is growing obvious to many Americans from Wall Street to Main Street
that George W. Bush is not up to the awesome job of the presidency of
the United States. Though his united-we-stand poll numbers remain high,
there can be little dispute that his 18 months in office have been among
the most disastrous in U.S. history.
From Bushs swearing-in despite losing the national
popular vote, through the first act of war on the U.S. mainland in modern
times, to the shattered confidence in U.S. securities markets and the
resurgence of the national debt, the slide has been steep and seemingly
unstoppable. In particular, Bush appears clue-less what to do about the
Still, no one seems willing to ask two relevant
questions: What further damage can the nation expect over the next 30
months of Bushs term? And is there a constitutional way to spare the
country that experience by easing Bush out of office, especially given
that a plurality of American voters wanted Al Gore in the White House, not
Just asking the questions might help focus the
thinking of Bush's economic advisers and give them a fresh incentive to
review some of their faltering policies.
A year and a half into the job, Bush doesnt appear
to be getting better at one of the presidents most important duties,
bolstering the U.S. economy. During the campaign, Bush touted himself as
the MBA candidate who had spent years in corporate boardrooms, although
his success was more in getting bailed out by his fathers friends than
in actually turning a profit.
Bush now has put his reverse-Midas touch on display
at the national level. He held a poorly received press conference on July
8 as he took on what he called corporate mal-fee-ance. He followed
that on July 9 with a lackluster speech on corporate responsibility that
drew attention to the hypocrisy of him condemning insider loans and other
practices that he himself enjoyed during his business career.
Wall Street, with its cold-eyed look at near-term
expectations for making or losing money, promptly pointed the blue-chip
Dow Industrial Index downward, as it fell nearly 700 points for the week.
Since Bush took office on Jan. 20, 2001, the Dow has fallen 18 percent,
the broader S&P 500 has dropped 31 percent and the technology-heavy
Nasdaq has been cut in half.
Bushs reaction to the worsening losses was to wave
the bloody flag of Sept. 11 as a way to playing down the significance of
the nations economic pain.
As a result of the evil done to America (on Sept.
11), theres going to be some incredible good here at home, too, Bush
said in a speech in Minneapolis on July 11. I believe people have taken
a step back and asked, Whats important in life?
You know, the bottom line and this corporate
America stuff, is that important? Or is serving your neighbor, loving your
neighbor like youd like to be loved yourself?
While Bushs invocation of Sept. 11 and the Golden
Rule may have won him some political points, his comments offered little
solace to the millions of Americans whose savings have been devastated by
the stock market declines during Bushs tenure.
More than one half of American households are
invested in the stock market through retirement funds, mutual funds and
direct stock ownership. To them, the trillions of dollars in losses from
what Bush calls this corporate America stuff mean retirement
plans ruined, family vacations canceled, college tuitions that cant be
paid, and sudden layoffs by companies whose market value has collapsed.
Dreams, big and small, are being dashed.
Certainly, some of the problems in the economy
predated Bushs arrival, and the markets might not continue these
precipitous declines in the months ahead. But Wall Streets slump on
Bushs watch is not a coincidence either.
When it comes to the success of the national economy,
Washington does matter. Smart government policies help. Stupid ones hurt.
Government investment in national infrastructure such as building the
interstate highway system in the 1950s can lay the groundwork for
economic advances. A wise balance between government regulation and a free
market also is vital.
Three fundamental points underpinned the tripling of
stock prices when President Bill Clinton and Vice President Gore were in
office. They worked to bring the world together as a common market, with
U.S. companies in the lead. They supported government investment in the
Internet and other technologies to create a climate for businesses to
innovate and profit. (Remember their personal visits to schools to wire
them up for the Internet, a project that Gore had pushed since his years
in Congress.) And, they brought the soaring federal budget deficits under
control, freeing up capital for investment.
Campaign 2000 was muddied by many trivial or bogus
issues, such as the color of Gores clothing and Bushs supposed
dignity. But the election also represented a choice between a continuation
of the Clinton-Gore vision or a change to Bushs laissez-faire approach.
Bush called for tax cuts weighted to the wealthy,
less government activism on the economy, and repudiation of
multilateralism. Bush opposed working with other nations on mandatory
standards to address global warming, for instance.
By contrast, Gore wanted more government investment
in technologies with the goal of developing fuel-efficient cars,
alternative energy sources and other job-creating projects. He also
favored broader cooperation with other nations to reduce world tensions
and address environmental problems.
The American people narrowly chose Gore, giving him
more than a half-million-vote edge over Bush. Gore also stood a strong
chance of winning a recount in the key state of Florida, when Bush rushed
to the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 9, 2000, and got five political allies
to stop the counting of votes. (Later, a group of news organizations
conducted an unofficial recount of legally cast votes in Florida and found
that Gore carried the state by a tiny margin regardless of what kind of
chads were counted, whether dimpled, partially perforated or fully
punched through. See "So
Bush Did Steal the White House," at Consortiumnews.com)
The Bush Effect
On Jan. 20, 2001, Bush moved into the White House and
began implementing his economic strategy.
He won a $1.3 trillion-plus tax cut, installed
anti-regulatory regulators in key offices, and pulled the U.S. out of
international efforts, such as the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.
Bushs interest in the outside world focused on securing oil and other
raw materials needed for the U.S. economy. He essentially was offering a
mid-20th Century vision with none of the new ideas that had
been the life-blood of the historic bull market of the 1990s.
The Sept. 11 attacks, which the Bush administration
failed to prevent, made matters worse by deepening the divisions in the
world, especially between the United States and Muslim countries. Many of
the one-billion-plus Islamic adherents see Bushs crusade to rid
the world of evil as aimed at them.
Though Bush denied any religious overtones, the mass
arrests of hundreds of Islamic men in the United States and Bushs
strong support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharons crackdown on
Palestinian militants left many Muslims increasingly alienated from the
U.S. Instead of more commerce with Islamic countries, U.S. businessmen
shied away from the physical dangers of Pakistan and saw their products
facing boycotts in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the Persian Gulf countries.
This is getting very serious, said Mahmoud El
Kaissouni, an executive at fast-food franchisee Americana Foods in Cairo,
in June. Some (U.S.) chains are experiencing 50 percent losses (in
sales). Were just trying to survive. [USA Today, June 26, 2002]
Bushs planned invasion of Iraq and his inclusion
of Iran as part of his Axis of Evil suggests to Wall Street more
turmoil ahead in Muslim countries. Instead of a world coalescing into a
prosperous common market, investors are looking at a world splintering
apart, which means diminished prospects for business growth what the
stock market roughly measures. In other words, declining stock prices are adjusting
to the future that the Bush administration is presenting.
On the federal budget, Bush has played the role of
sorcerers apprentice. He has transformed record budget surpluses
that held out the promise of a debt-free U.S. government into a
new flood of red ink. His administration now projects a federal deficit
for this fiscal year of $165 billion while congressional experts say the
number may end up closer to $200 billion. The budget that Bush inherited
from Clinton, ending last Sept. 30, had a $127 billion surplus.
The prominent billboard in New York City that for
years kept a running tabulation of the mounting U.S. debt was turned off
the last two years as the numbers started going down. Now, it's been
flicked back on, with the again-rising debt set at $6.1 trillion. [NYT,
July 13, 2002]
Bush also has failed to restore investor confidence
in the U.S. securities markets rocked by accounting scandals. The cascade
of stunning financial restatements started last fall with Bushs friends
at Enron Corp. and has continued through reports of cooked books at
While trying to talk tough about corporate abuses,
Bush found himself in a compromising position. On July 8, he was asked by
reporters about an income restatement at Harken Energy Corp. while Bush
was a director on the audit committee. The president responded, All I
can tell you is that in the corporate world, sometimes things arent
exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures.
Other Bush-proposed reforms clashed with his
personal past practices. Bush demanded prompt disclosures on insider stock
sales, yet some of his Harken sales were reported up to eight months late.
In his July 9 speech, he called on companies to stop granting loans to
corporate officers, though he benefited from low-interest loans while at
Bushs drive to bolster the integrity of U.S.
markets also was undercut by disclosures that the Securities and Exchange
Commission is investigating Halliburton Corp.s accounting practices
that may have inflated revenue while Vice President Dick Cheney was the
chief executive officer. From the years of that questionable revenue,
Cheney reaped millions of dollars in stock options and bonuses.
