Monthly Archives: June 2008

George Carlin: The Best? Or Just the Best We Could Get?

George Carlin used to tell the story of the night that, as a young comic, he jumped into Lenny Bruce’s limo and exclaimed, “I want to be just like you.” Lenny was at the height of his fame at the time, and also at the height of his infamy, with simultaneous pornography trials going on in New York and San Francisco. Lenny, for reasons known only to himself, answered with a quote that turned out to be a Polish proverb. “If you tell the truth, kid, run like hell.”

Carlin sort of told the truth. He softened it, warmed it over and gave it back like milk at bedtime. He didn’t lie but he didn’t exactly shove it in our faces, either. So he never had to run. He made a lot of money instead.

I’m not trying to badmouth the guy, just see him in perspective without the golden aura of nostalgia. The truth is that he was no Lenny Bruce, cutting to heart of hypocrisy and laying it bare, and certainly he was no Richard Pryor, fearless with both his mouth and his life onstage. He had elements of each but they were tightly controlled. He never attacked religion the way Lenny did, although he did his best to give it a hard time, harrying it like a wasp at a church picnic. He never laid his private life bare in front of an audience or made humor from his relationships or loves – or failures – the way Pryor did, although the characters he created did sometimes have the same bright punch of recognition. He didn’t have the kind of courage a comic needs to go all the way, either in social commentary or personal risk. Or maybe he didn’t have that kind of desperation.

He tended to stay safe. His famous “7 words” bit was developed in front of college audiences in the 60’s who were thrilled with a new freedom, not in night clubs before successful businessmen raised on Burlesque and weaned on Milton Berle, who would have been angry, who would have called the police. I’m not saying he should have, I’m only saying he didn’t.

He guarded his career and the risks he took were carefully calculated to preserve it while at the same time he could appear to be going out on a limb. Lenny told audiences full of Catholics that they had invested their faith in an institution riddled with hypocrisy, faithlessness, and corruption. Carlin told audiences full of apostates that they were right. The NYT’s Charles McGrath notes the same characteristic, even if he means to applaud it.

Like all the great comics, Mr. Carlin had a gift for saying — and thinking — things that other people wouldn’t or couldn’t. He wasn’t as threatening as Bruce or Pryor. Especially in his later years, when, mostly bald but with a white beard and just a hint of a ponytail in back, he would bounce onstage in a black sweater, black pants and sneakers, his persona was warmer, cranky rather than angry. He was like your outrageous beatnik uncle.

(emphasis added)

There was always something unthreatening about Carlin. Even when his material wanted to skewer, his manner wanted to ingratiate. Lenny shared the truth with you because he wanted you to get the Great Cosmic Joke. Carlin shared his comedy because he wanted you to like him. There is a fundamental difference between Hard and Soft Truth that is personified in each man: Hard Truths don’t let you off the hook, don’t let you duck, don’t let you make excuses for not facing them. Soft Truth gives you a way to feel superior without having to do anything about it, least of all change your own attitude. Hard Truth challenges you, Soft Truth avoids challenges and gravitates toward comfort in the presence of pain. “It’s not my fault.” The only thing soft about Lenny’s truth was the humor he found in it. The only thing hard about Carlin’s humor was the language he used yo express it.

In a way that difference is an expression of what happened to society at the same time. In the 60’s we were ready to face Hard Truth, ready to do something even if we weren’t quite sure what it was we were supposed to do. Then they killed Jack and Bobby and Martin within a single 5-yr span, thousands of bodies were coming back from Nam, most of them friends and neighbors and jesus god family, and Nixon was the most popular president in history. We had torn society apart and for what? To hand it to wanna-be dictators? Carlin was there before, during, and after. He saw the change, then the turnaround, and his humor followed it. He had an ear for small discrepancies that played to the new desire not to mess with anything big, and a love of playing with language that college-educated if not college aged audiences could relate to. Lenny wanted us to stop the war. Carlin wanted us to make fun of it. Lenny died. Carlin lived.

That is the story of my generation. The motivating forces of my time were taken early and replaced by much softer versions with blurred edges who stepped carefully, suddenly aware that the risks they ran were not, after all, illusions. The Real Thing was replaced by its shadow, which was OK with us because by then we were running from the glare of the spotlight ourselves. By 1970 Lenny would probably have been doing routines about us selling out. Carlin did “7 words”. Without the Hard Truth staring us in our glassy eyes, we settled into the soft recliner of the Me Generation, turning our attention to making the money we once spurned and spurning the activism to which we had once pledged our lives.

