The Anglo-American Adventure
Chapter 5: Pax Americana, Part V
1933 to 2008
This paper is divided into five parts, which cover the following topics:
The Clinton Scandals
We mentioned previously that Clinton and Congress eventually produced a balanced budget, but it did not come easily. In fact, the federal government was deadlocked for most of 1995. Clinton and Gingrich could not agree on a budget, so when the money ran out, it caused a shutdown of nonessential government activity, and some layoffs. Unfortunately for Gingrich, Clinton had better political instincts, and was able to make himself look like the injured party to the voters, so those "mean" Republicans were blamed for the shutdown.
For the 1996 presidential election, Bill Clinton faced no significant Democratic opposition. At least ten Republicans ran, but the favorite from the start was the Senate Majority Leader, Robert "Bob" Dole. Dole has been Gerald Ford's vice presidential choice in the 1976 election, and ran for the top position twice already (in 1980 and 1988), so he had plenty of name recognition.
While Dole was fighting his rivals for the GOP nomination, Clinton was raising funds and producing TV ads that contrasted the age of the two candidates (Clinton was 50, Dole was 73). Against this, Dole could only muster character-related issues; e.g., he was a World War II hero who nearly died from wounds suffered by machine gun fire in Italy. It was also revealed that much of the money spent by the Clinton campaign came from illegal foreign sources, like the Chinese government and a wealthy Indonesian businessman. But the voters didn't care, because the economy was doing just fine, and most of the outside world was relatively quiet. Indeed, at times it seemed that Dole and the Republicans didn't seriously expect to win, because they campaigned halfheartedly. Dole, for instance, was viewed as a "hatchet man" when he ran for vice president in 1976, but twenty years later he was more than a little mellowed out. Sure enough, Clinton was reelected; he still did not get a majority of the popular vote, but with 49.24%, he did better than he had the first time.
So far we haven't talked much about the Clinton scandals, in order to cover Bill Clinton's domestic and foreign policies quickly. However, they were a problem all through his time in the White House. To start with, because of his "I did not inhale" statement during the 1992 campaign, the voters knew they had elected somebody who was not fully honest.(100) His staff had serious problems too; according to the Secret Service, at least forty White House aides were on drugs. The firing of seven employees of the White House Travel Office for no apparent reason became Travelgate, the first major scandal of the Clinton administration (May 1993). Similar question were asked about Filegate, a 1996 incident in which the private FBI files of 400 to 900 Republicans were delivered to the White House. And then there was Whitewater, a catch-all name for interconnected scandals involving a failed savings and loan association, a real estate development project that lost money, and other questionable investments involving the Clintons and their friends in Arkansas. The Justice Department appointed an independent counsel to investigate the suspicious death of Vince Foster, a lawyer working for the Clintons who apparently committed suicide on July 20, 1993. This investigation spread to look at the whole Whitewater affair, and over the next five years the counsel, led by Kenneth Starr, got fourteen convictions; this was also the only time when a first lady was called to testify before a grand jury. In the end both Bill and Hillary were acquitted, though. Finally, as mentioned earlier, Bill Clinton and Al Gore had the habit of taking campaign contributions from anyone.(101) Altogether, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported during Bill Clinton's first term that ethics investigations of the Clintons and their aides were costing taxpayers more than $1 million per month.
Most voters did not find these scandals very interesting. As with the government shutdown, Clinton came out ahead, thanks to his ability to charm the voters and the media. In response to the investigations, the White House launched an unprecedented attack on Kenneth Starr, using Clinton's most fervent supporter, James Carville, to vilify him, claiming that Starr was conducting the investigations solely for partisan political purposes. Starr could not defend himself because he was forbidden by law to reveal the substance of his investigation. Nixon, Reagan and Bush had never done any such thing against the special prosecutors they faced (Nixon only fired Archibald Cox, remember).
Whereas money scandals are often boring, sex scandals can get everyone's attention. That applied here; when it came to the women, Bill Clinton was too much like his role model, JFK. One of Clinton's aides began keeping lists of Bill's girlfriends in 1988, and counted twenty-six who might some day give him political problems. Indeed, after he became president, there was a steady stream of what were called "bimbo eruptions," women popping up and claiming that they had affairs with Clinton when he was governor, or that he had made sexual advances on them. We already mentioned one of the women, Gennifer Flowers. Others included Juanita Broderick, Dolly Kyle Browning, Beth Gladden Coulson, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Connie Hamzy, Marilyn Jo Jenkins, Paula Corbin Jones, Sheila Lawrence, Sally Perdue, Marsha Scott, and Kathleen Willey. Listing the allegations they made is beyond the scope of this work; if you need to know what they are, look them up.
The only one of the above whose charge could stick was Paula Jones; she filed a lawsuit accusing Clinton of sexual harassment in 1991. This gave the Democrats a real dilemma; over the past decade, by defining "sexual harassment" to mean whatever their feminist supporters said it was, they had turned the charge into a weapon to use against Republicans (it almost caused the rejection of one of Bush's nominees to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas). Now the charge was being used against their guy! Clinton's lawyers tried to have the case postponed until after he left office, claiming that this should not be done to a commander in chief on "active duty." A federal appeals court, however, ordered the lawsuit to proceed; the case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously the same way. But before the trial could begin, the case was dismissed, on the grounds that Jones had failed to prove any damages as a result of the harassment. In 1998 Clinton agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $850,000, the amount Jones had originally claimed, so he could move on with his life, as one of his lawyers put it.
One "bimbo eruption" nearly derailed the Clinton presidency, because it involved an affair that happened in the White House, not in Arkansas. This was with Monica Lewinsky, who was twenty-one years old when Clinton met her in 1995. At first she was an unpaid White House intern, and she claimed she had her first sexual encounter with the president in November 1995; eleven days later, she was on the payroll. In 1996 she was transferred to the Pentagon, but Clinton continued to see her. In her testimony she claimed a total of nine sexual encounters, running from 1995 to 1997. On one occasion, she claimed that the president used her as a humidor (I'll leave to your imagination what he did with the cigar before he smoked it), while another encounter produced a stained blue dress. A co-worker, Linda Tripp, persuaded Lewinsky not to dry-clean the dress. Tripp began recording her conversations with Lewinsky in September 1997, and in January 1998, after Lewinsky submitted an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying any physical relationship with Clinton, Tripp gave the tapes to Kenneth Starr, and he expanded his investigation to include Lewinsky and her possible perjury in the Jones case; later he would regret doing that, because of the uproar it caused and the results.
The rest of the country also heard about Monica Lewinsky in January 1998. The changing role of the media was shown by where the story first appeared, on the Drudge Report, a conservative news website. Four days later, The Washington Post became the first body in the mainstream media to run the story. Forced to speak out about it, Clinton held a press conference, with Hillary standing nearby, and gave one of the most famous quotes of his presidency: "I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." For the next six months, Americans debated whether the affair had occurred and if Clinton had lied about it, until Lewinsky turned over the stained dress to Starr's investigators. The threat that DNA testing would be done on the dress was enough to make Clinton come clean (no pun intended). On August 17, 1998, he recorded a grand jury testimony, and made a nationally televised speech, admitting in both that he had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky that was "not appropriate." Regarding his previous statements, Clinton said they weren't really lies because he did not believe oral sex fit the definition of sex, and for his previous claim of "There's nothing going on between us," Clinton gave the grand jury a classic example of legal semantics:
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."
Clinton, the Democrats, and his supporters managed to persuade most of the American people that he was in trouble for having sex, not because he lied under oath. When the truth came forth, they classified Clinton's lies in the following categories:
The difference between this impeachment and the one of 1868 was pure politics. Andrew Johnson was innocent but unpopular, while Clinton was guilty but popular, and everybody knew it. The economy was doing great, too: both inflation and unemployment were at their lowest in recent history, and at the time of the impeachment, gasoline prices were at their lowest point since 1986. Consequently Clinton enjoyed an approval rating of more than 60% in the polls, despite his failings, and most senators did not want to be seen as opponents of someone that popular. Finally, Democrats didn't want to vote against one of their own, while Republicans didn't want to remove Clinton if it made Al Gore the next president. The result was that whereas Johnson was saved by one senator voting his conscience, Clinton was acquitted with several votes to spare; 67 guilty votes were needed to remove him from office, but only 45 senators voted guilty on the charge of perjury, and 50 voted guilty on the obstruction of justice charge.
