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COLUMN LEFT / ALEXANDER COCKBURN : GOP Bombs With Woody and Saddam : Even Wall Street shares voters' real concern--'four more years' of economic drift with Bush.

August 30, 1992|ALEXANDER COCKBURN | Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications

Seldom can any speech have received so swift and so drastic a financial review. Fighting to renew his presidency, George Bush spoke for almost an hour in Houston on the final night of the Republican convention. Wall Street and the international financial markets read his lips and did not care for what they saw. The next day stocks plunged and the dollar fell to record lows against the deutsche mark.

The press was mostly too polite to point out the intimate link between what had been billed as Bush's comeback oration and the crash of the dollar, but the evidence was plainly there. The financiers jumped ship on the Republican presidency that has served them so well for the last 12 years.

The censure of Wall Street is not proof of poor economic judgment. If the President had risen that Thursday night in Houston and announced that as an emergency strategy to jump-start the economy he was going to increase the federal deficit by $50 billion, releasing money to bankrupt state and local communities across the nation, he would have been doing the right thing. Wall Street would have screamed nonetheless.

But Bush, with his supposed master strategist James Baker at his elbow, proposed the most identifiably wrong thing--a preposterous "check-off" deficit reduction plan that no one believes in, plus some vague talk about tax cuts, which was what panicked Wall Street and the international bankers.

The strategy expounded by speaker after speaker in Houston offered three basic propositions: Republicans have family values, while Democrats reflect the morals and ethics of Woody Allen; George Bush won the Cold War and is the best person to deal with Saddam Hussein; Democrats in Congress have held the economy hostage for the last 12 years.

The "family values" strategy has backfired badly, particularly among women. A week after the lights dimmed in the Houston Astrodome, strategists for the Bush campaign were dolefully reviewing the polls. Charles Black, Bush's senior political adviser, told the Boston Globe that the attacks on Hillary Clinton had gone awry, and the Bush campaign will no longer target her. House Republican whip Newt Gingrich was reproved by Bush's campaign staff for linking Allen's values to the Democrats.

Republican proclamations in Houston that Bush is the best man to handle Saddam Hussein were intended, on the original timetable, to be accompanied by a confrontation in Baghdad, as U.N. inspectors attempted to enter the Ministry of Military Industries. Recalcitrance on the part of Saddam Hussein would have been followed by bombardment by U.S. planes, amid fine footage of Cap'n Bushy on the poop deck, nobly weighed down by the awesome responsibility of ordaining life and death.

But press leaks blew that scheme, leaving Bush with Plan B, which is the air exclusion zone in southern Iraq. But it is unlikely that forbidding Saddam the right to fly over the territory occupied by the Shiites will have much effect. The Shiites, emaciated by the U.N. food embargo, are scarcely in a mood to rebel, and Saddam's deterrent against any such rebellion is not his air force but his secret police.

So if the Bush campaign is pinning its hopes on a war strategy as the key to victory in November, Plan A--confrontation in Baghdad--will have to be reactivated. But will the demolition of a couple of Iraqi ministries persuade U.S. voters that they need Bush for four more years?

When people think about four more years, they probably pay more attention to their own economic circumstances than to Saddam Hussein or to Cap'n Bushy's vast international experience. And here the record is irrefutable and damning.

Even the Republicans' proudest boast--that Ronald Reagan presided over the longest boom in postwar history--is false. The 1960s "Democratic" boom, from 1961 to 1969, was a few months longer. The '60s boom saw productivity and wages rising in step with corporate profits. Income distribution became more egalitarian. Reagan's boom was fueled by debt; it saw real wages decline and income differentials widen. Its rewards were confined to the top 20% of the population.

At the end of this period of growing inequality and decline in real wages came, on Bush's watch, the longest U.S. recession in the postwar period, from July, 1990, to the present day.

Bill Clinton hasn't got much of an economic strategy. But against the Bush record he doesn't really need one, apart from uplifting talk about change and a new future. It looks as though Cap'n Bushy will have to strangle Saddam with his bare hands, and even then, he'll probably lose.

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