Carlin was the perfect comic for us. He fed and confirmed our prejudices without challenging our assumptions. He was safe in a way Lenny never could have been. He was as much as we could absorb, as much as we wanted to absorb, the best we could get, the best we could stand to get. And he played his role to the hilt.

Dump the Dems 6: The Fisa Betrayal

This has been a week of disappointment for those who still believe Democrats are substantially different from Republicans and Obama is the most different of all. The passage in the House, by a Democratic majority, of the abominable FISA Act gutting the Fourth Amendment right to privacy while pretending to protect it, followed by Barack Obama’s unprincipled acceptance of such a bill for political purposes, has sent shock waves through the progressive community. They’re still reeling from it in a sense, so maybe it isn’t fair to expect them to come to terms with the betrayal so soon. OTOH, given a little time to get used to it, they’ll probably start finding excuses to justify it and that’s not good. It will simply postpone the day of reckoning and we can’t afford any more blindness.

I have to wonder how much more it’s going to take for people to make the final leap from the earnestness of rationalization to the realization that there’s nothing to rationalize. Glenn Greenwald and dKos’ Hunter are both skirting the edge of that realization but can’t yet bring themselves to accept it, probably because they don’t want to know how bad our position as citizens really is after two Bush terms and two years of a Democratic Congress acting like Republicans in everything but name. Greenwald:

What the Democratic leadership is saying is quite clear: we will continue to trample on the Constitution and support endless expansions of the surveillance state because that is how we’ll win in swing districts and expand our Congressional majority…. The only objective of Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer is to have a 50-seat majority rather than a 35-seat majority, and if enabling the Bush administration’s lawbreaking and demolishing core constitutional protections can assist somewhat with that goal, then that it what they will do. That’s what they are saying all but explicitly here.

 This is the standard rap and it comes from GOP TP’s as old as Reagan: the Democrats are opportunists who revere polls, believe in nothing and will do anything to win. The other usual memes have to do with Democratic incompetence and/or cowardice, but Hunter comes as close to dispensing with these excuses as any prog I’ve read yet.

 [T]his one was an absolute no-brainer, the one thing that the Democrats, no matter how stunningly incompetent, humiliatingly ineffective or bafflingly capitulating they may be, could manage to win simply by sitting on their damn hands. But no; it took serious work to lose on this one. Serious, burning-the-midnight-oil work to manage to quite so cravenly negate their own oversight duties.

And that is why this will not be forgotten anytime soon. A caucus willing to go to these lengths to satisfy the illegalities of the Bush administration is not one that can easily be defended. It is understandable that it would take a great deal of courage to enforce Congressional subpoenas. We can understand that voting against funding for the war could be risky, if we were to presume that Bush would simply keep the troops in the Iraqi desert to rot regardless of funding.

But this one? This petty, stinking issue of granting retroactive immunity to companies that violated the law, such that they need not even say how they violated the law, or when they violated the law, or how often, or against who, and the whole thing started before 9/11 so it is clear that terrorism wasn’t even a prime factor for doing it — that whole mess is now absolved, no lawsuits, no discovery, no evidence allowed to be presented?

No, that one is indefensible. It is indefensible because it requires not just passive acceptance of a corrupt administration performing illegal acts, but legislators actively condoning those acts with the stroke of a pen. The Democrats are determined to set themselves as partners in committing crimes, then absolving them; there should be nothing but contempt for such acts.

(emphasis added)


 Hunter realizes that they worked at it, realizes the lengths the Dem leadership went to suborn its own party’s representatives, and dismisses the whole idea of “passive acceptance”, yet he focuses on the indefensible nature of the betrayal rather than the reason for it. Maybe he’ll get to that later.

Indeed, it is indefensible on its face, a decision for which there is and can be no excuse or acceptable rationalization. The Democrats openly and shamelessly sold us down the river. The question is, as always, why? Is it cowardice? opportunism? mere election strategy?

I should think if that’s all it was it would be bad enough but Hunter has his finger on what I’ve been saying for some time when he writes, “The Democrats are determined to set themselves as partners in committing crimes.” Yes, Hunter. I know. They are. Two months ago I wrote in “Dump the Dems 5“:


At some point, if you don’t draw a line in the sand and declare “this far but no further” you become a dictator-enabler, an anti-democrat. A Traitor. You may hem and haw and delay until the question is no longer debatable, but when that moment is reached you MUST stand and fight or be accounted a coward, a sell-out, a Traitor to democracy. If you do not, then you and your party – the party that goes along with you – MUST be rejected by democrats because you have betrayed everything they stand for and allied yourself with monarchists who want to return kings to their thrones and send the people packing back to the fetid serfdom from which they emerged 250 years ago.