In April 1999 a judge added injury to the impeachment insult by ordering Clinton to pay additional fines, $1,202 to the court and $90,000 to Paula Jones' lawyers, for giving dishonest and misleading answers about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. This was the only time a sitting president has been found in contempt of court.
After the impeachment, Clinton was obsessed with his legacy, and he spent the rest of his second term looking for a way to make Americans remember him for something besides sex. Consequently he pushed hard to bring about a solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, figuring that a Nobel Peace Prize would be the perfect award to cap his career. During his first term he presided over the meetings between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that led to the Oslo Accords; now during his second term he arranged a similar summit meeting, which produced the Wye River Memorandum. When he found the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, not willing to compromise with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasir Arafat, he sent James Carville to Israel, and Carville successfully campaigned in the election that replaced Netanyahu with Ehud Barak. Then came the meetings at Camp David in July 2000, where hopes were high for a repeat of the treaty Jimmy Carter had negotiated there, twenty-two years earlier. Barak laid out the best possible offer he could give, but Arafat had the mentality of a terrorist, not a statesman, so he rejected it, rather than renounce terrorism and become just another head of state.(102) That ended Clinton's chances, because by then it was too close to the end of his presidency to produce and negotiate over another peace proposal. Later on he must have wondered how Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize, when they did less to earn it than he did (Obama got it because his name wasn't George W. Bush). Well, at least he got his wish to lead America into the new millennium; he was president when the twenty-first century began.
Clinton, Arafat and Barak at Camp David.
Some Moslems believed that the cause of their failure was unfaithfulness to the teachings of Islam; they thought that if they returned to observing those teachings the way Mohammed and his first followers had done, Allah would restore their fortunes and give them dominion over the earth. These fundamentalists have always been around, but for most of the twentieth century they were definitely in the minority; fundamentalist movements like the Wahhabiyah (Saudi Arabia), the Sanussi Brotherhood (Libya) and the Moslem Brotherhood (Egypt) limited their activities to the countries they were based in. Westerners who paid attention to the Middle East saw the most important countries run by leaders with a progressive vision, especially Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Iran under the Pahlavi Shahs, and Israel with its parliamentary government. Because of this, they reasoned that a modernized Middle East would resemble the West, combining democracy and capitalism with a superficial Islamic culture. However, two previously mentioned events, both happening in the 1970s, would send the Arabs, Iranians and Turks on a different course. The first was rising oil prices, which transferred billions of dollars from the West to countries that were not very friendly to it. The Saudis in particular would use oil money to spread their Wahhabi sect in two ways: by financing terrorist groups like the PLO, and by supporting mosques abroad. The second event was the Iranian Revolution, which brought the Shiites into the game; in fact, for all of the 1980s, the Shiites were more zealous promoters of Islam than the Sunnis.
The success of the Iranian Revolution and the war in Afghanistan encouraged the formation of new Sunni fundamentalist groups in the late 1980s: the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, Hamas among the Palestinians, the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan--and Al Qaeda. At first the USSR was the main enemy for these groups, but after the Soviets got out of Afghanistan, they turned their attention back to the West. When American troops set up bases in Saudi Arabia to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis, the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, saw their presence as a violation of Islam's holy land, even though the soldiers did not go near Mecca or Medina. It did not matter that he and the United States had been on the same side in Afghanistan, nor did it matter that in the Persian Gulf, the Americans were again on the side of a Moslem faction (and would also be in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo).
In 1992 bin Laden launched his first attack, setting off a bomb in a Yemen hotel that American servicemen used on their way to Somalia; no Americans were hurt, though. This was quickly followed by the detonation of a car bomb in the garage of one of the World Trade Center towers, in New York City (February 26, 1993). Six people were killed and more than a thousand injured, but the intended goal--to make one WTC tower crash into the other and bring both down--did not happen. The perpetrator of the plot, Ramzi Yousef, managed to escape until 1995, when he was apprehended in Pakistan and sent back to the United States. Clinton's response was to treat this act of terrorism the same way as any other crime; agents from the ATF, FBI and the New York Police Department were sent to the scene, and the court system tried Yousef and his accomplices, but the military was not used, and except for some rumors of Iraqi involvement, no attempt was made to find out if any foreign government was responsible. Most Americans responded likewise. We noted earlier that Americans took a vacation from foreign news during the 1990s, and as vicious as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was, it wasn't bad enough to keep their interest for long.(103)
Likewise, there was no US reaction when a car bomb killed five Americans in Saudi Arabia in 1995, or when a truck bomb killed nineteen US servicemen in 1996 (the Khobar Towers bombing). An otherwise unknown group called Islamic Movement for Change claimed responsibility for the first attack, while Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian militia in Lebanon, is suspected of being behind the second one. As for bin Laden, he had been expelled from Saudi Arabia, and was living in Sudan. Because the United States had imposed terrorism sanctions on Sudan, Sudanese officials made an offer; in return for having the sanctions lifted, they would arrest bin Laden and hand him over to either the Americans or the Saudis. Washington wasn't interested, and Clinton said he had no good reason to hold bin Laden as long as he had not committed a crime against the US. Instead, he told the Saudis to take bin Laden, but they didn't want him, either, so the Sudanese simply asked bin Laden to leave, and he went to Afghanistan. Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman who had been the go-between in these meetings, later claimed there had been more than one offer of bin Laden, the last one made in July 2000, but Clinton rejected them all.
Osama bin Laden struck again in August 1998, this time setting off truck bombs simultaneously at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Most of the victims were Africans; of the 225 killed, just twelve were Americans; more than 4,000 were wounded, too. With these attacks, most American heard about bin Laden and Al Qaeda for the first time. Twenty-one people were subsequently identified and indicted for their role in the attacks, but casualties on this scale demanded military retaliation, so Clinton ordered "Operation Infinite Reach," a wave of cruise missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan. Aside from boosting Clinton's poll ratings and American morale, the strikes did not accomplish anything. In Afghanistan they hit campsites that had already been abandoned, while the supposed "chemical weapons" plant the missiles destroyed in Sudan turned out to be a pharmaceuticals factory, where 50 percent of the nation's drugs had been manufactured; no evidence of chemical weapons was found there. This, and America's military action against the Serbs in the Balkans, convinced bin Laden that the Americans would only fight back with aircraft and missiles, so he planned more terrorist attacks.
In 1997 a movie called "Wag the Dog" told a story about a president of the United States starting a war to distract the attention of the public from his own sex scandal. One year later, reality imitated fiction. Twice in 1998, tensions between the US and Iraq were so high that another war was considered likely. The first time was in February, shortly after the news about Monica Lewinsky broke out, and the second time was near the end of the year, while impeachment proceedings were going on. What's more, the strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan occurred right when Clinton was forced to admit that the encounters with Lewinsky had happened. Nobody had accused other presidents of starting wars for personal gain; it says something that only Clinton's behavior (and timing) could make the absurd premise of "Wag the Dog" plausible.(104)
The most important thing to remember about an asymmetrical war, like the one between the US and Islamic terrorists, is that the terrorists only need to be successful once, while the opposing conventional force has to stop them every time to be considered effective. And because the current conflict relies heavily on intelligence services like the CIA, much of the activity has to be kept secret, and may never be known. Hence, we can't tell which terrorist attacks, if any, were thwarted during the next two years after the embassy bombings. The next one that succeeded came on October 12, 2000, when an American destroyer, the USS Cole, stopped in Aden, Yemen, to refuel. Two terrorists steered a rubber raft full of explosives alongside the Cole and detonated it, killing seventeen American servicemen as well as themselves. Once more, Clinton did nothing, because he only had three months left to his second term, and conveniently passed the problem on to George W. Bush. However, Bush did not do anything about it, either; instead he concentrated his attention on the economy. The lack of a sufficient American response to all these provocations guaranteed that sooner or later, bin Laden would go for a really big target. As the 9/11 Commission put it a few years later, the terrorists were at war with the US before the US was at war with them.
