Nothing is more costly or dangerous than a failed presidency. The powers of the office are without rival. The scope of responsibility spans the globe. When a presidency fails, we all pay the price — no matter what our politics.
When George Bush served up his State of the Union address last week, he did so with his presidency in a state of virtual collapse. None of this was apparent on the TV screen. The address was "interrupted" with numerous standing ovations. The pundits were respectful.
As Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton understood, a president never looks better than on these ceremonial nights. But beneath the bunting and the applause, this president is in trouble.
His war of choice in Iraq has gone bad. Our military is near "snapping," says a report commissioned by the Pentagon. Iraq has become a training ground for international terrorists. The elections have produced a Shiite plurality, led by religious parties that have formed a mutual defense pact with Iran. The Iranian president has called for the destruction of Israel, and the Iraqi leaders that our soldiers are dying to defend stand by his side.
The reconstruction of Iraq is a joke, with literally billions of dollars wasted or stolen, while citizens still have no stable source of electricity. We can't leave because a civil war, already started on the ground, will flare up. We can't stay because our presence simply feeds the terror and destabilization. Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz now projects the actual cost of the Iraq war at $1 trillion.
Iraq has undermined the war on terror. Osama bin Laden is still alive, but that matters little. What matters is that the United States is more despised across the Moslem world. Abu Graib, rendition of suspects to other countries for "interrogation," secret prisons, the administration's tortured defense of torture — all this has fueled anger and hatred and provided recruits for the evolving and decentralized networks of terror.
The administration has done nothing to move us toward energy independence. And by simply being in denial on global warming, it has isolated us in the world on a clear and increasingly present danger.
The administration's trade policies are hollowing out our manufacturing and high tech sectors. Bush has run up the largest trade deficits in the history of humanity.
The administration's top-end tax cuts have failed to produce. Take away the jobs produced by government at all levels and by the military buildup, and the United States has lost an estimated 1 million private sector jobs since Bush came into office. Those same tax cuts have helped rack up record deficits and staggering national debt.
The administration's unrelenting war on seniors continues apace. The new prescription drug program confounds seniors and will end up costing many of them more for drugs — even as it prohibits Medicare from negotiating a better price for drugs and shovels billions to HMOs. The effort to cut and privatize Social Security was blocked, but that debate blocked any sensible response to the growing crisis of pensions.
Inequality has reached record heights. The minimum wage has been frozen, while CEO salaries have soared. The administration does nothing to help labor under corporate assault, even as wages stagnate. African Americans and Latinos suffer disproportionately, even as the administration retreats from the commitment to equal opportunity.
And the ticket to the American Dream — a college education — is being priced out of reach of more and more working families. The administration and the Republican Congress are about to raise interest rates on student loans.
Katrina exposed the administration's incompetence. But the catastrophic failure to reconstruct the Gulf Region is adding to the suffering of those who survived the storm.
The list can go on. It is to no one's advantage. This isn't about an election that's nearly a year away. It's about governing. It's about the country.
This president has three more years in office, and we will all pay dearly if the failures continue.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.