A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.
— H.L. Mencken
by Reg Whitaker
North Americans voted this fall.
Both American and Canadian elections featured conservative regimes fighting to maintain their hold on office even as the consequences of conservative policies made a mockery of conservative beliefs. Both elections were overshadowed by the rising tsunami of a compounded global crisis: looming environmental catastrophe matched by the collapse of huge financial institutions.
The elections were like games played on the deck of vessels that are being sucked inexorably toward a whirlpool. And the players, especially those in office, but not excluding their opponents, seemed worse than witless in the face of impending disasters. If anything, they seemed bent on outright perversity. Decision time in North America was a major test of democratic institutions. The prognosis is not encouraging.
Americans were facing the most serious decision of the postwar era. The full Bush catastrophe has hit the global fan. A vast empire of debt has been built on deepening federal government deficits ballooning into a multitrillion-dollar national debt (much of it owed to the Chinese and Arab oil sheikhs), not to speak of a gigantic imbalance with the rest of the world.
A world built on borrowed money does not stop with government. Growing income inequality (75 per cent of the economic gains made during the Bush presidency have accrued to the top 1 per cent of superrich income earners) was masked for years by easy consumer credit, much of that leveraged on housing assets (consumer debt is between $2 and $3 trillion). The housing bubble, itself grossly inflated by unsustainable subprime mortgage lending, burst. Ordinary folks could no longer keep their heads above the rising tide of red ink. A deregulated financial sector that had built castles in the air out of securitized debt on the basis of the inane assumption that everything would continue to expand indefinitely imploded, sucking much of the globalized financial sector down with it. In the usual manner of Wall Street intelligence, greed turned to fear, and fear turned to a panicky worldwide stampede of the capitalist herd. Collateral damage to the innocents cannot even begin to be measured.
The first answer of the Bush White House was massive bailouts: socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor. Then, as the crisis spun toward the abyss, relief, temporary at least, was provided by a new plan instigated by the Labour Prime Minister of Britain, and copied dutifully by Washington, to take government equity positions in failing banks (nationalization by any other name). Under extreme duress, Bush was repudiating Reaganism, his party’s cherished ruling ideology of deregulation and letting “free markets” run unchecked, and turning to – Roosevelt and the spirit of the New Deal.