No Comment — September 18, 2009, 11:20 am

Bush’s Gilded Age

Defenders of former president George W. Bush now focus their efforts on claims that he enhanced the nation’s security. There aren’t many objective metrics for assessing security, but there’s only one they use over and over again: 9/11 did not recur on his watch. One weakness of this argument is that 9/11 did not occur on the watch of any of his predecessors, either. But when we look at the performance of the nation’s economy under Bush, it’s easy to understand the obsession with making a case on national security. The definitive numbers are now in from the U.S. Census, and they’re devastating. In particular, Bush’s failures stand out when he’s stacked up next to his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Marc Ambinder does a good job:

Consider first the median income. When Bill Clinton left office after 2000, the median income-the income line around which half of households come in above, and half fall below-stood at $52,500 (measured in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars). When Bush left office after 2008, the median income had fallen to $50,303. That’s a decline of 4.2 per cent…

Bush’s record on poverty is equally bleak. When Clinton left office in 2000, the Census counted almost 31.6 million Americans living in poverty. When Bush left office in 2008, the number of poor Americans had jumped to 39.8 million (the largest number in absolute terms since 1960.) Under Bush, the number of people in poverty increased by over 8.2 million, or 26.1 per cent. Over two-thirds of that increase occurred before the economic collapse of 2008…

The story is similar again for access to health care. When Clinton left office, the number of uninsured Americans stood at 38.4 million. By the time Bush left office that number had grown to just over 46.3 million, an increase of nearly 8 million or 20.6 per cent.

Karl Rove has often been compared to Mark Hanna, the legendary Republican political strategist who virtually invented William McKinley and was the power behind the throne at the height of the era that American historians now call the “Gilded Age.” Bush and Rove brought back the Gilded Age: through deregulation and tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest 1% of Americans, they reintroduced a period of vast wealth accumulation in the hands of a tiny fraction of the country. The term “gilded age” was coined by Harper’s editor Charles Dudley Warner and contributor Mark Twain, who used it as the title of a jointly composed novel. In the novel, they lampooned the greed and political manipulations of the class of industrialists who were then coming to dominate the country and the Republican party to which both Warner and Twain were attached. They used the term “gilded” to reflect the fact that a thin veneer of noble pretense covered a core that was base. If Rove wanted to recreate the America of William McKinley and Mark Hanna, the current Census statistics show that, in one sense at least, he may have accomplished his goal.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Age at death last March of the sturgeon Nikita, Khrushchev’s gift to Norway, after an accidental immersion in salt water:

38

There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today