[NOTE: I also posted this article on www.dailykos.com. If you like it, please go to it here and recommend it, comment on it, etc. Thanks.]
The presidential campaigns seem to get bogged down in minutiae, both important (whether to talk with leaders of hostile nations) and meaningless (how much a haircut costs; whether a candidate has stopped wearing a flag pin on his lapel). But what often gets lost in the debates is the larger, broader questions, like who the government is there to serve.
I can't say that I watched every George W. Bush campaign appearance in 2000 and 2004 (talk about a masochistic endeavor), but I'm quite sure that at no point did he stand up and say, "I promise to use the powers and resources of the United States of America to seize on tragedies to implement radical privatization strategies and line the pockets of my corporate buddies." If he had, surely, he would not have been elected, either time.
And yet, that is exactly what President Bush has done since taking office. Despite a singularly catastrophic presidency, probably one unmatched in modern U.S. history for incompetence and blundering, it may actually be Bush's underhanded and purposeful shilling for corporations that will end up being his legacy, even more, possibly, than his reactionary judicial appointments and debilitating and crippling folly in Iraq.
I feel a need at this point to make it clear that I am not part of the anti-globalization movement. I've never protested at a Group of Seven summit. I pride myself on being measured and practical, and I'm not sure the anti-globalization advocates are actually helping make things better. That said, it doesn't mean that everything the movement stands for is necessarily wrong.
On "Real Time With Bill Maher" on Friday, Maher interviewed Naomi Klein, the author of a new book called "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." Klein explained the premise of her work, essentially that while corporations, by definition, have always sought to take advantage of situations to maximize profits, governments, including the Bush administration, are now actively facilitating this process for the companies, to the detriment of ordinary citizens. Klein cited as examples the privatization of the public school and housing systems in New Orleans after Katrina and the privatization of the homeland security business after 9/11. She especially notes the privatization of the war in Iraq, made public now with the controversy over the behavior of private security firm Blackwater, and observes that the worse things get in Iraq, the more profitable it becomes for the global corporations allowed by the Bush administration to profit from the war (you can watch the entire Klein interview here, although there is a glitch that repeats the first minute or so of the interview).
Klein told Maher, "It's about the politicians who think government should be an ATM machine and just transfer wealth to their friends in exchange for a deposit in the form of campaign contributions."
She also notes that the Bush administration gives lip service to the idea of free markets as a way of allowing government to act in collusion with corporations, which, in effect, destroys free markets. "It's not free for anyone but the contractors," she said in the interview.
I'm sure many conservatives (and even some liberals) might disagree with Klein and/or think that she takes her point too far. But what cannot be reasonably debated is that the conduct of President Bush's administration has demonstrated that it holds as a core view that the purpose of government is to act as a mechanism to help large corporations extend their reaches, regardless of the consequences for the electorate, especially in industries in which the members of the government have experience (like oil). The no-bid Halliburton contracts related to the Iraq war are popular examples of this idea, but it goes much further that that, maybe nowhere more apparent than in the Bush administration's policy of appointing individuals loyal to industries to head the government entities tasked with the job of overseeing these industries. (The Utah mining disaster is a recent example of this ridiculousness.) Bush's policy has been to let the coyotes guard the hen house, effectively destroying government oversight, which only hurts the ordinary citizens of the country, but removes pesky impediments like health and safety concerns from corporations making more money.
If you look at the front runners in the Republican race for the presidential nomination, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson all fall squarely into the Bush camp on this issue. John McCain might have been more independent at one point, but his rush to the right in a misguided effort to win the nomination probably means that he would be no better than the others. The only candidate with any support that you could argue would not act as a facilitator for big business would be Mike Huckabee, but then you better be ready to turn the government over to a former preacher who doesn't believe in evolution. It would be trading shilling for corporations for shilling for Jesus.
The bottom line is that despite all the debates, campaign speeches and interviews, presidential candidates are rarely (if ever) asked to answer basic questions regarding their broad view of the role of government. It's too much to ask the Britney-obsessed media to do its job and force the candidates to at least talk about this vital issue (even if it's unlikely they would answer honestly).
The media never talks about how Bush campaigned so hard against gay marriage in 2004, and yet his first initiative after winning the election (when he said he was going to spend some of the political capital he had won) was to try an privatize social security. Do you think all those "values voters" who put Bush over the top in narrow races in swing states like Ohio pulled the lever for Bush while saying to themselves, "This is the man that will turn my retirement money over to Wall Street"? I don't think so.
The American people, as voters, have to put aside the petty personality concerns and, even before exploring the candidates' views on key issues, ask themselves, "Will this person, as president, put the country first or the needs of corporations first?"
Americans have to remember what the Bush administration did in New Orleans and Iraq, doing a terrible job of serving the people who needed it most (the displaced in New Orleans, the soldiers in Iraq), all while corporations got phenomenally richer off of these disasters. Bush's world view is not shared by most Americans, Republican and Democrat alike. And it's time for voters to wake up and realize that no matter how much a Republican candidate talks about banning gay marriage or keeping the country safe from terrorism, if he is following in President Bush's footsteps, everything he is saying is just talk. The true action will come to protect the winner's corporate buddies at the expense of the very voters who put him into office.
The media likes to reduce complicated political positions to simple sound bites, so you would think that putting aside all these messy issues for a simple question would suit them. "Mr./Ms. Candidate, as president, would you serve the people or the corporations? How would you do that?" Seems simple enough. But it will never happen.
Many Republicans, including Bush, love to play the game of misdirection, talking about issues that will get them votes (like gay marriage), but never discussing the party's true agenda (transferring wealth to corporations). It has worked beautifully for them, as American voters have allowed themselves to be fooled.
If Americans don't ask themselves these simple questions about the candidates in 2008, there is a good chance we will have four more years of Blackwater and Halliburton prospering while soldiers and stricken citizens suffer and die. Four more years of a diminished position in the world while oil prices reach all-time highs ($85 a barrel today).
This is one of the times where the bigger picture is more important than the individual issues. Or, to paraphrase James Carville circa 1992, "It's the power of the people, stupid."