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Originally published Wednesday, February 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Bush erasing FDR's legacy while waging class warfare

Considering past failures to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest may wonder what is in President Bush's mind when...

Special to The Times

Considering past failures to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest may wonder what is in President Bush's mind when he proposes yet another anti-Bonneville measure.

The president's budget calls for Bonneville to sell its power at "market rates" rather than the lower wholesale rates it has used for nearly 70 years.

This is not the first Republican shot at Bonneville, but in this case it illustrates Bush's obsession with wiping out any vestiges of the New Deal and turning the entire nation over to private business.

Bonneville would not become a private business under his plan, but for all practical purposes, it might as well be one if it loses the keystone of its operation, marketing hydropower to the region's homes and industries.

It would be relegated to the scrap heap that the president wants to use for Social Security, another legacy of the New Deal. Privatization has become the grand mantra of this administration, ranking equally with American military superiority abroad.

There are links. Since we moved, post-Vietnam, to a professional military, many duties once handled by military personnel are contracted out to private industry. In Iraq today, tasks ranging from food service to bodyguards for high-ranking officials have been privatized. That may be fine in some instances, but it further strengthens what the general-turned-president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, termed the "military-industrial complex." And it's very good politics — military units cannot contribute to campaigns, but private contractors can, and do at very high rates.

By building a professional Army, conservatives expand a voting bloc — military families tend to vote Republican — and when you add to this the military contractors plus our huge defense industry, you create one of the basic building blocks of the conservative coalition.

That building block floats on American taxpayer dollars, from Democrats as well as Republicans.

Privatization aims to move us further down this route. The real beneficiaries of Bush's plan to privatize Social Security are in the financial industry, those who sell mutual funds or other investments that might qualify for the new private accounts the president is pushing. Big campaign donors.

To make privatization work, Social Security benefits must be reduced, and billions of dollars borrowed to float the privatization program. That debt will also be held by the financial industry, here and in foreign nations, primarily China and Japan.

Privatization and militarization are two legs of the legacy Bush hopes to leave to history. The third leg is the virtual elimination of social-welfare programs, many of them dating to the New Deal. It's called "starving the beast."

When we choose to spend billions upon billions for military operations, and are required by law to maintain basic payments to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the federal budget can be balanced only if we also increase taxes to pay for these programs. Bush has done the opposite — his tax cuts, primarily for the nation's richest citizens, are driving the country deeply into debt.

We are taking in less than we are spending and there is no end in sight unless we either make massive cuts in spending or increase taxes. Since Republicans have made "taxes" the dirtiest word in the English language — even more deplored than "liberal" — none will dare back a tax increase. Even reversing Bush's giveaway to the wealthiest would be called a "tax increase."

Instead, we build continuing debt, which eventually must be repaid. When the Treasury notes come due, they must be redeemed right off the top of the federal budget. Billions now, it will be trillions if the president gets privatized Social Security.

Consider the future: Payment on the debt is required; basic Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are required; and the military is in the midst of another war to promote democracy.

There is virtually nothing left to pay for federal programs most Americans support, from parks to clean water to border patrols to scientific research.

What to do? Well, they could be privatized (sell BPA to Enron). Or simply nibbled to death. Hence the term, "starving the beast," coined by the anti-tax zealot Grover Nordquist. The president's new budget takes us down that road, a bite here and a bite there.

George W. Bush is one of two radical presidents in my lifetime. The first, Franklin D. Roosevelt, saved the poor and middle classes and built a nation of opportunity. Bush is destroying FDR's legacy and waging class warfare on behalf of wealthy Americans who don't need his help.

Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail him at floydmckay@yahoo.com

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