Published on Monday, April 24, 2006 by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)
A Deaf Ear For America's Concerns
by Jim Wright
Only 27 percent of Americans, by the latest accounting, think our national leadership is moving us in the right direction.
President Bush and his congressional followers sank last week to the lowest public approval levels they've registered in the five-plus years since Bush became president.
According to the most recent nationwide Gallup poll, the GOP-led Congress is more unpopular right now than the Democratic Congress was in 1994 when the public unseated the Democrats' 40-year House majority. Today, only 23 percent approve of the job that this Congress is doing. A thundering 70 percent disapprove!
Personnel shuffles won't change anything. That's razzle-dazzle. This goes deeper.
The conclusion seems inescapable: America's mythical "average" person believes that Bush and his GOP cohorts have habitually ignored the public's strongest concerns. Consider these:
For five years Bush has talked sporadically about "fixing" Social Security but steadfastly refuses to do anything to strengthen the trust fund. Whenever challenged to "do something," he trots out that tired, old shibboleth of robbing the trust fund to fatten the private stock market.
Repeatedly -- year after year and in poll after poll -- ordinary people tell the president that's emphatically not what they want. Bush and Dick Cheney, unheeding, persist.
To serve the needs of public education, Bush tirelessly suggests giving tuition vouchers to parents who send their kids to private schools. This fixes nothing.
The same weary formula of talking boldly and carrying a toothpick applies to healthcare.
Occasionally, the president and his tame Congress grow anxious because people are getting restless about the rising loss of health benefits. Instead of offering some system of universal healthcare, Bush and Co. concoct a complicated conglomeration featuring something called "private accounts" that don't do anything for poor, sick folks and just keep pushing a real solution off to some distant successor.
Meanwhile, the number of uninsured grows, and some of America's biggest companies get by with taking bankruptcy and thus shucking off their sworn responsibility to their own faithful employees.
Sick and tired? You bet! Plain people are growing sick and tired of learning how these companies, with apparent administration and congressional approval, are paying multiple millions in retirement bonuses to individual executives while blithely shirking their duty to multiple thousands of hard-working employees.
It should be no surprise that the general public, reflected in the plunging polls, grows increasingly disenchanted with our country's national leadership. For the past five years, that leadership has, with increasing hauteur, routinely ignored the public's principal needs and wants.
The Bush-Cheney attitude has been: It doesn't matter what you say or think. We know what's best for you. On Tuesday, Bush dismissively said, "I'm the decider."
The first two elephants that the Bush-Cheney team crammed so resolutely down the public's collective throat -- the huge feed-the-wealthy tax cut and the hasty, headstrong invasion and occupation of Iraq -- should have sounded an alarm. These two acts, in combination, swiftly devoured an inherited fiscal surplus and unblinkingly piled up history's most monstrous national debt -- close to $8 trillion now, with most of these interest-bearing bonds owned, for the first time, by foreigners.
Our grandchildren's generation will be in hock up to its ears. Any historian or economist could have told our "deciders" that it wasn't prudent to launch a huge tax cut and a costly war at the same time. But Bush and Cheney weren't listening.
Perhaps the greatest disservice that this self-satisfied crowd has visited upon America's working families is the steady erosion of wages, combined with a stubborn opposition to any increase in the minimum wage. On average, a full day's work buys the American wage earner 19 percent less than it did 30 years ago.
Literally hundreds of American factories -- and service and communications jobs -- have closed down, lured to Third World countries by dirt-cheap wages. Now we learn that Wal-Mart, our country's biggest purchaser of goods, is telling its huge network of American suppliers to close and move production units to China or India, or else be replaced by low-wage foreign sweatshops.
All of this downward pressure on wages means downward mobility for the average American working family.
This isn't the way that things were supposed to work in this blessed country. We were built to pursue upward mobility -- for the many, not just the few.
That's why 70 percent of the American people say our current leadership is taking us in the wrong direction.
Jim Wright is a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. PO Box 1413 Fort Worth, TX 76101
© 2006 The Star-Telegram