While the Clintons were in the limelight, the Republicans built their first political dynasty. Two sons of former President Bush went into politics, and did very well for themselves. George W. Bush ("Dubya"), had previously managed a major league baseball team, the Texas Rangers; in 1994 he beat the incumbent governor, Ann Richards(106), and became the governor of Texas. His brother Jeb Bush lost the gubernatorial race in Florida during the same year, but tried again in 1998, and won. Because both of those states had grown rapidly in recent years (see below), this meant that as the twentieth century ended, one American in eight had a Bush for a governor. Moreover, both George and Jeb did well running their states, meaning that they would be considered as future candidates for senator or president.
The Democrats saw Vice President Gore as the heir of the Clintons, and only a former senator, Bill Bradley of New Jersey, ran against him; Al Gore beat Bradley without much fuss. The Republican primary campaign was more complicated, with no less than eleven candidates running, but George W. Bush was favored from the start, and he knocked out his rivals one by one. The only candidate that gave him much of a challenge was Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain had a compelling story from his days before entering Congress; as a navy pilot in the 1960s, he was shot down over North Vietnam. Captured by the North Vietnamese, they refused to treat his injuries, interrogated and tortured him. When McCain's father, a four-star admiral, became commander of all US forces in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese offered to release him, but McCain refused to leave while the men who had been captured before him were still being held. Consequently he spent most of the war in captivity.(107)
McCain won the New Hampshire primary, but he never had enough delegates to pull ahead of Bush. After losing the South Carolina primary, McCain criticized Bush for accepting the endorsement of Bob Jones University, a Christian college known for its policy banning interracial dating, and then he attacked two famous evangelical leaders, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, calling them "agents of intolerance." If McCain was trying to portray himself as a moderate or centrist, it backfired; those speeches alienated the "religious right" wing of the Republican Party, and Bush secured the GOP nomination.
Next came the choosing of vice presidential candidates, and some interesting thinking went into the choices for 2000. Gore chose Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman for his veep; this was the first time either major party had nominated a Jew to run for president or vice president. Meanwhile, Bush asked Dick Cheney, who had been Secretary of Defense under his father, to find a running mate for him, but later decided that Cheney himself was the best man for the job. Gore-Lieberman was a classic case of creating a balanced ticket; Lieberman came from a Northern State, while Gore was a Southerner, and Lieberman was strong on moral issues, an area in which both Clinton and Gore were lacking. By contrast, Bush was so confident that he didn't feel the need to balance his ticket; Cheney was not only much like him, he currently lived in Wyoming, a state that has too few voters to decide an election.
The fall campaign was mainly a referendum on the Clinton administration, with Gore promising more of the good times that marked the 1990s, and Bush promising to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House. However, Election Night (November 6, 2000) gave an unexpected result--the closest election since 1800. In the popular vote, Gore was ahead of Bush by half a million, just half a percentage point. The electoral totals, however, showed Bush with 271 and Gore with 267; Bush had a popular minority, but an electoral majority. Several states were extremely close, but Florida got the most attention, because when the votes were counted, there was such a razor-thin difference that the networks couldn't agree on who got that state; moreover, not all of the absentee ballots were in. Most important of all, 25 electoral votes were at stake here, so whoever won Florida would win the election.
By Florida law, a statewide recount was required for a case like this. However, Florida's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, announced she would reject any revised totals from those counties if they were not turned in by November 14, the statutory deadline for amended returns. The Florida Supreme Court extended that deadline to November 26. In Palm Beach County, a charge went forth that voters were confused by the so-called "butterfly ballots," punch cards which put the names of candidates in two columns flanking one column where the hole was supposed to be punched; the accuser claimed that many who voted for Pat Buchanan (see footnote #89) thought they were voting for Gore. The result was that a hand recount of the ballots was done in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia Counties, where Gore had won but the results were turned in late. Teams of lawyers from both the Bush and Gore campaigns descended upon Florida, to make sure no frauds would be committed in the recounts. On November 26, the state canvassing board certified Bush the statewide winner by 537 votes (a margin of 0.0092% out of 5.9 million votes cast). Naturally, Gore protested, and the Florida Supreme Court, which favored Gore, ordered a recount of more than 70,000 ballots that had been rejected by machine counters, because they weren't filled out properly. Now the poll workers were reduced to the ludicrous situation of studying the rejected ballots, to interpret what a voter meant if he had left a "dimpled chad," "hanging chad," or "pregnant chad," instead of punching a clean hole through the card.
Two funny pictures of poll workers reading the ballots.
In modern elections, a recount tends to drag on for months, until one candidate gives up; for example, the 2008 Minnesota Senate race had a recount that lasted for eight months. That could have happened here, but the deadline for submitting electors came first, and in a race this close, no state could be left out of the Electoral College. On December 12, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the Florida Supreme Court's ruling requiring a statewide recount of ballots was unconstitutional, and if the recounts could not be completed by that day, then the previously certified total would stand. That decided it for Bush, and Democrats were understandably bitter. Gore conducted his own recounts for much of 2001, though they came out in favor of Bush every time, and he spent the next four years claiming that he was the real winner, until he found he could make more money by talking about the danger of global warming. Other Democrats simply refused to accept the results, and they accused Bush of stealing the election with the help of his brother Jeb and Katherine Harris; calling him the "president-select" was the mildest name they had for him.
Looking back, it is still amazing how close the 2000 election was. Consider the small factors that could have changed the results--and the course of history:
In Washington, the Clintons didn't go away quietly. Hillary ran for Senator of New York, though she hadn't lived in New York before, and New Yorkers have a reputation for looking down their noses at Southerners, especially those from Arkansas. Moreover, everyone knew that she wanted the job to use New York as a springboard for a future run at the presidency. Despite all that, the Clintons were so popular that she won easily.
The last days of the Clinton presidency were the least dignified of any administration. On his last full day in office, Bill issued 140 pardons and commutations to convicted felons and indicted felons in exile. It is customary for an outgoing president to pardon those which he feels do not deserve the accusations/convictions imposed on them, but Clinton pardoned more than any other, leading to one more controversy about his actions. Then on January 20, 2001, their staff looted, vandalized and destroyed government property in the White House, acting like tenants trashing an apartment on the day they are supposed to leave. It was a similar story with Air Force One, where they made off with china, silverware, linen, towels, ash trays, soap, pens, and flight manuals. In fact, the Clintons didn't leave the White House for the last time until after George W. Bush had been sworn in as the new president. One estimate immediately afterwards put the damage to the White House and Air Force One at $200,000. Because they were now New Yorkers, the Clintons did not go back to Arkansas; they bought a house in Chappaqua, NY instead. Hillary went to assume her new Senate seat on Capitol Hill, while Bill got himself an office in Harlem, because during his second term he came to be known as the "first black president."(109)
George Walker Bush.
Like Reagan and Clinton, Bush inherited an ailing economy from his predecessor, so fixing it was his first priority. To jump-start the economy, Bush passed a tax cut in 2001 that was good for the next ten years, and gave a rebate of $300 to $600 to each taxpayer. However, the recession continued to be a drag on the nation, especially after what happened on September 11 (see below), so Bush approved a second tax cut in 2003. Together the 2001 and 2003 laws did the following:
A lot of Bush's spending went to the military; military spending always goes up under the Republicans, and he increased it by 66 percent. However, non-defense spending also increased at a hefty 23 percent during the Bush years. That came about due to efforts by Bush to mend relations with the Democrats, by agreeing to some of their proposals (it didn't work, though, as you'll see in the next section). The domestic spending included hundreds of billions more for Medicare, to cover drug prescriptions, the largest agriculture subsidy in history, a generous education program ("No Child Left Behind"), and continuing Clinton's Americorps program. Probably the most notorious bill was the 2005 highway spending bill, which cost $286.5 billion and was loaded with 6,371 pet projects. Bush passed it after the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" appropriation ($460 million for two bridges in Alaska, one of them connecting the mainland with an island that only has 50 inhabitants) was removed. By contrast, when Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway bill in 1987, one that cost nearly $88 billion and earmarked money for only 157 projects, he said, "I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair." To sum it up, Bush found it extremely difficult to say no; he didn't veto any bill until July 2006, when he got one requesting funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Bush probably did not expect to become a wartime president. When he took office there was no international crisis; the wars in the former Yugoslavia were over, Saddam Hussein was contained in Iraq, the nasty war in the Congo wasn't getting much outside attention, and the only trouble spot that looked very threatening was Israel (the Palestinians had just started their second Intifada). Thus, when he wasn't busy mending the economy, Bush nudged the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate some more, in effect picking up in the Middle East where Clinton left off.
