Friday, March 10, 2017

A Brief History of the World (That I Lived Through) Part Three

Until the year 2000, I had never lived through a tight presidential race. I had read about the close race Nixon and Kennedy had in 1960 and how Nixon chose to concede rather than demand a recount because he felt that it would be bad for the country. The race between George W. Bush and Al Gore was also very tight, coming down to one state: Florida. This was a state where the governor also happened to be the Republican candidate's brother. If ever there was a situation where a recount could be bad for the country, this was it. Bush chose to fight and, in a surprise to no one, he was given the win. When Gore took the results to the Supreme Court, the mostly Republican judges ruled in favor of the verdict, but stated that this ruling could not be used as precedent in future cases. In other words, if the shoe is on the other foot and the Democrats are able to pull off a shaky win, we reserve the right to come down on the Republican side. This is when I realized that the Republicans no longer had any interest in fair government.

I tried to accept the situation because I wanted to cling to my faith in our system of peaceful transition. Maybe Bush won't be as bad as I thought. Maybe he can keep Darth Cheney in check. Maybe went out the window with 9/11. I supported the war in Afghanistan. We had no choice really, and I was heartened by the installation of Hamid Karzai as president (he was the brother of a restaurateur in Baltimore). But then word started filtering out that the CIA had Osama Bin Laden pinned down early in the conflict and the White House chose to ignore their advice. The war dragged on and no one seemed to be able to nail Bin Laden. Instead, the White House had lost all interest in Bin Laden, choosing to instead rattle their sabres at Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This was a WTF moment for me.

What did Hussein have to do with anything?

He's making weapons of mass destruction!

Really? Where's the proof?

Oh, we have it! Don't you worry your pretty little head about that!

No, seriously. What do you have?

As I watched then Secretary of State Colin Powell lay out the laughably feeble "evidence" to the UN, I knew this was a fait accompli. It didn't matter what Hussein did or did not do. Bush was out to prove to his father that he could finish the job George H. W. Bush was too prudent to finish. Cheney was out to create new business for Halliburton. Just as the Kennedy and Johnson administrations wanted a Democratic stronghold in Vietnam, this Bush administration wanted a Democratic stronghold in the Middle East. It was king making at its most brazen and, in our blood lust after 9/11, many Americans were happy to fight with any Muslim country.

The day we invaded Iraq, I was riding on the Baltimore Metro returning to my old job after a particularly bad interview for a different position. I didn't care about the interview at all. I was sick to my stomach about this country invading a sovereign nation without provocation. We had crossed a line that had destroyed my faith in our country. It was bad enough that we were already holding people indefinitely without due process in Guantanamo and, in many cases, torturing those we captured. These were not the values I was taught in school. George W. Bush, a man who called himself a born-again Christian, was behaving in what I considered a most un-Christian manner.

At the same time, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the developments in the financial world. As federal regulations continued to fall away under the Republicans, my employer took advantage of these changes to expand their products and services. We were being told that we would become "a one-stop-shop" for investors. I could only think about the old adage, "don't put all your eggs in one basket." I was also disturbed by the overheating real estate market. I won't claim that I foresaw the full scale of the economic meltdown that was to come, but any doofus had to know that the meteoric rise of housing prices were not sustainable without an equal rise in salaries. A family making $60K a year could not afford $350K house without those crazy introductory interest rates. Once the regular rate kicked in, the monthly payment would be out of reach for the homeowner. It was simple math, but as I had seen so many times in the financial world, greed blinds even the smartest people.

I left my job in 2005 for many reasons, but a big part of my decision was that I sensed a disturbance in the financial force. All of it was based on greed and none of it was good. (Okay, I'm out of movie references.) As adjustable mortgage rates started to reset in 2007, foreclosures rose dramatically and housing prices started to fall. By 2008, mortgage-backed securities started to crumble. In the summer of 2008, the economy was suffering from the tremors that would eventually set off the stock market crash, we were bogged down in two wars with no end in sight, and the country's deficits were exploding. Where was George W. Bush during all of this? Flirting with Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor at the Beijing Olympics. We were so screwed.

As he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama inherited the worst state of the union since Franklin D. Roosevelt. There was no time for implementing pet projects or lay out a new vision for America as other presidents had done in their first 100 days. He had to act quickly to turn the economic tailspin around and see what he could do to extricate us from two costly wars. I wasn't sure he could do it, but I really believed that everyone would rally behind the President in our desperate time of need. Oh wait, I forgot. We weren't that country anymore.

I was stunned at the vehement hatred focused on Obama before he had even had time to get his seat in the Oval Office warm. The Tea Party, which started out as a reasonable grass-roots effort to address high taxes, was usurped by white supremacists and ultra-right Christian nutjobs who just couldn't stand the fact that there was a black family living in the White House. Of course, they didn't put it in quite those words, but the disrespect shown toward President Obama made it clear that this had nothing to do with policy and everything to do with race.

Obama still had a Democratic majority in Congress, however, and he took advantage of it by pushing through one piece of legislation that did fit into his vision for our future: Health Care Reform. Based largely on recommendations made by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the Affordable Care Act was an effort to provide greater access to health care for more Americans without upsetting the health insurance apple cart too greatly. If John McCain had been president and had introduced the legislation, I'm sure the Republicans would have been fine with it. Because Obama endorsed it, the Republicans had to hate it. They branded it Obamacare so that their constituents would immediately hate it also without even understanding what it was. The ACA was passed along party lines with the narrowest of margins.

2010 presented the perfect storm for Republicans. Democrats, so thrilled that they had their first African-American president, largely ignored the mid-term elections. Republicans took back the House and gained greater control over state legislatures nationwide. 2010 was also a census year, so Republicans in many states used this as an excuse to draw up gerrymandered districts that favored Republican candidates. The fix was in and Democrats barely noticed. The foundation for rule by the minority was set.

No comments: