Bill Gave Us Peace and Prosperity
By Denis Hamill www.nydailynews.com
Nine years ago, about one of four people I
met in Brooklyn were either getting laid off from
a job or were already out of work.
The biggest talk on everyone's mind in the
saloons, diners, launderettes and unemployment offices of the city
was work. If you grew up and lived in the working-class
neighborhoods of the outer boroughs, you were usually defined by
your work status.
Terms like "downsizing" were entering the American lexicon.
Full-time jobs were being broken into two part-time jobs so
employers wouldn't have to pay benefits. My first column for the
Daily News in 1992 was about the subject of work, and what it
meant to average New Yorkers.
"How ya doin'?" was the working class refrain. "Workin' or wha'?"
After 12 years of union-busting and voodoo Reaganomics, a lot of
people were hurting. We were still reading George Bush's lips. But
only those fortunate enough to have a j-o-b were paying those new
taxes he swore we would never have to pay. The rest were signing
for unemployment checks. Unemployment reached 7.4% and
inflation was at 4.2%. The Dow Jones was as low as 2,470.
Everywhere I went, people worried about work. And health
insurance, rent, tuition and Christmas. Times were terrible. Unless
you were a Texas oilman, like George Bush, life in America stunk.
That year, 1991, also was the year Bush did NOT win the Gulf
War. I never thought we should have shed a single drop of American
blood for oil, but Bush needed something to improve his approval ratings.
And if the war was going to be about oil, it was at least close to his heart.
So Bush ordered up a live TV war.
Some 800,000 troops from 30 nations went after 545,000 entrenched
Iraqis. And after 148 Americans were killed in battle, Kuwait was
"liberated" when Iraq surrendered after 100 hours. But Bush decided not
to let Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf go into Baghdad and finish the dirty job.
And so today, Saddam Hussein is still around, smirking, making an
A-bomb for laughs. Hoping to use it as leverage against another
oilman named George W. Bush, if we're silly enough to elect him.
That year, everybody watched the Gulf War on TV. It was all there
was to do, since so many people were out of work, sitting on sofas
in places like Bay Ridge and Ozone Park, tuned to CNN, waiting for
the mailman to deliver the unemployment check. Which was mostly
worthless in the high inflation economy.
At George Bush's side through all of this was a guy named Dick
Cheney, his ultra-conservative oilman defense secretary, who this
week was named by George W. Bush as his vice presidential
running mate. Which was really Bush's father, with his hand up the
back of Junior's shirt, saying "read my lips" all over again.
But, in 1991, after being distracted by that live reality-TV war,
rooting for the home team, waving American flags, belching
jingoistic anti-Arab slogans, and rallying around Bush for a
half-hour, America soon went back to being out-of-work. And
scrounging to make ends meet.
When the presidential election rolled around the next year, the slogan
of the Democratic Party — from sea to polluted sea — was
"It's the economy, stupid."
And a guy from Arkansas named Bill Clinton, whom most of us
never heard of, was elected. A lot of those votes came from
working-class people in places like Norwood, Red Hook and
Elmhurst who were tired of signing their names on unemployment
checks and praying that their kids wouldn't get sick at a time in their
lives when they had no health coverage.
After four years of Clinton/Gore, the Dow went up to 6,500,
unemployment dropped to 5.4% and inflation fell to 3.3%. Clinton
was reelected. After eight years of Clinton/Gore, there was a very
dumb scandal that didn't make anyone I know miss a day of work.
But the Dow is now over 10,000, unemployment is 4%, and inflation
is 2.5%. Crime is also down nationwide in double digits.
And most importantly, no Americans are coming home in
body bags to help boost anyone's approval ratings.
Many of the people who I met cashing unemployment checks nine years
ago in Brooklyn, are now gainfully employed, new homeowners, bragging
about their 401-K plans and playing the stock market.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush Jr. teams up with the same busted
valise who helped us NOT win the Gulf War, another anti-choice,
pro-gun Texas oilman, for a rerun of his father's vision of America.
Their slogan might be "Read Our Lips — No More Jobs."
If Al Gore really wants to win all he needs is a simple slogan:
"Are you better off than you were eight years ago?"
Because, in places like the working-class neighborhoods of the outer
boroughs, in this election, it's still the economy, stupid.