Compasion and the Old GOP: Paternalism and the New GOP

by H. Scott Prosterman

It's all about paternalism. Southern boys and their daddies are big on that.

The Republican Party has evolved away from its philosophy of 30 years ago. Their foundation used to rest on a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility, law and order, and minimal federal interference with the functions of state and local government. One wonders if the "law and order" attorney general, John Mitchell would have encouraged Congress to pass legislation exempting the firearms industry from all lawsuits arising from the use of their products. John Ashcroft has promoted such legislation, even in the wake of the Washington, DC area sniper murders. The victims and heirs of victims will not be able to sue the manufacturer, or the gun store that sold the military rifle to the assailants, if the Senate approves the legislation recently passed by the House.

Republicans used to kick and scream whenever a budget deficit occurred under Democratic stewardship. A hallmark of conservative politics used to be fiscal responsibility.

Now, Republicans are pushing a huge tax cut. They WANT for the government to have less money because, in their minds, public education and programs to feed low-income mothers and their children are rewarding the undeserving. If there's no money to pay for public education, school diversion programs, halfway houses and other social services, then the government can cut them by default. Ronald Reagan began this trend by eliminating funding for low-income medical services, Legal Aid Corporation and federal school lunch programs, among others. Paternalism is about punishment. The Republican euphemism for it is "tough love," but they're not showing the love.

Republicans love character assassination as a tool for compliance. This week, Joe McCarthy smiled from his grave. Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe (ME), and George Voinovich (OH) now face attack ads in their own states, financed by their own party, alleging that their opposition to the Bush Jr. tax cut is no different from aiding terrorism. OK, throw them in the brig. What's the word for species that eat their own? Now Republicans are feeding off of each other.

War has been a political tool of diversion for centuries. For generations, dictators have waged war to distract attention away from domestic problems, and to create a need for more military funding. When you rally America around a despised foreign enemy, we tend to forget about our problems at home.

The juicy contracts for re-building Iraq have gone to Bechtel, Halliburton and other politically connected firms, while equally capable firms weren't allowed to bid because the bidding requirements were tailored to those already in the loop. That's how The City of San Francisco does business, and now Bush Jr. is taking his cue from Mayor Willie Brown.

George Shultz, the former Secretary of State, heads the Bechtel Corp. Last September, Shultz argued in a Washington Post op-ed that we not only need to oust Saddam Hussein, but also to rebuild their economy. Then last week, Bechtel was awarded a $680 million contract to start rebuilding Iraq. Halliburton Corp., Vice-President Dick Cheney's former company has also signed contracts to get on the post-war gravy train. Is it any wonder that these two men were among the most vocal proponents of the Iraqi war?

John Ashcroft loves paternalism. But if he were in a brig because of a Patriot Act technicality instead of heading the justice department, he probably wouldn't like it as much. What if Ashcroft were detained without charges, having been deemed a threat to national security by going to the same church as a suspected terrorist? All of a sudden, he wouldn't have right to counsel. It can happen to any citizen, including you and John Ashcroft.

Remember Reagan's gospel of supply side economics? It was all about how short-term sacrifices enhance our long-term economic security. The economy did badly for eight years under Reagan and four under Bush Sr. Then it started humming again under Clinton, and the supply-side boys at Stanford and Waco credited Reagan, who had not been president for at least five years. OK, if this supply-side stuff works, why then, did we not see any sign of recovery under Bush Sr.?

One week into the war, Bush Jr. and Tony Blair gave a memorable news conference from Camp David. The war was hitting a few snags at the time, and Bush Jr. was a little piqued. A reporter opened the conference by asking about the timetable for prosecuting the war. Bush Jr's reply sounded like a dim-witted Texas high school football coach talking to his team after a bad practice. His answer was, " . . . as long as it takes; however long it takes. That's what you need to know, and that's your answer." Implicit in Junior's tone of voice was a threat like, "if you ask any more questions like that one, you are off this team, and your daddy doesn't get credit at the grocery store anymore." Paternalism.

We now are several steps closer to having a state religion than before Bush Jr. became president. To the right-wing, the really beautiful side of tax-cuts is that when you cut federal, state, county and municipal social services to the poor, that leaves the churches to pick up the slack. So churches can now get federal assistance from HUD with a building project as long as they claim part of its function is for social services. Along with a desperately needed meal, and money to pay the heating bill, disadvantaged people also get peer pressure to participate in religious programs they don't want for themselves or their children. Jesus wouldn't do that, ya'll. But he wasn't into paternalism. In fact, he preached against it, as I recall.

Call me old fashioned, but I miss the old separation of church and state. I don't know why, maybe it's my experience of being forced to read from the New Testament as a Jewish child at a public school in Memphis in the 1960's. Or maybe it's the experience of profane anti-Semitism from high school athletic coaches, or a mandatory assembly put on by my high school principal, whose expressed purpose was proselytizing for a particular brand of Christianity. Perhaps the experience of exchanging blows with a football teammate over it later that day, causes me to see these things in black and white. (We argued, he pushed me, I slugged him, he walked away cussing me out and threatening me.) I didn't want to accept Christianity as my religion, and he wanted to punish me for it. Southern boys are big on paternalism.

