View From Lodi, CA Pittsburgh, PA: Bush Leaves San Joaquin Valley, And U.S., Devastated

Even George W. Bush realizes that no one is sorry to see him go.

In a recent interview, Bush said: "This isn't one of the presidencies where you ride off into the sunset, you know, kind of waving goodbye." [Bush Legacy Truly Hard to Stomach, by Ellen Goodman, Washington Post, December 27, 2008]

Bush underestimates how poorly his record will reflect on him. In an informal survey of historians, 61 percent ranked Bush dead last among all American presidents, finally getting James Buchanan off the hook.

In a column a couple of years ago, I forgave my friends for their 2000 Bush vote.  But, since Bush repeatedly displayed just how over his head he was during his first four years, I didn't extend my generosity to them for their continued 2004 support.

Transparent as Bush was, enough Americans voted for him a second time thus enabling him to finish the country off. A large bloc simply could not vote for the Democrat John Kerry—in retrospect a high price to have paid for party loyalty.

I've had several conversations in recent weeks with devoted Bushies. The strongest argument any of them can make is that, as they put it, "At least we haven't been attacked again."

But my question is if Bush is so dedicated to national security, why is our border with Mexico still wide open? And why do sworn border defenders, agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, remain in jail even as Bush has started his rounds of presidential pardons?

Bush's legacy, which he is so concerned about, will include two colossal failures: the Iraq War and the financial crisis precipitated by the mortgage meltdown.

Many Americans who do not have friends or relatives who are among the 4,200 killed in Iraq are spared from the direct pain the war inflicted. Yet, we deeply mourn their losses.

Still, although no one would trade the loss of a loved one for a home mortgage, the housing disaster has devastated thousands more Americans—tens of thousands of them who live in the Lodi/Stockton area.

The consequences of Bush's financial folly are enormous.

The crisis kicked into high gear when Bush pushed the pedal to the metal with his 2002 announcement to increase minority homeownership by 5.5 million. Lending the money proved no problem. Paying it back is, as we have seen, a different story.

After Bush's proclamation, everything soon changed. At first, home values shot up. But once reality struck, prices in the San Joaquin Valley, now unanimously considered the nation's number one area most adversely impacted by foreclosures, went into free fall.

Today, the Valley is a housing wasteland whose collapse is worldwide news that reporters from as far away as Japan and Paris cover. A "60 Minutes" feature highlighted the "Home Repo Tour" that offers prospective buyers homes they can pick up for as much as 70 percent less than their pre-crisis asking price.

For a comprehensive analysis of the housing cave-in and how it evolved, interested parties with strong stomachs should read the New York Times series, "The Reckoning." In its on-going report, sixteen articles to date, the Times fingered the predictable suspects—Citibank, Merrill Lynch and Washington Mutual. 

Other, less obvious culprits named by the Times are:  

  • Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and now a multimillion-dollar real estate developer who, according to the Times, "…encouraged the unprepared to buy homes…" Cisneros duped many Hispanics who because of their shared ethnicities were easy targets for him.
     
  • An unrepentant Phil Gramm, former U.S. Senator from Texas and champion of banking deregulation who from 1999-2001 relentlessly pushed for laws that he says unshackled businesses from needless restraints but ultimately lead to their economic collapse.
     
  • The credit watchdog agencies, Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch Ratings, gave glowing recommendations to substandard real estate lenders like Countrywide Financial, overlooking in their reviews the inherent risks. From the fees it extracted, Moody's enjoyed profit margins that were higher than the richest Fortune 500 companies, including Exxon and Microsoft.

The total Bush devastation won't be known until long after he's gone.

In a so far futile effort to make it appear like something positive is being done to restore the economy, the federal government has distributed willy-nilly billions of dollars in bailouts.

Banks have been nationalized; the auto industry may not survive. Consumer confidence, and the purchasing power it generates, is in the tank. The damage list is longer but decidedly not "Happy New Year" in its tone so I'll forego it.

In 2009, Americans are left to hunker down and hope that president-elect Barack Obama can deliver on at least a small percentage of his campaign promises.

Frankly, after Bush, I'd settle for a one in 10 success ratio.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.