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It took the “miracle of the oil,” a one-day supply burning for eight days, to resanctify the temple in Jerusalem after the Syrian Greeks ran swine through it during the ancient days of the Maccabees. It will take a far greater miracle than that to restore the United States to sound health and international respect, once George W. Bush and “Dick” Cheney complete their eight-year rampage on January 20th.
Nearly all of their intentions were made clear in the earliest weeks of their administration, well before the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. On his very first day in office, for example, Bush blocked federal aid to groups offering abortion services overseas— and on his tenth day, he announced his “faith-based initiative,” which ultimately channeled billions in federal funds for poverty relief and social programs to religious organizations, almost exclusively Christian ones. This constituted payback to the Evangelical right, which had invested heavily in Bush’s election. And the payback has never slackened: The Supreme Court and federal judiciary, the Justice Department, the National Institutes of Health, even the Parks Department and the Environmental Protection Administration, have all been seriously compromised by religious meddling, censorship, and hiring biases for eight long years.
On his twentieth day in office, Bush sent his record-setting $1.6 trillion tax cut plan to Congress — a fat gift to America’s very richest stratum. A few days later, on February 28th, he announced his support for a bill to make it harder for people to file for bankruptcy — a slap in the face of working America. Within his first month, in other words, Bush set in motion the kind of oligarchic, unregulated, debt-laden capitalism that has produced the financial crisis of 2008 and the threat of economic recession, if not depression, worldwide.
Within three months of taking office, Bush and Cheney had rejected international agreements on land mines, nuclear testing and an international criminal court. Simultaneously, they withdrew our country from the Kyoto treaty on global warming, which had already been signed by one hundred and seventy-eight nations. Bush and Cheney cavalierly questioned the scientific consensus about the changing climate and began agitating for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other plum items lobbied for by Big Oil and its associated industries. Here were clear signs of the administration’s disdain for environmental concerns, loyalty to the most rapacious sectors of corporate America, and utter disregard for international accountability — which peaked with the “preemptive war” doctrine enunciated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and put into action in Iraq in 2003.
Obeisance to the religious right, cronyism with the corporate elite, environmental heedlessness, military arrogance — these policies of America’s worst president in generations were on display during the first hundred days of his misrule. Once the World Trade Center came down, of course, even the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were treated with less respect than a presidential “signing statement,” and even the right to vote became a computerized crap shoot. Soon, even sensible progressives were muttering the word “fascism” and fearing a “state of emergency.” Ultimately, the imperial ambitions of Bush and Cheney were kept in check less by Congress, the Supreme Court, the press, or any other arm of our democracy, than by their own sheer incompetence — in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in Baghdad after Operation Iraqi Freedom, in allowing our country’s infrastructure to degrade while the national deficit exploded, and so on. Unlike dictators of old, Bush and Cheney didn’t get the trains to run on time.
“There you go again, Joe, looking back to history.” That’s what Governor Sarah Palin said in scorn to Senator Joseph Biden during their one and only debate. But as the metaphor of khanike (Hanuka) shows, when you run pigs through the Temple, with or without lipstick, it takes eight days, not one — more illumination, not less — to recognize the damage and then restore the sanctity of the place.
Besides, the debacle is not “history,” and will not end on January 20th, 2009. American troops will not be out of Iraq, and wounded veterans will not miraculously rise from their wheelchairs. The dollar will not suddenly rebound in value, and the national debt will not loosen its stranglehold on the federal government. Schools, roads and bridges will not suddenly become shiny and new, and medical offices will not suddenly open their doors to the uninsured. The CIA torture machine will not suddenly break down. The Muslim world will not suddenly admire us. The globalized economy will not suddenly become socially responsible. The United States is bleeding heavily from multiple wounds, and it’s going to take intensive care, not over-the-counter treatment, to restore our country to health.
As we write this editorial in early October, for an edition of Jewish Currents that will likely reach most readers after Election Day, we cannot know if Americans will allow their conservative passions and cockeyed racism to keep our society in the sinkhole for four more years, or give liberalism a new chance. Whoever ends up in the White House, however, is going to have to be confronted and pressured into showing forceful, progressive leadership. The election is, at best, a beginning.