The Failings of Bush’s “W. Deal”

By Jeff Fein

Commentary Editor

The illusory American Dream – the one with the gold-paved streets and prosperity for all, the one you probably thought died when Ellis Island was turned into a museum – is still very much alive in the minds of many foreigners.

I learned this recently from one of my most admirable friends, who spent his winter break in Nepal, a slice of land squeezed between China and India, and the partial home of Mount Everest.

My friend was not just a tourist. For much of his trip, he lived with the family of a Nepali college buddy, going out of his way to immerse himself in the nation’s third-world culture. He said that many Nepalis, some of them educated and middle-class, asked him if there were any poor people in America They were nothing short of astonished when informed that there is plenty of poverty in the world’s richest nation, that people will freeze to death on the streets of New York this winter as they have in every winter before.

With my third-generation American mindset, I am startled to hear that utopian visions of the United States are still a reality. Countless Nepalis fantasize about leaving their simple farming lives behind for the instant access to the good life that they imagine comes with a move to the United States. Like Freddy Kreuger and the Energizer Bunny, this version of the American Dream simply will not die.

It truly saddens me to think of the rude awakening from this dream that immigrants in the 21st century must experience when they arrive in our nation, with its great numbers of poor people and a government that refuses to make poverty a priority.

Despite the president’s claims to the contrary, the Bush Administration is simply not concerned with the country’s ongoing poverty problem. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has forced a nation tangled in an obsession with national security to face the reality that poverty in the United States is not going away, and that the government really isn’t all that worried about it. (Or, in the words of Kanye West, “George Bush does not care about black people.)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans living in poverty has increased each year President Bush has been in office, and is nearly 20 percent higher today than in 2000. The number of uninsured Americans has also gone up annually and health insurance costs have increased by 50 percent during this time.

The administration’s tax program, meanwhile, is set up to put more cash in the pockets of the upper class. During last year’s State of the Union Address, the president proudly announced that “In the past four years, we have provided tax relief to every person who pays income taxes,” but conveniently forgot to mention that 52 percent of the tax breaks put in place will go to the richest one percent of Americans over the next decade, a statistic he repeatedly and maddeningly dismissed as “fuzzy math” during the 2004 presidential debates.

In the 1930’s, F.D.R.’s New Deal famously set up hundreds of government programs to help pull our country out of the Great Depression. As a result, he will forever be remembered as a national hero. Remove the “ne” from Roosevelt’s grand plan and you get the “W. Deal,” the sum total of President Bush’s economic policies that are hell-bent on helping the rich get richer. At this rate, our president will go down in history as a villain, the anti-Roosevelt.

On Tuesday, W. will deliver this year’s version of the State of the Union (which is only worth watching because it makes a great drinking game). Encouraged by the choreographed applause of Congress, he will undoubtedly exhort his administration’s countless economic successes.

Don’t believe him. The Bush regime, now in its sixth glorious year, has failed the nation’s poor with policies that stifle economic mobility. It has effectively squashed any remnants of the once-timeless American Dream.