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The Prodigal Man

By       Message Dan Fejes     Permalink
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1. wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
2. giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually fol. by of or with): prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
3. lavishly abundant; profuse: nature's prodigal resources.
4. (noun) a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift.

Maybe the end of the year has me feeling reflective but I've been thinking a lot this week about the general shape of the Bush presidency instead of current events (except: Thank God for Dodd). The magnitude of his failure will probably become more generally accepted over time but even now there is enough evidence to get a clear view of just how bad he's been. One way to look at it is though the prism of profligacy: In many different ways he inherited abundance and used it completely up.

The easiest to measure and most obvious is the federal budget. In 2000 the U.S. had a budget surplus of 236 billion dollars. It turned in to a 157 billion dollar deficit by 2002 and 412 billion by 2004. In other words, over a half trillion dollar reversal in four years. Or let's look at it another way. If you were given a million dollars every day it would take over 1775 years to hit the 648 billion mark. That's how big it's been. Granted President Santa Claus had lots of willing elves in Congress working to wrap up all those presents, the bottom line is he never vetoed a spending bill and never made any attempt to be a responsible steward of the nation's finances. (By the way, deficits are nothing more than deferred taxes for our children. His mania for not raising them now to pay for his reckless spending will be dimly regarded by those who end up having to cover it.) As the only nationally elected official he could have stood above the wrestling match over who would benefit from all this largesse and enforced a general principle of discipline. Instead he began with wealth and spent it into debt.

After 9/11 the U.S. enjoyed a tremendous outpouring of support. There was an effort shortly after to suggest it was all ephemeral and question its sincerity but I hope by this point most people can agree that we had a spike in good feelings toward us and failed to do anything with it. No, it wasn't going to remain that high any more than Bush's approval rating was going to stay at 90%. But there was a chance to translate that good feeling into a long lasting improvement in our image abroad, and such general affection amounts to more than being the global homecoming queen. It makes other nations more willing to work with us on issues of global importance, more willing to believe our stated intentions and makes it easier for us to isolate rogues. Imagine if, after the Taliban fell, Bush announced an Afghanistan Marshall Plan that would focus NATO time, energy and money on rebuilding a country that for a generation had known only war and oppression. What if small-scale investments were seeded throughout the country to start creating a broad base of development, improvement and prosperity? If we had chosen that instead of marching into Iraq the good feelings the neocons sneer at would not have dissipated as they have. He was given good will and turned it into animosity.

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Bush has done no favors to his party. For all the talk not too long ago about a permanent Republican majority there has been a remarkably swift fall. Starting with 221 GOP members in the House in 2000, it went to 229 in 2002 and 232 in 2004 before the 2006 defeat brought it down to 202. We'll see how it goes next November but at the moment the Democrats are in much better shape and stand to gain even more. Going from 221 to 202 is roughly a 10% drop. They could drop another 10% in 2008 and I'd say a loss of 5-10 seats is a pretty safe bet. Under this president the party is no longer identified with fiscal responsibility, rectitude, limited government, prudence or any other traditional conservative values. Instead they are now identified with militarism, authoritarianism, torture, cronyism and incompetence. Barring a surprise from Ron Paul this will be the image of the party (with the 2008 nominee adding intolerance for good measure). In short, Bush will leave office on the heels of a rout largely of his own creation. He inherited a majority and is leading it to the brink of ruin. (Perhaps these realizations are what's really behind this era of lachrymose pachyderms.)

These are just a few examples. It seems that George W. Bush is wasteful by nature. Whether looking at the economy, the government, Americans' native optimism, his party or anything else the pattern seems to be the same - what he gets control of, he taxes to exhaustion. His political epitaph deserves to read: Here lies a prodigal man.

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Dan Fejes lives in northeast Ohio.

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