin Laden's confession of why he attacked us, Bush didn't have a clue after 9/11.  That's important to recognize, because while the May 2001 Bush tax cuts started the US down the slope to economic catastrophe, Bush's subsequent actions accelerated the calamity.

Stage four: On September 20, 2001, Bush spoke to Congress and the American people.  Declaring, "Freedom itself is under attack," The President rallied the country to pursue a "war on terror."

Bush indicated that while the US security establishment would be deployed in a "war" on terrorists without a foreseeable end, average citizens had no role to play.  "Americans are asking:  What is expected of us?  I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children... uphold the values of America."  (Later, when asked what Americans could do, Bush responded they should go shopping or "go to Disneyland.")  Notably, Bush did not suggest that his tax cuts for millionaires be revoked or that Americans, in general, make any sacrifice.

George W. Bush's failure to give average citizens a role to play was bad psychology, in general, as millions of Americans had been traumatized and having an assignment, however trivial, would have helped them heal.  (In contrast, after the Pearl Harbor attacks, FDR enlisted all Americans in the war effort.)  But the Bush "no sacrifice" policy disconnected average citizens from the conduct of the government; it ended the dream of "participatory democracy."  And Bush's ill-conceived wars fractured the Federal budget, which ran huge deficits.

Bush's policies made no economic sense; the national debt doubled during his Administration.  Worse yet, they promoted a national schizophrenia: Bush preached, "government is the problem," while the Federal government ballooned in size and the average citizen grew increasingly uninvolved and anxious.  Bush was deranged and over the course of his Administration he infected Americans with his craziness.  A decade later, our dementia continues.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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