One CANNOT be a democrat – or a Democrat – if one believes in or supports or aids the reinstitution of monarchy. That ought to be self-explanatory. That it isn’t any more is one of the great sadnesses of Bush’s sad reign.

Call it a prediction if you like. I knew the leadership would get FISA passed despite the numbers of ordinary Democrats who were against it because the leadership are all in the DLC/BD Alliance and the Alliance believes in modern conservative ideals like the restoration of a monarchy – or at least monarchic powers – in America. As Hunter clearly now understands, this was no accident. It was deliberate. It was design.

The Democrats aren’t pretending to be like the Pubs to get elected. They are like the Pubs. They’re under the thumb of a minority of conservative Dems who are, like the Likkud in Israel, warping the party to suit themselves and their conservative agenda. Like conservatives everywhere, they don’t care what the people want, they don’t care what the polls say, and they don’t give a rat’s ass what the majority in their own party thinks. Like Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi, they’re going to do what they damn well please and if the membership doesn’t like it, fuck em.

And like the Pubs, these are no longer people liberals and progressives can compromise with. The FISA bill proves it. They will simply adopt the Republican trick of claiming a compromise when what they’ve really done is craft the right-wing conservative agreement the conservative minority demands. Whether you take Greenwald’s position or mine, the antidote to this poison is the same: either defeat the BD’s or treat the whole party as if they were Pubs and fight them.

Rove Takes Over The SMU Library/Propaganda Center

Andrew Weaver writes at Media Transparency that Karl Rove is sitting in the middle of the Bush Library-Institute at SMU (Southern Methodist University) like a spider sitting in the middle of a web.

Bush’s trickster, Karl Rove, “is planning to take charge…of the design, fundraising, and planning” of the Bush presidential complex at SMU. Benjamin Johnson, a history professor at SMU, attended the 2007 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Several colleagues there reported that Karl Rove had been traveling around the country examining research facilities and discussing how to select Bush institute fellows (Johnson, 2007a). One prominent library director said, “Rove seems to know exactly what the square footage is of the building that will be at SMU and where it will be located on campus” (Johnson, 2007a).

Mark Langdale, president of the Bush library foundation recently confirmed that Rove is advising the organization, stating that he is “a critical resource about what happened in the administration, and he has a lot of good ideas about programming and positioning” (Meyers, 2008). This hands-on involvement by Rove demonstrates the importance of the proposed think tank at SMU to Bush insiders.

Unless the UMC takes a stand, neither SMU nor the UMC will have any say over the actions, agenda, or direction of an autonomous $500 million partisan-driven complex at one of its major universities. Karl Rove, who has a long history of hard-ball partisanship, will be in charge and he will roll out a giant Trojan horse and push it right through the front gate. The 99 year lease for a single dollar with a 249 year option (that the Bush foundation has required) means that after July, 2008 the next chance for the church to address the issue is the year 2357 (Peck, 2008).

Which means, of course, that this is the last effective time the Methodist Church will have a chance to challenge the erection of a propaganda center on their campus that will have as its goal the propagation of the Bush Agenda – torture, Constitution-trashing, monarchical presidential power, preemptive war, falsified intelligence, corporate toadying, etc – ruled over by the conscienceless man who made it happen with trickery, deceit, lies, and thievery. It will, as Andrew writes, “recruit, train, support, organize and deploy the next generation of right-wing political operatives.”

And all of it under Rove’s command.

If that doesn’t scare you, read the rest of the article.

Re-Evaluating An American Tragedy

Critic Irving Howe observed that “Theodore Dreiser has dropped out of the awareness of cultivated Americans” and he was probably right. Dreiser’s turgid prose is well out of fashion, the cognoscenti having gravitated to the cleaner, simpler Hemingway model, and his social concerns have become – or so we would like to believe – irrelevant since the upheavals of the 60’s and the cultural changes since. In a sense you might say that Dreiser’s not on the reading lists because his side won the battle, one of the ironies of being a writer critical of your society and culture tied to the particular time in which you live.

