The Politics of Reaction and Crisis

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dennis peacockeby Dennis Peacocke

March 2009

George Bush’s presidency was defined by the events of September 11, 2001.  He seized upon this event and the issue of terrorism to create eight years of focus on policies set to “take democracy to the Middle East” and protect domestic America from terrorist attacks.  Out of these commitments came the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the deficit budgets which they helped create.  Dubbed a “Neoconservative Republican,” smaller government and a focus on “resolvable problems” all but disappeared.  Having lost control of the legislative branch in his second term, domestic issues became secondary, not the least of which was the emergence of the current financial crisis created by the housing bubble greed of Wall Street, the Federal Reserve Bank’s interest rate policies, and the Democratic Party leadership of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Barack Obama’s presidency has now ascended on issues directly in reaction to Mr. Bush’s legacy: a focus on domestic issues, “solving” the war issues, and an unheard of amount of government spending to re-inflate our severely wounded economy.  Mr. Obama was far too inexperienced to be elected had Mr. Bush’s apparent failures not “set him up to win.”  Kennedy-esque though he may be, a fledgling and relatively unknown senator could not have won without the politics of reaction paving the way.  The election wasn’t so much won by the Democrats as it was torpedoed by the Republicans.

President Obama has now set a course to re-make America.  It is bold, being created seemingly on-the-fly, and unprecedented in its agenda.  Whether it works or not, it will undoubtedly create exactly what Mr. Bush’s tenure produced.  It will produce a political reaction of unprecedented proportions.  Mr. Bush was a pragmatic politician who seized upon a defining moment.  Mr. Obama is a “Great Society” idealist who has seized upon a set of defining failures.  Together their actions may create the most volatile political election and climate this country has seen since the pre-Civil War election of 1860.  For me, this is a no-brainer and one doesn’t have to be a prophet to see this truly “perfect storm” already building steam a mere four months after the last election.

Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have had access to some really intelligent people.  In both cases, I am at a total loss to explain how Mr. Bush’s foreign policy advisors and Mr. Obama’s economic advisors have counseled them both to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” to quote from Star Trek.  It was ruinous advice for Mr. Bush, and I suspect it will prove so for President Obama.

It is advice that throws gasoline on an already perilously over-heated, divided American culture.  The politics of reaction will only further divide the so-called United States, and that is……….the bottom line.