Years ago, I used to teach political science to students whose level of interest ran the range from apathetic to enthusiastic — with a good chunk in the middle just trying to get a decent grade on the way to getting a degree. Those on the apathetic end of the spectrum would often drop the course, those in the middle would muddle though, and those who were enthusiastic would, as you can probably guess, excel and go on to do great work in school. Some semesters there would be a larger group of enthusiastic students; others, the apathetic types would sit there until that last possible drop date and then they would be gone — leaving me with an embarrassingly paltry number of students. It was a game that was played at this particular community college, and the game was “Priorities.” What did you want out of life? What were your priorities during college? For the apathetic types, their priority was to keep their parents off their backs by demonstrating that they were motivated enough to go to college, but because of a series of circumstances, life got too busy and they had to drop — but not before renewing their car insurance to get the student discount!

For the college, its priority was, as one of the Deans told me, to “keep butts in those chairs — ” because that’s how the college got money from the state. For me, the priority was “pie in the sky” idealism. I guess I was a true believer in a mild form of “positive liberty” I use the term “mild” because I’ve studied enough history and politics to know that to be a true believer (without the caveat of a term like “mild’) carries with it the danger of extremism. But I really believed that, armed with knowledge of both the theories and practices of politics in the world, students would become better citizens. Having informed citizens who could filter the crap from the enormous amount of data that’s hurled at us everyday was, to me, an ideal worth being dedicated to.

While it’s easy to be drawn into the petty fights that erupt on a political campaign, in the halls of Congress, or in the daily slugfest of 24-hour cable news, what’s really important in politics is following the priorities of those who have the power to dole out money. Every year, the President and the Congress battle over how tax dollars are going to be spent, and every year one group blames the other for shortcomings. It’s the same old song and dance that newspapers duly report on page A4, but save the “sexy” stuff for the front page — which is a whole other set of priorities that I could easily get trapped into writing about.

This year is no different. We’re at the tail end of the Bush presidency, and for a guy who came in touting “compassionate conservatism” in 2000, looking at his budget priories for 2008, it’s clear that whatever compassionate intentions Bush had are now clearly dwarfed by the PNAC wing of his administration who’ve had war, global hegemony, and profit on their mind since the mid ’90s. Looking at the proposed budget Bush wants Congress to approve reveals priorities that clearly show he’s got war and virginity on his mind. To wit:

  • Pentagon +$35 billion
  • Department of Homeland Security +$46.4 billion
  • Department of Veterans Affairs +$36.6 billion
  • Food and Drug Administration +$2.4 billion
  • Head Start +$7.4 billion (some compassion showing here?)
  • Abstinence Education +$137 million (more virgins!)

The losers?

  • Heating subsidies to low income individuals and families -$570 million.
  • All other domestic program funded by Congress will either have budget freezes or decreases to pay for the increases in the priorities above.

X factors in this shell game:

  • $150 billion in economic stimulus package.
  • Declining tax revenues due to an economic downturn
  • $70 billion requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year the White House requested $200 billion for the wars, so it looks like there’s going to be supplemental budget request coming down the pike later this year.
  • Another banner year for budget deficits — which means asking the Chinese to extend our home equity line of credit to meet the shortfall.

The total budget is $3 trillion. Like Mr. T said, I pity the fool who becomes our next President. Because of the priorities of the Bush administration for the past seven years, we’re in an economic pickle that will take a good four years to dig out from under. The problem is that even if a Democrat becomes President, the cost of the wars is going to be high even if there’s a draw down of troops. That means whatever high hopes and campaign promises Clinton and Obama are making will have to wait as the legacy of Bush’s priorities linger well into the next administration.

Circle Jerks, “When the Shit Hits the Fan” (Download)

Golden Shower of Hits (Amazon)