That was the situation until September 11, 2001, when the United States got a rude awakening into the twenty-first century. On that day, nineteen Arab terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew them to New York City and Washington, D.C. The two planes that went to New York crashed into the World Trade Center towers and caused their collapse, succeeding where Ramzi Yousef had failed eight years earlier. The third plane hit the Pentagon, while the passengers on the fourth plane overpowered the hijackers and it crashed in rural Pennsylvania, instead of striking the White House or the Capitol. 3,025 Americans were killed on that day, in history's worst terrorist attack. President Bush was visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, FL when he heard the news; both he and Vice President Cheney were rushed away to shelters in secret locations, on the chance that more terrorists were ready to act.
Before September 11, Americans were still divided over whether Bush had really won the 2000 election; now they briefly rallied behind him as he declared a state of national emergency. So did most foreign governments, starting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Congress passed a $40 billion emergency spending bill, and a $20 billion bail out for the airline industry, which suffered terribly in the months that followed. It also passed the Patriot Act to coordinate information between different law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and to make it easier to investigate individuals suspected of terrorist activities. This was similar to the special powers Lincoln and FDR demanded to prosecute the wars of their times, but the Patriot Act has been controversial nonetheless; several political groups and communities are concerned that it might become a permanent restriction on civil liberties. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security was created to strengthen the nation's nonmilitary defenses.(112) In these activities Bush was completely successful; there was no successful terrorist attack on US soil for the rest of Bush's presidency, though Al Qaeda and other extremist groups tried more than once.
It didn't take long for the FBI and the CIA to identify Osama bin Laden as the most likely perpetrator, and he was currently in Afghanistan. In 2001 more than 90 percent of Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban, a radical Sunni movement, so Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden and any other Al Qaeda leaders they might have, and close down Al Qaeda's camps. The Taliban refused, claiming that bin Laden was their guest and that there was no evidence linking him to the September 11 attacks. On October 7, 2001, American and British warplanes and cruise missiles began attacking military targets in Afghanistan. By using the Northern Alliance, the coalition of groups in northern Afghanistan opposed to the Taliban, as the ground force, the Americans and British were able to put together a winning team. November and early December saw the Taliban abandon every city in the country, fleeing to the caves and mountains along the Pakistan border.(113)
Troops from NATO came to assist in peacekeeping, while the United States helped the Northern Alliance set up a new government for Afghanistan, and moved captured Al Qaeda members to a holding facility at Guantanamo Bay, the US base in Cuba. However, the Taliban were able to regroup, and they launched a new guerrilla war not only in Afghanistan, but also in the nearest part of Pakistan. US and NATO forces are much better suited for a conventional war of movement than for counterinsurgency operations, so a long struggle followed. For the Americans and Europeans, Afghanistan has not been as bloody as it was for the Russians in the 1980s, but still there is no end to the conflict in sight.
Part of the reason for the prolonged fight is because Afghanistan stopped being the main front in what was now called the "War on Terror." In his 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush said that the world's three most dangerous countries were Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and he called them an "Axis of Evil." Of the three, Iran was too large and too difficult to invade without the support of the local population, and while North Korea announced in 2002 that it was going to build nuclear weapons, nobody knew how far along it was in doing it, so Iraq became the most likely second front in the war. For the rest of 2002 and the first three months of 2003, Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, made the case for removing Iraq's Baathist regime, because Saddam Hussein wanted nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, together called "weapons of mass destruction." In the 1980s, Hussein had used poison gas against Iranians and Kurds, so there was little doubt he would use such weapons again, if given the chance. Moreover, he was not cooperating with the inspectors who were supposed to make sure he complied with the UN Security Council's resolutions. After the 2003 war, not enough evidence turned up to convince everyone that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but he acted like he was hiding them anyway (he may have sent them across the border into Syria).
On March 20, 2003, the United States led a "Coalition of the Willing" (mainly Britain and Australia, but twenty-eight other countries also provided token support) in an invasion of Iraq from Kuwait. It was a brilliant success, and the supposedly battle-hardened Iraqi forces offered little resistance. Baghdad fell on April 9, and Tikrit, the last city held by the Baathists, was captured on April 14, just twenty-five days after the campaign began. On May 1 President Bush flew to an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, to make his "Mission Accomplished" speech. Saddam Hussein's bloodthirsty sons were killed in a shootout in July, and Saddam himself was captured in December. Then the hard part of the job began.
The Americans wanted to leave Iraq in better shape than they found it, and the experience in Somalia from a decade earlier showed how tough that can be. The country's infrastructure had run down since the 1991 Gulf War, and the Baathist police and armed forces had been disbanded; all that would have to be replaced. In addition, Iraq would need a government that wasn't a threat to foreigners or its own people, and its oil wells needed to be repaired/turned on again. Power began to be turned over to a provisional Iraqi government in June 2004, and in 2005 it held elections twice, first to elect a 275-member legislature that would write a constitution, then to elect a more permanent government.
The problem with Iraq was that it had to be pacified if the building projects and the reforms were going to last, and as soon as the conventional fighting ended, an "insurgency" began against the occupation force and the Iraqis it recruited. Former Baathists, unemployed soldiers, terrorists from Al Qaeda and related groups, and the Mahdi Army (a Shiite faction), ambushed soldiers, or blew them and their vehicles up with roadside bombs. This was especially the case around the Sunni-populated cities of Baghdad, Tikrit and Fallujah; whereas the Kurds and most of the Shiites supported the coalition because they would gain power under the new government, the Sunni Arabs could only lose, because under Saddam Hussein they had controlled everything. Eventually more than 4,000 Americans would be killed in Iraq by "insurgents"--that's thirty times as many casualties as what was suffered in the 2003 invasion. Soon folks back in the United States were claiming that the troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq were stuck in a Vietnam-style quagmire, and Nevada Senator Harry Reid (see the next section) went so far as to declare that "the war is lost."
All things considered, Iraq appeared to become a terrorist magnet after 2003. A lot of the terrorists who hated the West went to Iraq to attack coalition troops; while that didn't make the mission in Iraq any easier for the troops, it must have helped to ensure that the events of 9/11 would not be repeated. Moreover, because most of Iraq is a flat desert, there are few places for terrorists to hide, except in the cities. The result was that even in the worst of times, enemy casualties were far worse than what the coalition suffered; in 2007 the author estimated that the Americans killed five to eight "insurgents" for every American lost. However, Americans do not have the patience and stamina for long wars (see my 2007 essay on that, Couch Potato Warriors), so this situation could not go on forever. The Iraqi phase of the war had never been as popular as the Afghan phase, and when the weapons of mass destruction did not turn up, demonstrators against the war shouted slogans like "Bush lied, people died" and "No blood for oil."(114)
The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, took much of the blame for not winning the war quickly, so on the day after the 2006 elections he was replaced. Bush also got a new commanding general, David Petraeus, and in January 2007 Bush authorized the sending of 20,000 more soldiers and Marines to Iraq. This "surge," as it was called, did the trick, breaking resistance and reducing sectarian violence. Moreover, Al Qaeda had alienated the Iraqis by this time; because they lost too many members when they attacked coalition troops, gradually they switched to attacking foreign civilians, then newly trained Iraqi soldiers and policemen, and finally Iraqi civilians. Thus, by 2007 even the Sunnis had turned against the foreign terrorists, who they now considered to be worse than the Americans, and worked out an arrangement to share oil revenues with the largely Shiite-dominated government. The improving situation on the ground allowed the coalition to start turning over defense responsibilities to the Iraqis, so by the end of Bush's presidency the Iraqi front was winding down; because he handled the surge so well, General Petraeus was promoted to command both the Iraqi and Afghan theaters of the war. If nothing unforeseen happens, the rest of the Americans in Iraq will come home by 2011, except for a few permanently stationed in the newly built US bases.
