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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-09-08 - 11:29 a.m.

Opportunity or Risky Business

President Bush is a great advocate of giving the American people more opportunity – except when it comes to the opportunity to hear him and John Kerry debate before the election. Instead of debating about whether they should stand or sit or the shape of the table, his committee of three are quibbling about whether they can reduce the number from three to two, thereby reducing opportunity (and risk).

Aha! I think I’ve got it. President Bush, has a different view of opportunity than I do. He’s so accustomed to being bailed out when he has failed at something, he looks at risk as an opportunity. He has this hare-brained notion that by giving people a $1000 to $3000 tax break, people can buy their own health insurance. I don’t know about you, but my premiums for a policy to supplement my Medicare costs me $8,400 a year; a $1,000 tax break will help, but were I on a fixed income that would still be far too much. And at the same time President Bush is explaining this “opportunity”, I hear that my Medicare will cost me 17.5% more than it did last year – probably for fewer benefits.

His next opportunistic offer is to allow workers to divert one-sixth of their Social Security so that they can invest it themselves (thereby creating an even bigger issue for the Social Security fund since it is the continued contribution of today’s generation that makes the system work at all). Assuming the stock market is stable, this could be an opportunity, but the last three years have demonstrated that “slumps” happen, too. If a slump happens at the wrong time, a retiree can be left high and dry.

Time and a half for overtime isn’t even available with the new regulations to many who have relied on it to help pay for food on the table - or for the overpriced insurance and high-priced prescription drugs, thanks to the Republican administration that refuses to allow drugs to be purchased in Canada. And I’m still not understanding why the same drugs manufactured by the same companies are less expensive in Canada than where they are produced. Why is there a need for advertising on TV when it is the doctors who prescribe the drugs on the basis of patient need.

Today Harold Meyerson explains in Bush’s Game of Riskhow President Bush could confuse opportunity and risk:

It's more than a matter of lexicographical curiosity to understand how the president came to conflate risk with opportunity. Certainly he's no stranger to risk. As a young man, he went into the oil business, where dry holes outnumber gushers seven days a week. Then came politics, which is also among the chancier ventures a fellow could pursue.

But if there's one enduring motif in the life of George W. Bush, it is that he's always been sheltered from the consequences of risk -- that is, of failure. Exposed to the draft, he had business and political associates of his father get him a slot in a National Guard unit far from Vietnam. As an oil business entrepreneur, he would have gone belly-up on several occasions but for the intervention of more such associates, for whom the notion of helping out the vice president's boy had a certain je ne sais quoi. And when he was a presidential candidate - even a defeat at the polls could be reversed by the Republican majority on the Supreme Court.

No wonder risk and opportunity are all jumbled up in the mind of George W. Bush. Privilege has trumped risk at every turn in his life.

But it's not Bush alone who suffers from this confusion. Republican members of Congress, who also preach the gospel of opportunity, nonetheless cling to their defined-benefit pensions rather than replace them with a congressional 401(k) plan. I don't know how many, if any, have renounced their congressional health insurance for a private account they themselves own and shell out for, but I suspect it would be a small caucus indeed.

The dirty little secret of Bushonomics is that risk -- excuse me, opportunity -- is for suckers. Like the American people.

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