Why do bad ideas and policies have such a long life? And how do they so often become incorporated into our daily lives as if they actually worked well for most of us? As the economy heads south the president and his ever-faithful subordinates have begun to tout once again the efficacy of tax cuts, the first line of offense and defense in a blinkered understanding of the financial world and economic theory.

Likewise, when we are instructed about the war in Iraq, the “surge” that was supposed to provide the Maliki Government with breathing space to stabilize, served rather as an opportunity for the parliament to vacation during the heat of the summer while our troops held the fort so to speak. And if additional US forces have helped to keep violence at an acceptable level, in what passes for progress, the concept of a temporary surge has now become an excuse for extended tours of duty and an ongoing US presence.

Is it any wonder that the American people are confused about what their government is doing and what it should be doing? What they do know, however, is that something isn’t quite right as they struggle to pay high home heating fuel bills and health-insurance premiums that leave many uninsured and dependent upon emergency services. In an unintentionally hilarious speech a few months ago in England, Tom DeLay defended the US health-care system saying that no Americans go without care since they are able to use hospital emergency rooms, remarks that were greeted with prolonged laughter.

Of course such opinions aren’t really funny but are, rather, ludicrous examples of just how far the country has strayed from anything resembling policies informed by standards of decency and attention to the needs of the greater population. If DeLay seems an extreme example he may simply be a more vocal and explicit proponent of core Republican values. Supporters continue to express satisfaction with a surge in investor wealth and admonish whiners to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get educated and take care of themselves, not depend on what they like to call a “nanny’ government.

But with the cost of a college education in the stratosphere and even jobs among many educated workers being outsourced; as corporations downsize to increase profit margins or organize off-shore to avoid taxes, ordinary Americans are hard pressed to make headway or grow their personal incomes and plan a secure future. What passes for sound policy from the administration includes making the “Bush tax cuts” permanent or such things as medical savings accounts which for paycheck-to-paycheck families are unrealistic in the extreme. And what was once the pride of the Bush economic bubble – – an increase in home ownership – – has become a disaster, fueled by questionable lending practices, a disengaged White House and an under-informed public.

And when it comes to the language regarding ways to dig the country out of an impending recession, it’s all window-dressing to make the American people think real solutions are being entertained. In fact, tax rebates, tax cuts, suspension of mortgage-rate increases and many of the other proposals are short-term fixes designed to forestall ongoing fiscal shortcomings. Without re-building a manufacturing base or designing new fields of endeavor that will promote the training and placement of not only current but future generations, quick fixes now will not enhance the country’s economy in the long run. After the public has been induced to spend rebates and create a false sense of having dodged a bullet, intrinsic weaknesses will re-emerge.

As Bob Herbert put it (NY Times, 1/19/08) “…an America awash in new jobs will require a political environment that respects and rewards work and aggressively pursues creative policies designed to expand employment.” Herbert suggests a “broad program to rebuild American infrastructure”, but there are many ways the economy could become jobs-oriented including projects to “green” America that would impact many sectors of the economy and would in addition spur the stock market as innovative programs and companies began to provide good investment opportunities.

Suckering the American people into rushing out with a fistful of cash to buy clothes or go out to dinner may produce a temporary surge but, like the one in Iraq, it is what comes after that will tell the tale.