At the risk of being rounded up as a Taliban sympathizer, I propose that President Bush is dressing up a boondoggle for the rich as a patriotic budget, wrapped in the American flag. Be patriotic and buy. Be patriotic and fly. Be patriotic and be quiet. Observing the Enron debacle, one can almost understand how some of these people, as is the case in most moral failure, get caught in the undertow, not seeing or not wanting to see the reality of what they are doing. What is harder to understand is the intransigence of politicians, yes, even presidents, who refuse to examine their precious dogmas of consumer capitalism, unfettered free markets and unregulated commerce.
Is it really true that the Enron corporation, which paid no taxes for over four years, is slated to get more than a $200 million tax rebate? This apparently does not outrage the president, who seems to have been brought out of his shell of ignorance and indifference over Enron only when he found out his mother-in-law dropped a few grand in the scam that bled billions from others.
The point is not that the administration did anything unlawful during the past year. The point is whether this administration, as well as the last administration, did things to make last year’s bloodletting both possible and easy. We do know that Vice President Cheney was lobbied in secret by special interests, including Enron. What we will likely never know is what went on. Supposedly it is a matter of national security that the proceedings be kept secret. Shades of Nixon’s stonewalling and Clinton’s evasiveness. I did not have fiscal relations with that company.
Last year, before the World Trade Center atrocity, before the fall of Enron and the bankruptcy of Kmart, before the war on terror costing a billion a month in the Afghanistan campaign, before the bailouts of airlines, before the talk of pre-emptive strikes on Iraq and Iran, when there were surpluses as far as the eye could see, with no one, not even Alan Greenspan, demanding a tax cut, a tax cut is what the president demanded. He got it with the help of a few Democrats intimidated by looming elections.
This year we are given a red, white and blue budget with deficits, accompanied by a promise that scheduled tax cuts over the next eight years for the very wealthiest in our country will not be canceled or postponed. Bush falsely calls this a tax increase. The right-wing chorus, led by the chief cantor Rush Limbaugh, is that it’s our money. Indeed, families and individuals with gross incomes over $200,000 contribute half of all tax revenue. And so it should be. Who do we imagine profits most from the infrastructure of our country, its airlines, its fiscal policy, its research and development, its defense system, its cable television networks, its high-tech medicine?
To protect these considerable benefits in which we all in some way share, the new budget proposes near-record increases in defense, in the blissful hope that new missile systems will prevent another Sept. 11.
This is the illusion of a government whose military budget equals the sum total of the next 16 countries combined, whose unquestioned dogma is that the only people to be trusted with weapons of mass destruction are ourselves and our allies. See how long that principle lasts in the future of the world.
Maybe the next thing the president will try is to say we are un-American and against the war on terror if we criticize his tax fetish. But remember this if he does. His claim is true only if the Americans worth worrying about are corporations and those making over $200 thousand a year.
A colleague of mine who teaches business ethics thinks that M.B.A. students need a paradigm shift in their moral sensibilities. So much of their education and culture forms their consciences in such a way that the world of money seems not included. They just don’t see the people. They see only the finances, the profit. They are not bad people, to be sure. Nor is our president. He is, as he says and we have every reason to believe, a caring man.
But as Dorothy Sayers wrote, when covetousness appears on such a grand scale in corporations and nations, it seems to have an impenetrable life of its own, somehow immune to real bodies to be kicked and hearts to be appealed to.
So it was with Enron. So it could also happen to our country and those who lead us. If we are indeed concerned about the workers and those who lost their jobs, if we really want an even playing field for our young who are getting inferior education, if we actually do have compassion for our elderly and uninsured, we would have a budget with different priorities and a different vision for our country’s place in the world. We would also have a president who calls this nation to something nobler than a tax cut.