As understandable as the movement away from him might be in the light of late 20th century realities, Dreiser’s real concerns are in fact just as alive today as they were a hundred years ago. Some of the peripherals may have been eliminated but the heart of Dreiser’s critique of American society and the kind of character flaws on which he concentrated are still very much with us. If anything, the kind of characteristics that make Clyde Griffiths, the protagonist of Dreiser’s masterpiece, An American Tragedy, recognizable are even more prevalent today than they were then. Howe again:

In Dreiser’s…novels most of the central characters are harried by a desire for personal affirmation, a desire they can neither articulate nor suppress. They suffer from a need that their lives assume the dignity of dramatic form, and they suffer terribly, not so much because they cannot satisfy this need, but because they do not really understand it.

 We still don’t. Media and entertainment critic Neal Gabler, author of Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Realityexamines the modern descendant and concludes:

It is not any “ism” but entertainment that is arguably the most pervasive, powerful, and ineluctable force of our time–a force so overwhelming that it has finally metastasized into life.


In Dreiser’s day Americans had been taught – and believed – that their lives should have the drama of theater and popular novels, that they should seek beautiful spouses and riches and fame. By 1925 when An American Tragedy was published, movies had taken that belief to the next level, a level not far from Gabel’s metastasizing. Back to Howe:

Money, worldly success, sensual gratification are the only ends they [Dreiser’s characters] know or can name, but none of these slakes their restlessness. They grapple desperately for money, lacerate themselves themselves climbing to success, yet they remain sullen and bewildered, always hopeful for some unexpected sign by which to release their bitter craving for a state of grace, or, at least, illumination.

Which is as good an explanation of the American religious renaissance of the last few decades as we’re likely to find. Even more cogently, it helps explain why American religious sects, particularly the evangelical and fundamentalist ones, are so often inextricably bound to “worldly success” – sanctity is often defined or proven by the amount of someone’s wealth. There are now megachurches preaching, essentially, that God wants you to make money, and that the more you make the more pleased he will be. It’s a peculiarly American conceit to equate the two, and Dreiser was among the first to identify and then dissect it. For obvious reasons he isn’t impressed, yet in An American Tragedy he gives Clyde, his Everyman, a poor, chaste background as the child of penniless and itinerant preachers, people who believe that doing God’s work is more important than making man’s money. Partly that’s because Chester Gillette, who is the model for Clyde, was raised that way and because Dreiser wants to contrast the easy, high living of the upstate New York rich with the low-down poverty of Clyde’s early years. There’s nothing like poverty to explain a passion for money. But mostly it’s because Dreiser wants to examine the locus in the American psyche of this need for sanctity and what Howe called “illumination”.

 Dreiser’s characters are romantics who behave as if the Absolute can be found, immaculately preserved, at the very summit of material power.

We still act that way, even more so. We seem to believe in an Manifest Destiny alright but it has less to do with ruling the world than with a sincere conviction that we can buy our way into Heaven if we just have enough gold. Only here has this complete reversal of nearly all religious theosophy taken deep root, so deep that there are whole sectors of the country where to question it is near blasphemous. As Dreiser foresaw, the symbolic richness of the American Dream has materialized into hard currency.

There are few, if any, American writers who understood the part our passion for money plays in Ameican lives the way Dreiser did. Sinclair Lewis perhaps comes closest but even he never really made the connection between wealth and religion that Dreiser nails to the wall, at least in part through the very outdated stylism that is the biggest criticism of his work.

There is something most critics – including Howe – miss about that style: it’s funny. In Book One, Dreiser uses the now-antiquated language of 19th century literature alright, but as much to make fun of it as because he has, as Howe puts it, “a weakness, all too common among the semieducated, for ‘elegant’ diction and antique rhetoric”. He uses it to establish a tone early on of irony and cutting satire as he describes the theology and pitfalls of Clyde’s early life. He is making fun of the Griffiths, has little use for their rigid piety and small minds. For instance, when describing the mission where Clyde and his family live he lists in their entirety the trite Biblical quotations Mrs Griffiths has chosen to adorn this grubby place : “O God, Thou knowest my foolishness, and my sins are not hid from thee. Psalms 69:5”. He dismisses them with a wave of his hand and a nearly audible raspberry.

 These mighty adjurations were as silver and gold plate in a wall of dross.