The Agnew-Nixon Option
So what can the nation do if the stock markets
continue to grind downward, unemployment continues to rise and the
government debt continues to swell all while Bush flounders? Is there
a way to bring in a new president who can inspire confidence or offer
fresh ideas for getting the country back on track? Is it really
unthinkable to suggest that Bush step aside for the good of the
One potential way out for the nation would be a
creative use of the Agnew-Nixon model with the sequential resignation of
Cheney, the appointment of a new vice president and then Bushs
That sequence enabled the country to extract itself
from the Watergate debacle following the 1972 election. First, Vice
President Spiro Agnew, who was facing corruption charges from his days
prior to the vice presidency, resigned on Oct. 10, 1973. Then, Rep. Gerald
Ford, R-Mich., was approved as Agnews replacement under the terms of
the 25th Amendment. Next, Richard Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, ending
what President Ford memorably called our long national nightmare.
A Cheney-Bush scenario would have similarities to the
Agnew-Nixon situation as well as differences.
Both Nixon and Bush had a cloud over their electoral
legitimacy. Though Nixon won in a landslide in 1972, the Watergate
disclosures showed that his re-election campaign had engaged in systematic
dirty tricks to undermine potential Democratic challengers. In effect,
Nixon arranged for the election to be between himself and George McGovern,
the Democrat whom Nixon considered easiest to defeat.
Bushs electoral legitimacy might be even more
tainted. Having lost the national popular vote to Gore and facing
potential defeat in the Electoral College if all legal votes were counted
in Florida, Bush dispatched Republican hooligans to Miami to intimidate
vote counters. When a statewide recount was ordered anyway, Bush got five
Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop it, an unprecedented act in
Cheney is not facing the kind of criminal charge that
destroyed Agnew's career. But besides the cloud over accounting practices
at Halliburton, Cheney has suffered multiple heart attacks.
The first phase of an Agnew-Nixon solution would be
for Cheney to step down. A Cheney resignation would let Bush pick a new
vice president, who would need approval by both houses of Congress.
That choice could go to a widely respected
Republican, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has been at the
forefront of the battle to reform U.S. accounting practices. Also, as a
Vietnam-era war hero, McCain would have a more subtle understanding about
the dangers of world conflict than Bush, who sat out the Vietnam War in
the National Guard and appears even to have skipped a year of required
guard duty. [Boston Globe, May 23, 2000]
A Divided Term
Another option would be to pick Gore, who arguably
won Election 2000. Gore has possibly the broadest experience in
coordinating government-and-business policies to achieve powerful growth
for the U.S. economy. At Clintons side, Gore also saw how to bring what
looked like uncontrollable budget deficits under control.
The choice of Gore also would reflect America's
tradition of fair play. If Bush were to resign after two years, the
presidency would have, in effect, been split between the two men who ran a
close race in 2000. A divided presidential term also would give the
American people a chance to judge Gore's performance before 2004. If Gore
can't turn the economy around, he could be booted out after two years,
Granted, this Agnew-Nixon solution for easing Bush
out of office is a highly unlikely scenario. But is it any stranger than
the Republican drive to impeach Clinton over lying about a consensual sex
act? Is it any more shocking than the U.S. Supreme Court blocking ballots
of American citizens from being counted and having the popular-vote loser
installed as president?
The political bottom line is that the American people
did not elect George W. Bush. So, they have reasonable cause to expect a
change in the White House if he is found incapable of addressing the
The biggest obstacle to an Agnew-Nixon solution,
however, would be Bush and his powerful family. In Election 2000, Bush
often acted as if he were entitled to the presidency regardless of the
peoples judgment. He once joked, "If this were a dictatorship, it
would be a heck of a lot easier -- so long as I'm the dictator."
For those reasons, senior members of both parties as
well as business leaders would have to intervene to get Bush to
voluntarily step aside. They would have to persuade Bush that his
resignation at least pending a possible election rematch with Gore in
2004 would be best for the country.
While the odds of such an eventuality are long
indeed, it may be time for Americans to begin weighing constitutional
alternatives to another 30 months of a Bush presidency. An Agnew-Nixon
solution and a quick reversal of Bushs economic policies could
spare the people far worse consequences down the road.
At minimum, a national debate about the Agnew-Nixon
option might instill some urgency in the Bush administration's thinking
about a realistic strategy for turning around the economy. Nothing
concentrates a politician's mind like the prospect of being put out of