Besides Afghanistan and Iraq, there are quite a few other theaters for the current war, because terrorists can be active almost anywhere. In most of these cases Americans did not fight the terrorists directly, but gave economic and military aid to the nearest government, and helped train the local troops. Here is a short list of the other countries that fought Islamic terrorism:
If you read Kerry's biography, you might get the impression that his main goal in life was to become president by imitating John F. Kennedy. Both had the same initials, for a start, and both were Irish Catholics.(115) After four years of college at Yale, he enlisted in the Navy, and in 1968 was sent to Vietnam as the commander of a fast patrol craft or "swift boat." He stayed there for four months, and by then he earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. Most veterans who earn those kinds of decorations are considered scarred for life, and though that wasn't the case with Kerry, naval regulations called for him to be transferred to a non-combat assignment, so he returned to the United States, with a military record much like Kennedy's. After that he joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) movement, accused other veterans of committing atrocities in testimony before Congress, and spent the rest of the war making media appearances and taking part in antiwar demonstrations. Then he went into politics, and got elected as senator in 1984. He also did very well when it came to marriage. His second wife, Maria Teresa Thierstein Simões-Ferreira Heinz, was the widow of another senator, Pennsylvania's John Heinz, and heiress to the Heinz ketchup corporation; that marriage made Kerry the richest member of the Senate.(116)
After he was nominated, however, Kerry turned out to be as flawed a candidate as Dean. Most of the other Swift Boat veterans refused to support him, because of his antiwar conduct in the early 1970s, and allegations that his Purple Hearts were given for superficial injuries, which might even have been self-inflicted. And though he had been in the Senate for nearly twenty years, he had terribly little to show for that tenure; during a debate with Bush, Kerry couldn't name any landmark bills he had sponsored. Furthermore, Kerry put his foot in his mouth more than once, by making stupid statements. The worst remark involved an $87 billion appropriation for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; Kerry explained his stand on the bill by saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." (see also footnote #109) As for campaign strategy, the Democrats seemed to think that raw Bush hatred would be enough to put them over the top; on the issues, it never was clear what Kerry stood for, except that he opposed whatever Bush was for.
The mainstream media tried to help Kerry; a survey of 2004 news stories revealed that three fourths of the stories about Bush portrayed him in a negative light, and movie director Michael Moore made a documentary slamming Bush called "Fahrenheit 911." Apparently Bush's opponents forgot that Republicans played the Clinton hatred card in 1996, and lost anyway. One media effort backfired: CBS News announced that it had memos from the early 1970s, when Bush was in the National Guard, showing that his performance as a guardsman was only mediocre. Over the next few days several bloggers proved the memos were fakes, resulting in the downfall of CBS news anchor Dan Rather. Finally, comparisons of Kerry with the other JFK didn't work because the Kennedy charm had faded; nowadays the candidate who is called "Kennedy-esque" always loses (that had happened to Gary Hart in the 1980s).
"Rathergate," the scandal involving the CBS memos,
In November, the voters chose to play it safe, because September 11 and the War on Terror were still fresh on everyone's mind. Emotions were whipped up by the Democrats, resulting in a heavy voter turnout, but only three states (Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico) voted differently from the way they had in 2000, leading to the "red state-blue state" talk that often appears in political discussions today. Bush had a 51-48 lead in the popular vote, and an electoral lead so slim that it was again decided by one state, this time Ohio. In Ohio itself, the election was close enough for the results to depend on absentee ballots, and for a while it looked like Ohio would experience Florida-style recounts, but instead Kerry conceded one day later, and Bush went back to Washington for another term.(117) Early in Bush's second term the country got a lesson in what happens when the government gets too big. 2005 was a record year for hurricanes, and on August 29, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. New Orleans did not take a direct hit--the eye of the storm passed just east of the city--but the storm surge was enough to break the levees on the lower Mississippi and flood the city. For years meteorologists had warned that New Orleans was asking for trouble, because the city is actually below sea level, and now it happened. An estimated 1,836 were killed (mostly in Louisiana, but Mississippi and Alabama were also affected), making Katrina one of the deadliest storms in US history, and with damage estimates at $90 billion, it was definitely the costliest disaster in US history.
At all levels, the government response to Katrina was lethargic, unprepared, and to some, even uncaring. Two days before the storm hit, President Bush called the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, and told him to evacuate the city. Nagin hesitated, thinking the federal government would come to save the day, while Washington thought Nagin would make the first move; consequently not enough people were evacuated in time. Once it was realized how bad this disaster really was, the attempts to rebuild were a fine example of government waste; four years later, New Orleans has not completely recovered, and some victims who lost their homes are still living in motel rooms. On the political scene, some played the race card; the Rev. Louis Farrakhan suggested that Washington had blown up the levees to increase flooding in New Orleans, while others claimed rescue efforts weren't made quickly enough because two thirds of the victims were black; Nagin later promised that New Orleans would be rebuilt as a "chocolate city."
No president in American history was treated as brutally and unfairly as George W. Bush. From 2000 onwards his opponents saw him as an idiot, because he was a poor public speaker who tended to mangle words (e.g., "misunderestimated"). Not giving him the respect due to his office, the Bush-haters thought they were clever when they called him names like "Shrub," "Chimp," "Bushitler," and various things we can't repeat in a history text meant for the whole family. In the eyes of liberals, Bush could do nothing right, even when spending on projects liberals supported, even when supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants, or even when he sent more foreign aid money to Africa than any other president. To the Left Bush was still a "fundamentalist," a "right-wing zealot," not capable of even one good intention.
Other presidents endured baseless attacks; think of how the Democrats treated Lincoln and Nixon, and how the Republicans sometimes went too far during the Clinton years. All this pales, however, when compared with the assault on Bush, everything he stood for, and everything he tried to accomplish. Those who worked with him suffered, too (e.g., a White House aide, Scooter Libby, was tried and convicted for blowing a CIA agent's cover, a charge which was later proven to be false). Struggling actors and comedians tried to give their careers a boost by making fun of Bush. An obviously disturbed woman, Cindy Sheehan, spent much of Bush's second term camped near the president's ranch home in Crawford, TX, mourning the death of her son in Iraq, and not only was she joined by hundreds of other opponents of the war, but the mainstream media gave her more than fifteen minutes of attention. About the only media outlets on Bush's side were Fox News and conservative radio talk shows. The anger expressed by Democrats was so bad that to conservatives they looked unhinged; to the author it looked like the "Two Minutes Hate" sessions directed at Big Brother's opponent, Emmanuel Goldstein, in the novel 1984. Charles Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist, proclaimed the Democrats' behavior a mental disorder and called it "Bush Derangement Syndrome," or BDS.
One symptom of BDS is that conspiracy theories have traditionally been associated with right-wingers like the John Birch Society (see footnote #27), but under Bush they became more common among leftists. During Bush's first term, Democrats declared that he was too dumb to succeed on his own ability, and that his only qualification to be president was that his father once had the job; never mind that he got better grades in college than either Gore or Kerry. When Bush enjoyed success, they speculated that Vice President Cheney or his campaign manager, Karl Rove (soon to be nicknamed "Bush's Brain"), was telling him what to do. In 2004 the Democrats threw everything they had at him (billionaire George Soros spent millions for the Democrats through his organization, Moveon.org(118)), and Bush still won, so some claimed that Bush was not a dummy, but an evil genius. And then there were the "9/11 Truthers," who claimed that the September 11 attacks were an inside job; according to them, either Bush engineered the attacks, so that he would have an excuse to give neo-conservatives and the military-industrial complex whatever they wanted, or that he knew the attacks were coming and allowed them to happen, for the same results. Today it is astonishing how many high-ranking figures in Washington took the 9/11 Truthers seriously; they included Howard Dean, who became chairman of the Democrat Party during Bush's second term, and Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.
