Monday, November 15, 2004

THE REAL BUSH DOCTRINE

"The Bush Doctrine" is usually described as having something to do with pre-emptive action. We reserve the right to stop terrorists attacks rather than wait for them to occur and use the police to find the perp.

I believe that decades from now there's the opportunity for another "Bush Doctrine" to be even better known.

It starts with what just happened -- the re-election of the President. I heard many Democrats (and a few Republicans) saying that re-electing Bush was a repudiation of the New Deal and the Great Society -- that Bush wanted to turn back sixty years of "progress". Know what . . . they're right, but not about the "progress" part.

Think back to the 1930s. FDR used the then power of the government to get the country off its ass. His New Deal allowed for a quicker recovery from the depression. Increased power was assumed by the government and increased power was passed along to labor unions. More and more, whether directly through the government or indirectly through labor contract, the concept of "lifetime employment" evolved. It became a very cozy compact between those who owed their economic allegiance to the government and the party that made that happen. That was the Democrat's IOU -- we got you that job, we'll keep you there as long as you vote for us.

That compact with an ever-growing number of citizens continued to work for a long time.

Fast forward to the 1960s. The Democrats, led by that master politician Lyndon B. Johnson, recognized their compact from New Deal times had a flaw they needed to fix and they had the political ability to make it happen.

African-Americans and other minorities weren't really a part of the New Deal. As progressive as he was, Roosevelt needed the support of southern Democrats, so he never pushed for "federally-legislated equality". He was content to allow the Supreme Court call the tougher ones. Johnson recognized that the civil rights legislation he ramrodded through Congress would effectively lose the south for the Democrats, but he felt they would still remain a majority party. And, if you believe his biographers, he believed it was the right thing to do.

Without judging that, the reality was the Democrats had now served up the complete fulfillment of their prior promise. For many millions of Americans of all races, the largess of the government ensured lifetime employment for many Americans -- civil servants, employees of government contractors, members of labor unions, etc.

Fast forward to the 1980s. With the rapid evolution of technological capabilities, particularly in computing and communications, the world was shrinking daily. No longer were many of the previous "systems" relevant or necessary. Global competition forced all nations to begin to address the artificiality of their economic engines. Command and control economies (most notable the Soviet) crumbled. Flexible and capitalist countries flourished.

Concepts changed. No longer was there a "guaranty" of lifetime employment -- it wasn't feasible. Sheer demand for skilled (and unskilled) labor ensured everyone who wanted to work could do so, regardless of race or color (or membership in a labor union). Success bred success and most people grew used to the idea of moving from one employer to another. Previously exclusive employment benefits (e.g., health insurance and pension plans) had become portable. There was no longer an economic disincentive to leave one employer for another. Many of the foundations of the New Deal and Great Society had already evaporated, but no one noticed.

You've heard of "an Army of one"? The same concept occurred in society as a whole. We had all become "companies of one". We were all entrepreneurs, whether we realized it or not. Even when forced out of jobs, most workers became re-employed in positions with greater benefits and pay. There were ever-increasing economic incentives to become better educated, both in increased levels of formal education and increasing commitments from employers to provide job-related training.

Unfortunately, the Democrats weren't watching or listening. In most major cities they didn't need to do so. They had ensured a status quo of massive numbers of civil service, political patronage and union-organized jobs -- their base constituency. They continued to count on (but not cultivate) that constituency.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of America was doing something different. They were rejecting the concepts that were the foundations of the New Deal and the Great Society. They didn't wish to rely on the government. In fact, they wanted the government out of their lives. These people found a hero. That hero's name was Ronald Reagan.

The "Reagan Revolution" was the first recognition by many the the New Deal and Great Society were ideas for their times. But these were different times and they no longer were what was best for America. Whether it was the "Laffer Curve" or "trickle-down economics", there were concepts that flowed from this new revolution that were widely derided in the mainstream media. "Everyone" knew (or thought they knew) that only the government could really stimulate the economy through printing money. "Everyone" was wrong.

So, what was the Democrats answer to the Reagan Revolution? Nothing of substance.

Fast forward to 1994 -- the "Gingrich Revolution" hit the Democrats like an F-5 tornado. Just when the Democrats thought they had a "mandate", the Republicans trounced them in the mid-term elections and took Congress away from them. The people who had voted for Perot as a protest against the first Bush voted Republican in 1994 and Clinton was neutered. For the remainder of his first term and his full second term, Clinton (ever the masterful politician) morphed into a small-government Democrat. Nothing major happened. No national health insurance. Only welfare reform -- hardly a Democrat idea, but Clinton cleverly knew when to steal a good idea.

So, you have to ask yourself why? Why haven't the Democrats been open-eyed and objective about what America is saying to them? In 2004 they nominate a quasi-Euro-northeastern liberal and a class-action trial lawyer? What the hell were they thinking? What the hell are they thinking? They must think the country still wants the New Deal/Great Society.

The New Deal and the Great Society are history. Dead. Over. Obsolete.

Make way for the Ownership Society. It may not happen, but if Bush chooses to do so, the "Ownership Society" could be the Bush doctrine that becomes the "Bush Doctrine", one that sustains us for far longer than the New Deal and Great Society sustained this country.

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