Who better to analyze the decline and fall of the American economy than the man who lays claim to the dubious distinction of "the first one laid off" by George W. Bush?
I'm talking, of course, about Al Gore, the former vice president whose claim on the presidency was rejected in 2000 not by a majority of the country's voters, but by a partisan Supreme Court.
In a speech last week at New York University, Gore laid out a convincing case for how Americans have been duped by the Bush administration into an unnecessary war in Iraq and an economic catastrophe at home.
This disastrous doubleheader came about without sufficient public debate, Gore said, because in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, a frightened public and a cowed Congress were only too willing to accept Bush's claims at face value.
Until recently, the news media have been willing accomplices by failing to ask the tough questions, perhaps out of fear of sounding unpatriotic.
The war in Iraq - a pre-emptive strike based on the false impression that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and was planning to give al-Qaida terrorists poison gas, deadly germs and nuclear bombs - is costing the United States $1 billion a week and has put American troops "in an ugly and dangerous situation," Gore said.
Domestically, the country was lured into believing that big tax cuts would unleash new investment that would create jobs, erase budget deficits with a spurt in economic growth and ease the tax burden on middle-class families, Gore said.
Millions of jobs have disappeared; projected deficits will set records for government red ink, and the wealthiest Americans - those least likely to spend money in ways that create jobs - are the biggest beneficiaries of the tax cuts.
Gore quoted the 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, George Akerlof, describing Bush's economic policies as "a form of looting."
"Average personal debt is at an all-time record high," Gore said. "A lot of Americans are living on the economic edge."
Laying the blame on the president, Gore said, "We ought to fire him and get a new one."
Similarly, in announcing his retirement after a half-century in politics, including 38 years in the Senate, Sen. Ernest Hollings, the South Carolina Democrat, described Bush as "the weakest president" he has seen.
Hollings bemoaned the prospects of the United States, a country that he said "doesn't make anything anymore."
"At the end of World War II we had 40 percent of our work force in manufacturing," he said. "And now we're down to 10 percent. We've got 10 percent of the country working and producing, and we've got the other 90 percent talking and eating.
"And we're eliminating jobs - hard manufacture, service, high-tech - all except the press and the politicians."
It is tempting to dismiss the warnings by Gore and Hollings as the usual partisan carping, and many in the Bush camp will yield to that temptation. But if the cost in lives and dollars keeps rising in Iraq and the economy continues sputtering at home, more Americans will be drawn into the debate we should have had before we got into this mess.
Brazaitis, formerly a Plain Dealer senior editor, is a Washington columnist.
© 2003 The Plain Dealer.