The irony builds toward a feeling in the reader of the foolishness of all these characters – as their God, s/he can’t be fooled either by their pitiful notions of a “full life” or their sanctimonius “purity of heart” when that heart hides petty jealousies and a pathetic need to be holier than their neighbors. He seems to have an equal disdain for the dull and the charismatic boob. Ordinary insensitivity to the life and beauty around them is a subject of scorn, but it’s a friendly scorn, as if he were saying, “I’ve been there, too friend. I was just as dumb in my day as you’re being now.” This tone ends abruptly with the accident that climaxes the end of the first book. After that, things start to get serious.

But even in the more solemn Book Two, Dreiser is using the florid language of his youth to build a world, modern, yes, but still tied to the era that preceded it by its stuffiness and its immovable class structure. Though the language and grammar are excessively formal throughout the second book, the very opacity of it creates a sort of poetry all its own, the way a terrible, destructive fire is nevertheless beautiful from a safe distance. Though it is a decptive distance – one seems protected from the more flamboyant descriptions at first but in the end, one is drawn into it against one’s will and Clyde’s tragedy becomes ours.

When I was growing up there was much talk about the so-called “Great American Novel” which every fiction writer supposedly burned to create and that Norman Mailer was supposed to be working on every day of his life. Not even Mailer could write a book encompassing as much of the core of American life and beliefs as Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Its theme are our themes, its characters could come from nowhere else. It is us in almost all our glory, at least the whites. If An American Tragedy isn’t The Great American Novel, the only thing that could be is a work that combined it and Huck Finn. Until that is written, An American Tragedy is the closest we’re going to come.

The Bush Commencement Speech: Hypocrisy in Greenville (Updated)

There is, I think, nothing more maddening for me than to watch or listen to or even hear about one of this president’s moralistic speeches, the ones wherein he  counsels everyone to “be true to American values”. I didn’t have to watch it or hear it but he just did another one, a commencement speech at Furman University in Greenville, SC, in which this defender of torture, this moralist who publicly admits he’s willing to let sick kids die if it means protecting insurance company profits, this ex-addict who abused booze and did so much coke he couldn’t remember if he’d done any, lectured the graduating class on living a “culture of responsibility” and told them “they would never find fulfillment in ‘alcohol, drugs or promiscuity.'” Easy for him to say. He’s had his already. Decades of it.

The hypocrisy at Furman must have been hip-deed on the ground, like wading through a basement after the sewer pipe bursts.

“A culture of responsibility means serving others,” Mr. Bush said. “To all of you, my call is to make service to others a way of life. Wherever you live, whatever you do, find a way to give back to your communities.”

To understand this clap-trap, we need a Bush Interpretator. I offer my services. I will explain the above quote by defining key words that don’t quite mean the same thing to Mr Bush that they do to you and me.

For instance, when we say the word “community”, we generally mean our community – the town we live in, the county, the state, perhaps the region. When Mr Bush says the word “community” what we know from his actions he really means to say is “business community”. For example, eRobin wrote about his intention to veto a Medicare Bill that he says protects doctors and patients “at the expense of private insurance companies.” Can’t have that in BushAmerica.

Then there is that lovely word “others”. If we are to decide who he means when he says “others” we have to look at who he has chosen to serve, and in that case the overwhemling answer would have to be “corporations” because Mr Bush has spent his entire presidency working to make things easier for them. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help anyone else. Of the weak and disenfranchised, from poor, sick kids to the refugees from Katrina to the elderly to the unemployed, he has been unavailable at best and actively hostile at worst. One of the biggest and most fervent of his crusades was the one to abolish the Social Security system and force everyone to win their retirement money through the slot-machine-type lottery of the stock market.

Therefore, if we are to take Mr Bush at his word defined by his actions, his translated comment would have to read:

“A culture of responsibility means serving corporations,” Mr. Bush said. “To all of you, my call is to make service to corporations a way of life. Wherever you live, whatever you do, find a way to give back to your business communities.”

Of course, I’m not the only one who sees through the Bush mask. The students and faculty of Furman itself were less than thrilled at his decision to pontificate at them.

[E]ven here, in a reliably Republican state, the president’s visit prompted protests by students and faculty members, who complained in recent weeks about his selection as a graduation speaker. The event at which he spoke on Saturday evening was open only to ticket holders.

More than 200 Furman professors and students signed a statement criticizing Bush administration policies and the Iraq war.

“Under ordinary circumstances, it would be an honor for Furman University to be visited by the president of the United States,” the statement said. “However, these are not ordinary circumstances.”

