Despite the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq, during this dismal period of "austerity" the public isn't likely to see any discernible difference in the government's misplaced priorities. Our representatives in Washington recently passed a "bipartisan" military budget of $662 billion. That level of "defense" spending, about $7 trillion over 10 years, Congress has appropriated at a time when we're being told that the government is so "broke" we must shred Medicare and Social Security. Will we ever see what George H. W. Bush called a "peace dividend?"
But it all seems like a distant memory today. With 4,500 dead Americans, 30,000 wounded, and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed -- along with Fallujah, Haditha, and Abu Ghraib; the number of widows after 9 years of violence; the $1 trillion price tag -- in today's parlance it looks like a war that was brought to us by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent, and attempting to further some ill-defined geopolitical goal of the 1 percent.
The recent passing of Christopher Hitchens, coming at a time when the last U.S. soldiers were leaving Iraq, reminds us of the great failure of many public intellectuals during the run-up to the war. Hitchens used his celebrity and reputation to become an important cheerleader for the U.S. invasion of Iraq at a time when anti-war voices were few and far between in the public discourse. It was also a time when Judy Miller and Michael Gordon were handing the Bush-Cheney people an endorsement of the case for war from the "liberal" New York Times. Those of us who called for a solution to the Iraq crisis without a military invasion could have benefited from Hitchens' voice (as well as Michael Walzer's and Michael Ignatieff's) in the rhetorical battles leading up to the disastrous events of March 2003. Worse still, the war's enthusiasts could point to people like Hitchens and claim that "even intellectuals of the left" recognized the necessity of invading Iraq. (Watch Hitchens and Ignatieff present the "left" intellectual case for war.)
If young people represent our future then our political leaders have made sure we have no future. Young people were not only sent off to give life and limb in two major wars, they also are going to pay the price tag for those wars because the Congress chose to charge them on the national credit card. Young people whether they participated directly in Iraq or Afghanistan or not have to deal with a terrible economy. Those who were college-bound found themselves saddled with crushing student debt because Washington handed over management of the student loan programs to the same swindlers who tanked the mortgage system. No wonder Meghan McCain has been out there warning the GOP that it has nothing to offer young people. Moralizing about the miracles of the "free market" while pushing wars and bigotry towards gays, Muslims, and immigrants just aren't that appealing to most young people.
But the electorate is angry and demoralized. And presidents aren't reelected when the "state of the union" is this rotten. The Republican strategy of obstructionism while blaming President Obama is working for them. Most Americans don't know this is a "strategy." In any case, they would have a hard time imagining that an opposition party would be so cynical to inflict such collective pain just to win elections. Adding injury to insult, Obama seems to have set out to alienate as many segments of his political base as possible.
High and persistent long-term unemployment; record home foreclosures and plummeting housing prices; wave after wave of savage budget cuts at the state and local level. The "austerity" measures alone have done irreparable damage to our nation's public institutions. The housing meltdown has caused anger and anxiety among millions of people that just five or six years ago never would have imagined they would be in this economic predicament. The budget cuts have not only exacerbated unemployment and dampened consumer demand, they've shaken the society to its core with a pernicious feeling that the quality of life in America is declining.
So I'm not one to belittle the current crop of Republican presidential candidates no matter how deficient the field might seem. I'm still shell-shocked from George W. Bush's two terms. The gatekeepers of the corporate media and the Beltway press corps have so lowered the "bar" regarding what marks presidential readiness, (first with Bush and then with Palin), in 2012 anything is possible.
Obama can keep saying a do-nothing Congress blocked his agenda, or that the problems the Republicans left to him were so dire they'll need time to fix. Fine. But he was the one who decided to "reach out" to these people. And we've yet to see whether he understands that there's a difference between "compromise" and "capitulation."
When one combines this lowered bar with high unemployment any of the Republican candidates, stuffed to the gills with post-Citizens United cash, can become the nation's 45th president. So someone like Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum can come off sounding pretty outside the mainstream, but after the process of clothing the Emperor is complete, and the fact that the Republicans could nominate a ham sandwich and still win 38 percent of the vote, if I were Obama I wouldn't be going around saying: "Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative." People might do just that. And the "alternative" has an immense advantage in being able to promise the world as well as the benefit of NOT being in power over the last three wretched years.