Bush's detractors felt that it was better to lose the war than to allow Republicans to win it, so they were willing to risk unbalancing the economy and the country's political system to keep Bush from succeeding. In this they probably crossed the line between the "loyal opposition" and treasonous behavior (see my essay "The Real Enemy"). Democrats in Congress, for instance, tried to delay or deny funding to the troops, and launched an unprecedented series of filibusters to keep Bush from making judicial appointments, though in most cases there wasn't anything wrong with the candidates he picked for his judges. In the end many judicial seats were left vacant, and Bush had to sneak in his UN ambassador, John Bolton, when Congress was not in session.
Among all of Bush's opponents, The New York Times was the worst offender; it jeopardized national security to undermine the president. Whenever it heard news of the tactics being used by the administration to wage war--intercepting telecommunications, interrogation techniques, the transporting of captured terrorists, even weak spots in the body armor worn by soldiers--the Times published it for the world to see. The Times even forced Washington to cancel a successful program used to locate terrorists through their financial transactions--a program that ironically, the Times had endorsed when it was first proposed, right after 9/11. That Bush was able to protect the nation when so many US citizens were working against him seems all the more amazing now.(119)
How The New York Times would have reported Paul Revere's ride,
Unlike other times when a president came under attack, Bush found little support even from his own party. A lot of Republicans refused to be photographed with him, or ducked out of town when he came to visit. Indeed, the Republican Party didn't seem to have a purpose after it won in 2004, except to stay in power. In that sense you could call them the "Seinfeld Party," after the popular 1990s TV show that was described as being about nothing. By this time the Republicans had controlled Congress for a decade; the "Contract With America" was a distant memory. Many Republican congressmen, like Arizona's John McCain and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, were moderate to liberal when dealing with Democrats, earning them the epithet RINO (Republican In Name Only). And we already mentioned how the Republicans under Bush spent money like water, showing that in practice, there wasn't much difference between them and the Democrats.
Bush himself seemed to ignore most of the abuse thrown in his direction. He never fought back, and tended to show the kind of serenity one might expect from a monk: never too upset, never overjoyed, and never overwhelmed. Unfortunately most Republicans responded the same way, refusing to stoop to the Democrats' level in Congress or on the campaign trail. For example, Democrats accused those around Bush (e.g., Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzalez) of various crimes, when none were committed, and the Republicans meekly apologized for the appearance of any wrongdoing. In that sense the GOP came across like the proverbial gentleman who brings a knife to a gunfight.
To summarize the politics of Bush's second term, after the 2004 elections, the Democrats were poor losers, but the Republicans were even poorer winners. When given a choice between a real Democrat and a "Democrat lite," most voters went with the former; consequently the Democrats captured both houses of Congress in the 2006 congressional elections. Harry Reid, a cheerless senator from Nevada, became the new Senate majority leader, while a San Francisco fanatic, Nancy Pelosi, became the new speaker of the House. That should have been a wake-up call to the GOP, but they still did not give the American people a compelling reason to vote Republican, guaranteeing that they would suffer worse losses in 2008.
What Bush might be thinking now.
Since 1980, the number of American women who have not had children by the age of 40 has doubled. Still, the United States has a better than average growth rate, by Western standards. In the modern world, most developed countries (Japan, Russia and nearly all of Europe) have shrinking populations; for them the slowdown caused by the Industrial Revolution has gone too far. Besides the United States, the only advanced nations with a positive growth rate are Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.
If all we needed to do was state that America has gotten more crowded, the discussion on demographics could end here. However, four related factors have changed the face of the nation: the movement of Americans out of population centers in the North, an aging population, the torrential increase in immigration, and new racial demographics. Let us now look at the effect from each of these:
Texas grew steadily throughout the twentieth century. Oil was discovered there in 1901, and for the next seventy years, Texas was the largest source of petroleum for the United States. The resulting drilling and refinery industry created many new jobs, and Americans from other states began moving there. After Interstate highways were built to connect Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, etc., Texas piled on new numbers even faster. With the 1990 census, Texas pulled ahead of New York, like California had already done, so the Lone Star State now ranks #2 in population. More recently, because of California's financial woes, Texas has replaced it as the most prosperous, most influential state.
In percentages, Florida's growth was even more dramatic; it achieved an almost thirty-fold increase in the twentieth century, compared with a nearly sevenfold increase for Texas. In 1900, Florida had half a million residents; not much happened there, and most of the state was covered by forests and swamps, fit only for alligators and Seminoles (I'm not talking about the teams from Florida's two leading universities!). The invention of air conditioning made life more bearable during the long, humid summers, and we noted a brief land rush in the 1920s, so the 1950 census showed population had grown to 2.7 million. Then came the Interstates, the decision to build America's space center at Cape Canaveral, and the construction of enough amusement parks to turn Florida into the world's most popular destination for tourists; all this led to a space-age boom. By the time of the 2000 census, Florida had nearly 16 million people, and only California, Texas and New York had more. This explains why Florida's votes were so bitterly contested in the 2000 election. In 2014, Florida's population caught up with that of New York.
Following every census, the US Census Bureau runs the numbers and comes up with something called the Mean Center of Population. This is a spot on a map of the United States where the same number of people live north of it as south of it, and there are just as many people west of it as east of it. By comparing where these population centers are, it is possible to see a few trends, the main one being the general westward movement over the course of American history. Whereas the 1790 population center was located in Kent County, MD, east of Chesapeake Bay, it has shifted over the decades through Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, following a path roughly parallel to the Ohio River. With the 1980 census the center point crossed the Mississippi, meaning that for the first time in history, there are more people living west of that great river than east of it. Since 1920 the population center has moved southwest, instead of due west; in 2010, it was next to Plato, a tiny community in southern Missouri.
Of course, when Americans moved to the Sunbelt, the Northern states paid the price. Their representation in Congress shrank, along with their populations, and because of the loss of industries, they suffered the most when the economy hit a bump. Cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland, Gary, East St. Louis, Buffalo, the Bronx, Newark, and Chicago's south side--all became symbols of high crime and urban decay. Detroit fared the worst of all; from 1970 onward, the three big automobile manufacturers based in Detroit (Ford, Chrysler and General Motors) found it increasingly difficult to compete with foreign auto companies like Volkswagen, Toyota and Hyundai. In 1950, Detroit had the highest per capita income of any major US city, but since then, bad government, bad policies and the loss of jobs have caused nearly two-thirds of Detroit's population to move away; by 2007 its rank in per capita income had fallen to #62. Some immigrants moved in to take their place, but because they were poorer and less educated than those who left, all they did was create the largest Moslem community in the United States.(121) Consequently Detroit missed out completely on the economic booms under the Clinton and Bush administrations; you can't grow your economy while your community is shrinking. And because most of the people leaving were white, the remaining population was mostly black; nowadays it seems that any black racist, prone to conspiracy theories, can get elected to the city government. By 2009, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 12.9%: a 2011 report declared that 47% of Detroit's adults, including School Board President Otis Mathis, were functionally illiterate. All this made Detroit such an undesirable place to live that an average home in the city sold for $7,500 (You read that right, seven thousand and five hundred dollars. I did not leave out any zeroes.).
Probably the best example of how Detroit has fallen on hard times is the Pontiac Silverdome, a roofed football stadium that cost $55.7 million to build in the 1970s. Back in the day, this was the home of the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Lions; it also hosted the 1982 Superbowl, Wrestlemania III, and some of the 1994 World Cup games. After the Pistons and Lions moved to newer venues, the Silverdome tried to make ends meet with rock concerts and monster truck shows. When that didn't work, the Silverdome was sold for a mere $583,000 at a 2009 auction. Coincidentally, General Motors stopped making Pontiacs in the same year, as part of that company's restructuring during the current recession. Finally an attempt to blow it up through a controlled implosion failed in December 2017. Check out the Time Magazine slide show, Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline, for more pictures showing the ruins in the former center of American industry.(122)
Come visit Detroit, before it attracts archaeologists.
