Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 1999 /4 Tishrei 5760
In announcing his candidacy last week, Bradley repeatedly used the "P'' word, promising to "guard the economic fundamentals of our prosperity'' -- presumably like he used to cover his NBA opponents. He then called for "a deeper prosperity ... a prosperity that makes us feel rich inside as well as out.'' Sort of a bull market of the soul, if you will.
Gore's speeches have also been filled with pronouncements on prosperity, even vowing to make America the "world capital of prosperity.'' Which begs the question: Where is the capital now? Russia? North Korea? "I want to keep our prosperity going,'' Gore added in New Hampshire, "and I know how to do it.''
Not wanting to seem soft on prosperity, George W. has gone on a prosperity jag himself, determined not to cede one inch of the humming economy to his Democratic rivals. "Some in this current administration think they've invented prosperity,'' he said. "But they didn't invent prosperity any more than they invented the Internet.'' In his announcement speech, Bush used "prosperous'' or "prosperity'' 15 times. To hear him tell it, prosperity is the panacea. "We must be prosperous to keep the peace,'' he said, suggesting that prosperity can even protect us from "terror and missiles and madmen.'' That's some bull market! Maybe by the time the year is out, we'll hear that the market can heal the sick and infirm. Or turn water into stock options.
Of course, Steve Forbes is the poster child for prosperity. It's his birthright -- and he wears it like a designer cologne ("Prosperity'' -- the new fragrance from Steve Forbes. Vote for him and feel like a billion bucks -- inside and out!). For Forbes, who lately has been railing against Alan Greenspan and "the high priests of finance at the Fed,'' the current prosperity is apparently just not prosperous enough.
Listening to the presidential candidates talk, it's as if they're all auditioning not for leader of the free world but for Regis Philbin's gig on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'' There they are, standing by the ballot box, gravely asking each voter: "Is that your final answer? Are you sure you want to risk it all?''
The problem with this prosperity parade is the assumption that keeping the good times roaring will lead to everyone enjoying them. As Bradley put it in his announcement speech, "We must put every American on the train of that deeper, broader prosperity, for only then will justice reign.'' No mention of giving back, no call to duty, no sacrifice for the greater good. It's the political equivalent of those workout tapes advertised on TV, promising that all you have to do is "order now'' and the pounds and inches will just melt away. It's political Tae-Bo -- all gain, no pain.
So we have the spectacle of candidates from both parties vying for Guardian of the Good Times: "Vote for Us -- We Promise Not to Screw Up a Good Thing!'' It's still the economy, stupid -- only now it's the booming economy, stupid. The only question left is how you like your prosperity: "deeper'' or with a "purpose'' chaser?
It's a theme perfectly in tune with the narcissism of our times, and the narcissism of even the most public-spirited candidates. Take Bradley. Now, I'm not saying his kickoff speech last week was self-centered -- but if he'd patted himself on the back any harder, he might have coughed up a lung. Heaped with hokum, the picture Bradley painted of his life played like a colorized version of a Frank Capra movie -- with Bradley in the Jimmy Stewart role. In a scene right out of "It's a Prosperous -- I mean, Wonderful Life,'' it even featured a good-hearted banker -- Bill's own dad -- who, despite the depths of the Great Depression, "had never foreclosed on a single home.''
Bradley continued with the icon-building -- the small-town kid who through hard work and determination came to embody the American Dream, "without,'' he was quick to add, "a famous family name or great wealth.'' (Al, Steve and George W. -- I think that last part was for you.)
Casting himself as the modern incarnation of "Thomas Jefferson's ... citizen-politician,'' he invoked the spirit of fellow legends and prosperity lovers Abe Lincoln, Thomas Paine and Robert Kennedy. And even when "The Man From Crystal City'' took a break from sculpting the monument he was erecting to himself to say a few words about "people that have been left out'' and the fact that "one out of five children in America still live in poverty,'' he was quick to return to his theme. He assured his audience that "together we can bolster the economic security of working families and thereby set the table for future economic growth.''
So even helping the poor has become just another rail keeping the economic
juggernaut steaming down the track. It is transparently clear that the pollsters have
warned the candidates that the White House will go to the one who can make the
prosperity train go the fastest. As Gore put it, "the foundation of all our progress
must be a strong and abundant prosperity.'' All
09/10/99:Child poverty and the working poor: the horror story we missed