The statement said the Iraq war had “severely damaged our government’s ethical and moral credibility at home and abroad.”


Mr. Bush…ignored about 15 faculty members who stood silently, wearing T-shirts that bore the words, “We Object.”

I bet. That’s what he usually does. What surprises me is that the 15 were allowed into the event in the first place. He usually protects himself from dissenters by having them blocked from attending and the ones wearing critical t-shirts are normally arrested.

But the most hypocritical moment in a hyper-hypocritical speech has to be this one:

 Mr. Bush said[,] “There is no shame in recognizing your failings or getting help if you need it. The tragedy comes when we fail to take responsibility for our weaknesses and surrender to them.”

(emphasis added)

This would be poignant if there was a scintilla of a suggestion that he was looking back on his own disastrous tenure with an inkling of understanding, but of course there wasn’t because he isn’t. At the end of his abominable presidency he is as certain that everybody else on the planet but him is wrong as he was at the beginning. He may actually believe, this president who has successfully ducked taking responsibility for any of his actions practically from the day he was born, that his avoidance of it is the apex of responsibility, that his blind stubborness represents the height of true strength.

Although I have to admit that in the Most Hypocritical Statement Sweepstakes, this one would give the previous one a run for its money:

Mr. Bush said: “Our country needs corporate responsibility as well as personal responsibility. So my call to those of you entering the business world is to be honest with your shareholders, be truthful with your customers and give back to the communities in which you live.”

One is forced to wonder what he could possibly mean by that, this man who has spent the last 7 years actively helping corporations avoid responsibility for their actions, lie to their shareholders, rip off their customers, and steal resources from every single community in which they’re located. How does one square this statement with the reality of his refusal to allow the SEC to investigate his buddy Ken Lay for 2 years? Or with his turning over of virtually every once-watchdog govt agency to lobbyists and corporate lawyers who come from the very industries those agencies are supposed to police? Or with the fact that his Justice Dept has investigated fewer cases of corporate malfeasance than any JD since the Teapot Dome scandal?

One can’t. They aren’t squarable. One is forced to the conclusion that this man who has escaped accountability for everything his entire life fully expects to continue escaping for whatever remains of it. Or else he is so incredibly dense that he actually believes white is black, down is up, and bad is good simply because he says so and the sycophants he has surrounded himself with echo it as loud as they can. “Mr President, you’re a genius. Of course you’re right, Mr President. Yes, Mr President.”

Bush White House: Sycophants-R-Us.

There is so little self-awareness in Bush that one simply can’t reasonably suspect that he isn’t what he patently is: a spoiled brat who has no more concept of the real world than a mushroom. Yet people pay to hear him speak riddles and hypocrisies and lies in a mangled English that is the best he can manage, this so-called Yale graduate.


UPDATE: (6/5/08) One rather astounding section of Bush’s speech escaped the notice of the fawning NYT reporter but not the sharp ears of Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Scot Lehigh: George W Bush warned the students about…going into debt.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

But here’s what took the commencement cake: Bush’s warning to graduates to avoid amassing too much debt.

“You can strengthen our country by showing fiscal discipline in your lives,” he said. “It may sound funny coming from a visitor from Washington, D.C., but it’s important to your futures and the future of our country.”

Although that quote suggests the president has some inkling that he’s an unlikely messenger on this topic, it didn’t keep him from offering this counsel: “My advice to you is not to dig a financial hole that you can’t get out of. Live within your means.”


Having inherited a budget in surplus and a declining national debt, this president pushed through a series of tax cuts and presided over spending increases that have left us awash in red ink.

Publicly held federal debt has gone from $3.4 trillion when Bush took office to $5.3 trillion. Add in the trillions owed to government accounts like the Social Security Trust Fund, and our total national debt is now $9.4 trillion, up from $5.6 trillion in 2000. That’s more than $30,000 for every American citizen. Meanwhile, since 2001, long-term unfunded liabilities and commitments have ballooned from about $20 trillion to more than $50 trillion.

“We have gone from a point where we had current and projected budget surpluses to where we have large and growing deficits,” says former comptroller general David Walker, who led the Government Accountability Office from late 1998 until March of this year. “And we have gone from a point where we were projected to pay off all the federal debt and have fiscal sustainability for 40-plus years to a point where we have large and mounting debt burdens and the simulation model that is used by GAO to project fiscal sustainability crashes in about 40 years.”

ZERO self-awareness factor, ZERO irony quotient.