The "Baby Boomers" are the most studied generation in history. Late twentieth-century demographers expected them to produce another baby boom, thus keeping the growth rate high. Instead, they had fewer kids than their parents(123), and in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the oldest Baby Boomers reached the age of retirement. The result is that a growing population of the aged is now putting severe strains on the government services set up for them, especially Social Security. When it got started, Social Security worked because life expectancy in those days was 61 and people didn't qualify for benefits until they were 65; consequently more than half of Americans were likely to die without receiving anything. In 1940, the first year that Social Security payments went out, there were 159 taxpayers for every retiree. But the ratio did not stay there; in 1945 there were 42 taxpayers per retiree; in 1950 the ratio was 17 to 1. Since the 1970s, it has been about 3.4 to 1. And because people are now living twenty years or more after retirement, the total cost to support each beneficiary has gone up, too.
We noted previously that Lyndon Johnson solved the problem of balancing the federal budget by looting the Social Security trust fund. Since then there has been no money set aside for the elderly; instead the government simply gives retirees what it just collected in taxes, and writes itself IOUs promising to eventually pay back the taxpayers, when they in turn retire. If the current trends don't change, at some point the government will have to tell retirees that the money it promised them simply isn't there.
Unfortunately, efforts to keep Social Security financially sound haven't gotten anywhere. For many voters, the issue is so sensitive that it has been called the "third rail of politics"; politicians don't want to touch it, out of fear that it might electrocute them. George W. Bush found this out during his second term, when he tried to partially privatize Social Security, by giving taxpayers the option of having their money invested in stocks and bonds instead. Opponents of the proposal made such a fuss, screaming that Bush wanted to gut Social Security with a risky scheme, that it did not get through Congress, and Bush was forced to forget about it. Now the question is not if Social Security will run out of money, but when. For many younger Americans, including the not-so-young author of this work, there is a growing sentiment that UFOs are more likely to exist, because Social Security won't be around when they are old enough to qualify for payments.
When we last looked at immigration in Chapter 4, we saw Americans putting restrictions on who was allowed in, because of fears that the immigrants were Bolsheviks, anarchists and criminals, and because of competition for the few existing jobs during the Depression years. During World War II, 102,000 Jewish refugees were admitted, but many more were turned away; most of the latter perished in the Holocaust. After the war, when it became clear that genocide had been a crucial part of Nazi ideology, feelings of guilt led to more exceptions in the immigration quotas, allowing more Jews, war brides, refugees, orphans, and others displaced by foreign wars to come into the country. For most of the late twentieth century, anyone coming from a communist country could claim refugee status; that led to the creation of large Cuban-American and Vietnamese-American communities.
Despite all this, immigration officially remained at low levels for the rest of the 1940s and 1950s. Concerns about a racist approach to immigration increased with the rise of the civil rights movement, leading many to believe the quota system was immoral. The result was the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965, also called the Hart-Celler Act, because it was proposed by Emanuel Celler, cosponsored by Philip Hart, and most strongly supported by Senator Teddy Kennedy. At the time it did not get as much attention as the Voting Rights Act and the Medicare/Medicaid Act, but it had just as much of an impact in the shaping of the present-day United States.(124)
After 1965, most immigrants still came from a handful of countries; Senator Kennedy simply changed which countries those would be. But he probably didn't foresee how they would change the nation's racial and ethnic composition. 22.5 million immigrants arrived between 1965 and 2000; in the past most immigrants used to come from Europe, but now the largest shares came from Latin America and Asia. And while immigration quotas remained under the new law, they did not apply to family members of immigrants who had already arrived. In 2005, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the top ten countries supplying immigrants were Mexico (161,445), India (84,681), China (69,967), the Philippines (60,748), Cuba (36,261), Vietnam (32,784), the Dominican Republic (27,504), South Korea (26,562), Colombia (25,571) and Ukraine (22,761). Of these, only Mexico had been a major source of immigrants before 1960. Also, because the immigrants tended to settle in high-population areas, California, Florida, Texas, and the Northeastern states were more strongly affected than "Heartland" states like Kentucky and Montana.
Unfortunately, not all immigrants entered the country legally. From the 1970s onward, illegal immigration became a growing problem. Most of the illegal immigrants were job seekers from Mexico, Central America and Canada. They justified their presence by taking jobs that US citizens didn't want to do, but many US citizens feared increased competition for jobs nonetheless. Immigration laws were so poorly enforced that there was little danger of illegal immigrants being deported, especially if they had children after their arrival ("anchor babies"). To regain control over the borders, President Reagan, on the advice of a bipartisan task force, signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. This offered amnesty for illegal immigrants who hadn't broken any laws besides crossing the border; if they could prove they had been in the country for at least five years, they would receive temporary resident status, which could eventually be upgraded to permanent residency and citizenship. In practice, however, there was extensive document fraud, and while estimates at the time put the number of illegal immigrants at two million, far more people than that applied for amnesty. Worse, there was no more will to enforce the new law than there had been to enforce the old ones.
The influx of illegal immigrants stopped only briefly, and when it resumed, the trickle became a flood. By 1996, the number of estimated undocumented aliens residing in the United States was five million; by 2006 estimates ranged from seven to twenty million. Democrats didn't want to stop illegal immigrants because they saw them as future voters, while Republicans saw them as unskilled labor, allowing American farms and factories to turn a profit (Victor Davis Hanson called them modern-day "serfs" or "helots"). The Mexican government encouraged border crossings because they worked as a pressure valve; as long as Mexicans could cross the Rio Grande, they made few calls for economic and political reform at home. In many American cities and counties, illegal immigrants put a severe strain on schools, social services, health care and law enforcement. Consequently, when another immigration bill was proposed in 2006, both President Bush and Congress supported it, but so many voters were outraged, that Washington had to drop the idea.
In May 2009, customs and border protection officials announced that the number of illegal immigrants captured has declined by 27 percent along the Mexican border, and 13 percent along the Canadian border, compared with how many were captured one year earlier. Assuming that the rate of capture hasn't changed, this means that the number of illegal immigrants crossing the borders is going down. There have also been reports of Mexicans going home, now that the job market has dried up for them. If this is really the case, the illegal immigration problem has been fixed, but only until the economy recovers from the current recession.
In 1987, Ben Wattenberg, a conservative columnist, wrote The Birth Dearth, which warned that if current demographic trends continued, the United States would stop being a predominantly white country. He also saw a future economic crisis and the marginalization of Western nations, due to low birthrates. Although he came across as an alarmist, the basic trend he pointed to was real. White, non-Hispanic Americans were 80 percent of the US population in 1980, and the percentage is now just under 70. A 2009 report from the US Census Bureau predicted that this will drop below 50 percent in 2050.(125)
In some parts of the United States, the ethnic crossover point has been passed already. It happened in the heart of the big cities, when whites escaped deteriorating neighborhoods by moving to the suburbs, and the blacks left behind took over. It also happened along the southern border. At the time of this writing, forty-eight counties in southwestern states, thirty-three of them in Texas, have populations that are more than 50 percent Hispanic. It is a similar story with Miami, FL, which became both a haven for refugees fleeing Cuba, and a port for commerce between Latin America and the eastern US. In Los Angeles, attempts to integrate schools by busing students failed because there weren't enough "Anglos" (non-Hispanic whites) to go around. Finally, Asian-American populations are concentrated in Hawaii and along the Pacific coast, to the point that if you pick up a phone book in Monterrey, CA, you will find more people named "Nguyen" than "Jones."
This is the End of Chapter 5.
100. "Clinton's an unusually good liar. Unusually good. Do you realize that?"--Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey
101. In 1997 the Campaign Study Group, an organization that reports on campaign spending, told CNN that the Clintons had allowed 800 guests to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House, and most of those guests were contributors who between them had donated $5.4 million. If you treat the Lincoln Bedroom like a fancy hotel, this works out to $6,750 a guest per night. They also reported that contributors were invited to meetings called "White House coffees," for $50,000 to $100,000 per invitation.
