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Bush uses crises to push preset agenda

THE BALTIMORE SUN

HERE IS a prediction: Soon, maybe by the time you read this, the Bush administration will argue that the Great Blackout of '03 demonstrates the need for more energy deregulation and privatization, a beloved administration theme.

We can already hear the first bleats of this contention from certain sectors.

Why is this foreseeable? Because it follows a pattern of behavior by the Bush White House to use crisis and panic to promote predetermined actions no matter the threat, situation or need.

A familiar example: During the 2000 campaign, the economy seemed to be humming and everyone forecast years of budget surpluses. George W. Bush touted his massive tax cut as a return of that surplus to its rightful owner, the American taxpayer. Never mind that his cuts went mostly to the rich and that government programs generally help the average Joe.

After the inauguration, the economy sank fast and the surplus disappeared. Sept. 11 hurt the economy more, and soon we were back to deficits. But then, in the midst of economic anxiety, the tax cut and all future tax cuts were recast as the best and only solution to our financial woes - just you wait! And now, despite obvious failure, the White House continues to push tax cuts.

Example two: The invasion of Iraq was also predictable the moment Mr. Bush took office. Many commentators have noted, though neither frequently nor stridently enough, the influence of a group of neoconservatives under the rubric the Project for the New American Century. In 1998, they called on President Bill Clinton to invade Iraq in order to frighten the Middle East and the world into a new era of peace and democracy.

The group is no conspiracy hatched in obscurity, but a collection of prominent ideologues with a Web site. Among them: Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Well, so what?

Sept. 11 provided a unique opportunity for this group to accomplish its goal. We knew then as we know now that Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 terrorists, but the strike on American soil and subsequent alarm offered a convenient opening for the Project for the New American Century's invasion scenario.

As backup, we heard that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction threatened us imminently.

The fact is that Mr. Hussein's overthrow has indeed frightened our enemies, but Iran and North Korea have consequently accelerated their nuclear weapons programs - the precise opposite of the theoretical outcome.

Need some more examples?

We have seen the same pattern with regard to government secrecy. Before 9/11, the Bush administration was on track to become the most secretive regime in memory. The terrorist strikes again provided handy cover as the cry of "homeland security" replaced "national security" as the favorite counter to public scrutiny.

Another? Big forest fires, we are told, call for more logging, as though administration ties to the logging industry had nothing to do with this naked boondoggle.

All of these policies - tax cuts, invasion, secrecy, anti-environmentalism - were foregone conclusions the moment Mr. Bush was elected. No matter the circumstance, the administration will deliver its ideological results. Danger, disaster and dread - the horrors of 9/11 among them - become mere pretext for domestic and foreign policies already in the works.

And what have we, the American public, gained? Appalling joblessness, increasing deficits, decreasing security, endangered civil rights, misdirection in Iraq and threatened natural areas. With this record to guide us, we can predict the results of more energy deregulation and privatization.

Conservatives have always claimed to present the voice of reason, but they are more allergic to clear fact and logic than the liberals and postmodernists they constantly denounce. The truth is that under the watch of President Bush and his conservative and corporate allies, our country has not prospered. We do not feel safer. We certainly should not feel freer.

The modus operandi of Mr. Bush and his crowd is to use times of danger to push distasteful ideology and then wait for free-market utopia to break out all over. It is a beautiful dream, but the results speak for themselves.

Jim Salvucci teaches English at Villa Julie College in Stevenson.

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