American Delirium
By A.D. Freudenheim

4 February 2002

Shaking myself out of a delirium to write a column is no easy task at the moment; I have a sustained sense that we, the American people, are being bamboozled, and it makes it difficult to focus on the details of where to start any effort at decoding this situation.

A week ago, President Bush gave his first State of the Union address, and managed to sucker us into believing that as we coast through an economic downturn, sustain a war, unbalance our budget (an unstated reality), and stare in mock-horror at the recent revelations about corporate greed … that the state of our nation has never been stronger. Bush's statement might suggest an interesting philosophical proposition - that while America tackles a number of weaknesses, it is at its strongest - but strictly speaking, this probably is not what he meant. I suspect that the rhetorical flourish of being able to state, in such seemingly certain terms, that our union is a strong and healthy one was simply too good to pass up. After all, if former President Clinton could do it at the height of a scandal that threatened to bring down his presidency, then certainly none of the current circumstances should have sent Bush's speechwriters looking in other directions. I just wonder if we are really as healthy as all that.

As the Enron debacle continues to play itself out, the particulars of it become more confusing and yet ever clearer. Probably, none of us should be surprised by the depths of the corruption and gluttony emanating from Enron (or its auditors), and yet we are - bowled-over by the audacity of it, the incredible chutzpah involved in first creating a house of cards, and then in inviting so many other people to live there without admitting the dangers. Americans want to believe Horatio Alger-style stories of rags to riches, and we want to participate in them ourselves; this likely made the growth and evolution of Enron appealing to analysts and investors as well as to its employees, and everyone involved held their breath as long as possible. That Ken Lay, the former head of Enron, received an award from the Horatio Alger Association is not at all ironic - it is simply part of the same American dreamscape.

Yet, as Newsweek's Allan Sloan pointed out in his column last week: the Enron debates are a sideshow, if not an outright diversion, from the details of a federal budget in as much disarray as this one corporation. Sloan provided a simple breakdown of the disappearance of the federal budget surplus, and he connected the delusional belief in the strength of the stock market to the problems with the federal budget. The anticipated budget surplus was due to come from tax dollars - generated from profits from the stock market, among other things. Now, after reducing much of the surplus through tax cuts, and then the addition of costs that can be attributed to September 11-related events, this administration is happily facing deficit spending as a means to fund its initiatives. Not that anyone cares, as long as we get the bad guys in the end.

And now, even that is in doubt; who are the bad guys, anyway? Pakistan's President Musharraf, a former not-so-good-guy, remains one of the good guys for now, although he has been pissing off the World's Largest Democracy (India) over the Kashmir issue, and this is not strengthening his hand in global politics. Osama bin Laden is still a bad guy, but no one knows where he is, and it is uncertain that we will locate him in the near future. There may be both good and bad guys in Iran, but President Bush seems to have alienated all but the most dedicated of the reformers there by referring to them as one-third of an Axis of Evil. (Perhaps the greatest injustice to Iranians was to lump them in with the tremendously impoverished (but nonetheless dangerous) North Koreans, and the tremendously dangerous (and not very impoverished) Iraqis; Iran may be dangerous, but the Iranian government is not wrapped up in its own psychosis the way the Iraqi and North Korean governments are.)

Looking around, the world seems crazy enough as it is, and the next few months may be difficult to get through even with the best political leadership money can buy. At least I can take comfort knowing that we Americans actually have the best political leadership money can buy. Just ask Ken Lay.

Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
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