102. Yasir Arafat made more visits to the White House during the Clinton years than any other world leader. By contrast, the next president would not meet with Arafat at all.
103. Clinton responded in a similar fashion in 1996, when Cuba shot down two unarmed airplanes belonging to a Cuban-American humanitarian group, "Brothers to the Rescue." Aside from continuing the ongoing US embargo against Cuba, nothing was done to punish Fidel Castro. On the other hand, Clinton did have something to say in 1995 when a federal government building in Oklahoma City was blown up by a right-wing extremist, Timothy McVeigh; he accused radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh of inspiring McVeigh to commit that deed.
104. Foreigners were interested in the Lewinsky scandal, but not for the same reasons as Americans. The French wanted to know why Clinton didn't have more affairs; most French leaders would. Africans wanted to know why Clinton didn't have a son with her, because Hillary's only child was a daughter, Chelsea. And the Russians simply wondered why Monica Lewinsky was still alive.
105. You can see the peak and collapse of the high-tech promise in who was represented in Superbowl advertising at the time. Because millions of viewers watch that championship football game every year, many companies want to advertise there, and competition has driven up the price of ads so that a thirty-second spot on TV can cost millions; consequently, for all but the largest companies, a Superbowl ad can be a do-or-die gamble that will cost an entire year's advertising budget. In January 2000, seventeen high-tech companies ran Superbowl ads, but one year later, only seven of those companies were still in business.
106. "Ma" Richards was best known for what she said about the first George Bush, in a speech at the 1988 Democratic convention: "Poor George Bush! He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth!"
107. "A few days ago, Senator Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the Woodstock Concert Museum. Now, my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time."--John McCain, making fun of Hillary Clinton's proposal to build a museum to Woodstock, 2007.
109. The idea that Bill Clinton was the "first black president" came from a black feminist, Toni Morrison, who called him that in a 1998 New Yorker article. She was not looking at racial ancestry. Instead, Morrison looked at Clinton's stand on the issues, and superficial, cultural similarities. Like many black Americans, Clinton started out poor, came from a single-parent household, liked fried chicken, played the saxophone well, and was busted by white conservatives.
110. I'm guessing that my mother's favorite comic strip, "Pogo," with its cute swamp animals and polite political humor, would not succeed in today's hypersensitive market; the public's tastes in entertainment have changed too much since the mid-twentieth century.
111. Rather than spell out their full names, some historians simply call George Herbert Walker Bush "Bush 41" and George Walker Bush "Bush 43," because they were the 41st and 43rd presidents respectively. The Bushes themselves encouraged this, by giving each other the nicknames of "41" and "43."
112. In a classic case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing, immigration officials approved the visa application of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the September 11 hijackers, in March 2002--six months after he had killed himself for Allah! President Bush was not amused, and he created a new immigration agency to replace the old one.
113. Osama bin Laden disappeared at this point. Once or twice a year after that, his supporters released a video or audio tape with his latest speech, but the footage was either faked, or reused material, so it gave no clues on bin Laden's condition or whereabouts. Eventually he was located by other means; in 2011 US Navy SEALs dropped into the compound in Pakistan where he had been staying, and shot him dead.
114. Most of the opponents to the war in Iraq were Democrats, and apparently they forgot that they had supported military action when Bill Clinton bombed Kosovo. The best quote the author has heard, comparing Iraq to Vietnam, came from this letter to The Wall Street Journal:
115. However, Kerry found out in 2002 that two of his grandparents were Austrian Jews, who secretly converted to Catholicism and changed the family name from Kohn to Kerry, before immigrating to the United States. Thus, he was half-Jewish, too.
116. When it came to manners, Teresa was no Jackie Kennedy. Like John Kerry, she caused a stir by saying embarrassing things regularly, like when she told a reporter to "Shove it." This couldn't have helped her husband's campaign. After the election, John Hawkins, a conservative blogger at RightWingNews.com, had this to say about her: "Most Republicans should probably be grateful for Ms. Heinz-Kerry's flubs because if there had been some sort of bizarro-world wife swap and George Bush would have been stuck with old foot in her mouth while John Kerry would have been married to Laura Bush, we'd probably be talking about President Kerry today."
117. My pet theory about the 2004 presidential election is that the most important votes were cast by the Amish community of Ohio. One news story told me that the Amish got more than half of the absentee ballots, so that they wouldn't have to use those "evil electronic voting machines." And it's a safe guess that most of them voted Republican, because nobody expected them to endorse a party platform that favors same-sex marriage. Think about it. These simple folks stay out of the limelight; most of the time we aren't even aware that the Amish are there. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if both major parties ignored them completely, when they campaigned in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And yet these people, who are stuck in the seventeenth century, may have decided what course twenty-first-century America will take. Do they sound a little like the Hobbits in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings?
118. Moveon.org, a Democratic think tank, was founded in 1998, during the Clinton impeachment. The name referred to the attitude expressed by Democrats at the time: "Sure, he did it and lied about it, now let's put it behind us!" However, during the Bush years Moveon.org did not live up to its name; its members could not get over the Republicans winning in 2004, or even in 2000.
119. Bush wasn't very popular abroad, either. In 2004 Democrats asserted that if the whole world's population could vote in that year's elections, John Kerry would win. My response to that was, "Big deal, if the animal kingdom could vote, Ralph Nader would be our next president!" Part of the unpopularity was no doubt jealousy over the success of the United States; it can get lonely at the top, as the saying goes. However, that feeling started to fade in Bush's second term, when France and Germany, two big opponents of the Iraq war, elected new leaders who liked the United States better than Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder did.
120. This does not mean that everything is right in California. Californians had gotten used to the idea that they could have everything, presumably because of the state's spectacular scenery, the mild climate along the coast, and Hollywood's dreamy influence. They encouraged California's government to block large areas of land from development, in the name of protecting the environment, and banned offshore drilling for the same reason. Consequently, California's energy prices were among the highest in the nation, and real estate got so expensive that a person earning $250,000 a year could not afford a house in San Francisco. In the 1990s the Democrats gained total control of the government, and they turned the state into a "test lab," to show everybody what a great job they could do. The result was that they raised spending beyond any hope of balancing the budget. When the Democratic governor, Gray Davis, revealed the size of the deficit, he became so unpopular that he was removed in 2003 by a special recall election, but his Republican successor, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, could not fix the problem. Thus, the state has become ungovernable. At the time of this writing, the state--or as some call it, a "job-free zone"--has the highest income and business taxes in the nation, a $41 billion deficit, a credit rating slashed to junk-bond status, and much of its middle class relocated to Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
121. In the 1970s, 90 percent of the population in Hamtramck, a Detroit suburb, claimed Polish ancestry. Because he was also Polish, Pope John Paul II made it a point to stop in Hamtramck when he visited the United States. But over the next thirty years, immigrants from Moslem countries (e.g., Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis, Africans, etc.) displaced the Polish community, to the point that in 2004, the Hamtramck city council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer, five times a day. This is all the more ironic when one remembers which country saved central Europe from an Islamic invasion, in 1683.
122. Near Detroit, the city of Flint has lost so many people that the remaining population cannot support the police and other people needed to patrol and maintain every neighborhood, so in 2009 the treasurer of Michigan's Genesee County announced a plan to tear down as much as 40 percent of Flint, letting the abandoned districts return to nature. If the idea catches on, such bulldozings could take place in other declining communities. Does this remind you of the statement made during the Vietnam War, that soldiers had to destroy a village to save it? By contrast, in the old West, unsuccessful communities were simply deserted, becoming "ghost towns."
123. The "baby bust" may have been caused by the same factor that caused fewer babies to be born in the 1930s; the economy was poor for most of the 1970s, when the Baby Boomers were at their peak childbearing age.
124. "Be careful in revising those immigration laws of yours. We got careless with ours."--an Indian on a New Mexico reservation in the 1960s, giving advice to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
125. This trend, along with civil rights legislation, is why non-whites have played an increasingly important role in modern American society. To give two recent examples, Louisiana elected the first Indian-American governor (that's Asian Indian, not Native American) in 2007, and the first Vietnamese-American congressman in 2008.
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