‘We’re No. 1!’ Wait a minute …

From the presidency to pandering politics, a fog of ignorance clouds our country

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

You don’t have to read many of the words George W. Bush has uttered to arrive at the conclusion that we are led by a man with profound intellectual limitations. His grammar, syntax, and vocabulary skills alone would be an embarrassment to any nation that took pride in itself.

Here are just a few of George W. Bush’s more recent stupidities, the kinds of statements that reveal all too clearly that the country is being run by a numbskull.

“The goals of this country is to enhance prosperity and peace."—speaking at the White House Conference on Global Literacy, Sept. 18

“We shouldn’t fear a world that is more interacted."—June 27

“I’ve reminded the prime minister—the American people, Mr. Prime Minister, over the past months that it was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship."— June 29

Having elected such a man twice, we apparently think we can afford such stupidity in the White House. Military might is enough, apparently, and so long as we can proclaim ourselves No. 1 on that score, then nothing else matters.

But we’re not No. 1 by lots of measures that matter. Stacked against other nations of the world, we are way down the list when it comes to things like medical care, infant mortality, literacy rates and a wide range of other indicators that measure quality of life.

We are, however, the world’s No. 1 debtor nation, deep in hock to Japan, China and even Iran. If present trends continue, in a couple of decades we will owe $46 trillion, which is more than the combined wealth of every single citizen in the country, including guys like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

We are allowing our politicians and our business leaders to destroy our children’s futures, burying them under an avalanche of debt that is virtually certain to create a global depression that will make the 1930s look like hog heaven.

We are content to live on borrowed money so that the richest 1 percent of the nation can buy $400,000 foreign cars and other toys for people who have the kinds of social responsibility commonly associated with leeches and ticks.

But, in those words of George W. Bush, “it was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship.” We are currently a nation at war with ourselves, a war in which responsibility for the future is in conflict with selfishness and indifference. In that war, responsibility is clearly losing.

There are villains worse than George W. Bush in this shameful scenario, and that includes the long list of enablers who passed him through two of the nation’s flagship universities on the strength of his family connections.

It is the duty of institutions like Harvard and Yale to serve as gatekeepers for the country’s privileged elites, to sort them and even flunk them when necessary in order to protect the rest of us from the positions they might rise to so easily based on the same money and connections that got them inside the gates of those universities in the first place.

Take a poor kid from Oroville with an IQ and an aptitude 30 percent greater than Bush’s, and that kid will be lucky to be admitted to Butte College. If he gets a degree from there, he’ll be lucky if he retires from managing a fast-food franchise with a modest pension. But a dunderhead like Bush, with his blueblood credentials, is allowed to play with the most dangerous weapons in the world, and is entrusted with the keys to the vault.

So our great universities failed us and, when the Democrats failed twice to run effective campaigns, they failed us, too, and both the House and the Senate failed to serve the checks-and-balances function the founders built into the system, and the Supreme Court failed us by throwing a clouded election to a man who was the son of the man who put many of them on the bench. The media failed us, and many of the agencies we’d created to protect us from slanted media—like the FCC—failed us, too.

Mostly, we failed ourselves, failed our own vision of who we are supposed to be. We decided that if we were promised a dubious safety, then it was OK to be led by an idiot in exchange for that illusion of security.

But we do remain No. 1 when it comes to being utterly reckless with our heritage as a democratic nation. Nobody beats us when it comes to squandering vast sums of money on election campaigns that do little to create an informed electorate. Candidates for elective office in California spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign ads leading into Tuesday’s election, a record that will surely be broken in another election coming soon to a polling place near you.

And just what did we get for all that money spread across the state like manure on a newly plowed field?

We got an increasingly cynical electorate. We got a whole lot of media outlets flooded with cash for their corporate owners who can then re-use some of that money to buy future politicians in the next go-round. We got complex issues reduced to 30-second spots, and 10-second sound bites.

Most of all, we got a corruption of the democratic process so crippling as to make the word “democracy” almost meaningless. We got corruption encoded, enshrined, embedded and endemic in our politics, from the corporations to the teachers’ unions. We got raw power that sweeps all other concerns off the table in favor of favors for those who wield that power.

Think of the improvements that could be made if the public airwaves were once more licensed to television stations in exchange for good corporate citizenship and free airtime for political candidates.

Think of the brightening of our futures if politicians could make decisions on the merits of legislation rather than on the basis of whether their votes are likely to turn off the spigots of campaign cash.

Think of what a place our nation might be if our democracy could be reclaimed from all those special interests who now own it.

But, in order to do that thinking, the fog machine would have to be turned off, and that won’t happen until the money used to pump the fog is removed from the process.

If we didn’t live in that fog day in and day out, we might even be able to call ourselves No. 1 in categories more significant than wasting money and throwing our weight around the globe so dangerously. We might even be able to envision a world in which the idea of greatness was not a big styrofoam finger waving over a nation of adults who play while their children’s futures are being stolen.