America First!

Sherwood Ross

In a recent speech to the National Press Club, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors accused Washington of cutting funds “for police and anti-crime efforts, community block grants, port and transportation security and first responder programs.”

Mayor Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, Calif., might also have added dozens of other worthy operations Mr. Bush has short-changed, among them: affordable housing, retraining, anti-poverty programs, day care, mass transit, and those invaluable community colleges that level the educational playing field for the poor. Millions of qualified youth pass up college each year because they’re broke.

“The question is,” asked Mayor O’Neill, “are we going to invest in these areas, or are we going to continue rebuilding other countries and watch our infrastructure needs slide to a failing grade?”

President Bush gave us his answer when he invaded Iraq. A City on a Hill is what you don’t get when the White House siphons $500-billion from taxpayers a year to start wars. Instead, poverty spreads like gangrene. There’s precedent for such misappropriations, too.

As James Carroll writes in House of War (Houghton Mifflin), winner of the National Book Award, “In the twenty years after World War II, the Pentagon spent nearly $100 billion, ten times the federal expenditures devoted to all aspects of health, education, and welfare in the same period.”

The New York Times says President Bush at his joint press conference with UK’s Tony Blair May 25th “acknowledged major misjudgments” in Iraq. But who has known Mr. Bush to admit such errors as starving our cities for cash by diverting their wealth into his war of aggression?

If Bush wants to acknowledge “major misjudgments,” let him apologize for not increasing the disgracefully low minimum wage.

Let him apologize for allowing the real median earnings of full-time male workers to decline on his watch to $40,798(U.S. Census).

Let him apologize for allowing 45.8-million Americans to go without medical coverage. Let him apologize for cutting funds for vets.

In a stunning understatement, Mayor O’Neill lamented the Federal cutbacks “are not the actions of what I consider to be a full partner.”

If President Bush had been any kind of partner at all, he might have helped 35-million Americans get off the economic treadmill of dead-end jobs. You know these folks---our maids and waiters and bus drivers and garbage haulers, etc. Many work two jobs, yet after paying their bills they still have to borrow.  Usurious interest rates charged by Discover and the others, meanwhile, eat them alive.

The Bush legacy, though, is his indifference to a steady increase in the number of people in poverty---37 million by the last Census Bureau count. In Detroit, that’s 33.6% of all residents.

Worse, the poverty stats don’t begin to tell the full story. The poverty threshold for a family of four is $19,307. Yet family’s earning twice that can’t make ends meet. Why, half the nation is facing hard times.

President Bush can look out any White House window and view a city where one household in five is forced to spend 50% or more of their income on housing, where drugs are traded openly, and where rats bite the kids.

But President Bush doesn’t address himself to their kind. He prefers to speak to military audiences with a row of flags for a backdrop. He is the true representative of the “House of War”. He would rather turn Iraq into a hell than turn America into a paradise. Yet, in the very beginning, America was a paradise, pristine, beautiful, and green.  It’s time Americans demanded their birthright back, starting with creation of the City on the Hill. Time to say:  “America first!”

Sherwood Ross is the author of Gruening of Alaska (Best Books) and a public relations consultant for worthy causes. Contact him at

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