by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
October 4, 2002
WHEN IN DOUBT, GO START A WAR
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It was a statement that would naturally get the Bush administration and its lapdogs in the news media upset, but there was more than a little truth in it.
In a talk with representatives of the trade union IG Metall that took place a few days before the recent German election, Justice Minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin said: "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used."
Of course comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler is something you can't do, which is why Daubler-Gmelin won't be a member of Chancellor's Gerhard Schroeder's new cabinet. But her comparison is on the mark when you look at the strategy of using preparations for war to distract people from domestic problems.
Before the Bush administration started revving up its campaign against Iraq, what was its biggest political problem? The combination of corruption and recession that has plagued the U.S. economy over the past year.
Our first president with an MBA degree is presiding over an economic disaster of the likes that hasn't been seen in decades. The U.S. economy has seen more than $5 trillion in lost equity since the start of the Bush administration and some of the nation's biggest banks may have to write off between $500 billion and $1 trillion in bad loans.
It's not all President Bush's fault. The longest bear market in more than six decades, created by the combination of corporate scandals and the collapse of the tech stock bubble, was the logical culmination of two decades of Republican economic philosophy. Free market extremism as practiced by the GOP (and aided by compliant Democrats who wanted their share of the millions of dollars of corporate swag known as campaign donations) led to the gutting of nearly all of the regulations that were enacted in the 1930s after the 1929 stock market crash.
The moral rot in corporate America epitomized by Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Haliburton, Adelphia, Tyco and others who've been caught cooking their books has shown us that the nation isn't just suffering from a hangover from the speculative bubble of the 1990s. What it's suffering from is a total lack of faith in corporate America.
In any normal time, being a pro-corporate president wouldn't be a good thing - especially when people are watching their life savings vanish because of what Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has called "infectious greed." If this were a normal time, President Bush - the man who boasted about his business background on the campaign trail - would ultimately pay a high political price for being so closely tied to the people and companies who've ripped off the average citizen.
But this isn't a normal time. Taking advantage of the news media's inability to focus on more than one big story at a time, the Bush administration has beat the war drums loudly. So loudly that it has just about drowned out all talk about corrupt corporations and a failing economy.
There's no more talk about President Bush's insider business deals or about Vice President Dick Cheney's improper and unethical actions as head of Haliburton or about Enron's colossal ripoff of California electric ratepayers that was aided by the Bush administration. Now all we hear about is weapons of mass destruction, the evilness of Saddam Hussein and the need to go to war as soon as possible to force "regime change" on Iraq.
It's no coincidence that the war talk started getting louder in late July, when the stock market plunged every time President Bush gave a speech on "corporate responsibility." And it's no coincidence that the all war, all the time strategy is happening before the mid-term Congressional elections. War is the only issue where Republicans can trump Democrats. When the talk turns to the economy, suddenly the GOP looks like the cause of the problems rather than the solution.
Being on permanent war footing means all other subjects are pushed aside. That's the way the GOP likes it. And that's where Daubler-Gmelin's analysis comes in.
Hitler was a nobody until Germany's industrialists pumped money into the Nazi Party in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The wealthy and powerful in Italy did likewise for Benito Mussolini. Ditto for the Spanish elite and Francisco Franco.
The German middle class backed Hitler because they thought he would raise their standard of living. Hitler promised full employment and higher wages for workers. To the farmers, he pledged cheaper land and higher crop prices. For the shopkeepers and small businesspeople, he pledged more profits by the elimination of large business interests.
In the end, all were betrayed to the elite who put their money on Hitler and were rewarded handsomely for it. The labor unions were abolished and people worked longer hours for less pay. Civil liberties were also abolished and citizens were bullied into obedience to the state through terrorism and murder. And before people got wise to the unfulfilled economic promises, they were expertly manipulated into preparing for war as a way restoring the country's greatness and into blaming all of Germany's problems on the Jews.
Except for the Jew-baiting, Hitler's script isn't much different from the Bush administration's. The GOP doesn't want this November's election, or the 2004 presidential election, to be a referendum on economic and corporate governance issues. As a result, Saddam Hussein becomes the designated villain rather than Wall Street.
They are convinced this is a winning strategy. It's up to us, the voters, to prove them wrong.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).