Bush Jr. didn't say much about a woman's right to choose during the campaign. By the way, ya'll, that's a liberal euphemism for abortion. But opposition to a woman's right to abortion has dominated Bush Jr.'s healthcare policy. That wasn't stated during the campaign because it would have clouded the message of "compassionate conservatism" that Bush Jr. was delivering in soup kitchens. His "victory tour" of recent weeks does not include soup kitchens, but is rife with photo-ops at defense related industries.

The guys who are big on paternalism aren't big on history. We only got out of Vietnam 30 years ago, but we've begun making some of the same mistakes. That is about the same time that conservatives started trying to destroy public education as a retaliation against forced school desegregation.

30 years ago, there was also a liberal wing of the Republican Party. It was called the Ripon Society, and my mother was a member. Reagan decided there wasn't enough room in the "Big Tent" for both Ripon liberals and the moral majority, so the liberals were kicked out, and the agenda of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson has become the agenda for the mainstream Republican Party.

The Old GOP philosophy held that deficits were a bad thing? Now, all of a sudden, they are a good thing and stimulate the economy. The Old GOP also held that the federal government should not infringe on the decisions of state and local government. Recently, Atty. Gen. Ashcroft has directed federal prosecutors to override state and local prosecutors and attorneys general on matters of the death penalty, medical marijuana and much more.

Ashcroft has sued the St. of California for using a gun database for criminal background checks, rather than firearms sales. It's OK to use the database to promote firearms sales, but not for the police to check on whether a person is legally eligible to own a gun. This puts Ashcroft at odds with police forces all over the country. Where would John "Law and Order" Mitchell stand on this one?

So, now Republicans feel that the Fed SHOULD trump states' rights, and the Ripon Society CAN'T be in the Big Tent anymore. Part of the mission of the Ripon Society as stated on their website is, "We believe spiraling deficits and uncontrolled spending will destroy the economic future for our children." While the Ripon Society still exists, it declares itself to be, "an organization not formally affiliated with the Republican Party, but rather, informally seeking to be its conscience." Talk about lofty goals. They got kicked out of the Big Tent to make room for the Moral Majority, but they still want to be the party's conscience. They still haven't gotten over the fact that the Republican Party has evolved into something totally inimical to the Ripon Philosophy, and values that used to be the core of the GOP.

The Ripon Society advocates worthy goals like moderation, inclusion, and balanced budgets. That surely isn't the same Republican Party as it as evolved under Reagan and the two Bushs. That party has no conscience, but the Ripon Society still seeks to be it. And where have you gone JoeDiMaggio?

The beauty of tax cuts to Republicans is that rewards people for being rich and makes the government incapable of paying for housing, health care, and school lunches at the same time (even if you DO consider ketchup to be a vegetable.) Whereas big deficits were once considered to be the ultimate governmental sin by Republicans, they are now a vital policy tool. They make it rather impossible for the federal government to fund public schools, something that has been an obsessed policy-goal for Republicans since widespread school-desegregation (AKA Busing) occurred in the early 1970's.

Ever since the busing controversy, Republicans at all levels of government have made public schools a target for destruction, and an outlet for their thinly veiled racism. It made them furious that they could no longer funnel money to schools where they sent their children, and shortchange the ones on the other side of the tracks. The busing concept was attuned to this dynamic, and sought to overcome it by sending rich kids to poor schools and vice versa. The expectation was that white-dominated school boards would be compelled to put equal money and resources into mostly black schools, once the children of white suburbanites were there. Only it backfired.

Busing proponents never considered that the right wing would retaliate by making every effort to undermine and destroy public education. Between underfunding public schools and promoting the disingenuous voucher program, the future looks grim for public education. Conservatives argue that they are simply issuing vouchers to parents to allow parents to choose in which school to place their children, thereby promoting freedom of choice. But consider that the voucher concept began in the early 1970's when suburban parents desperately searched for any means to avoid sending their white children to school with black children. Is it any coincidence that conservative-dominated churches were in the forefront of setting up alternative schools to the integrated public ones? What Would Jesus Do, ya'll?

Conservatives argue that busing destroyed public education. Wrong. The profane, racist reaction to busing destroyed public education. And that profane reaction continues as white lawmakers at all levels of government continue to invent ways to retaliate against the children and teachers at public schools. Now that state governments throughout the country are facing alarming budget shortfalls, teachers are being laid off. It isn't just art, music and sports programs are being cut; libraries are being closed, and after-school alternatives to street life are being eliminated.

State governments are in their worst fiscal crisis since World War II. The sad state of state governments also means that public libraries, music, art and dance organizations are closing, as are some state Arts Commissions. Add to that list home healthcare services, veterinarian services in agricultural states, and public parks. Police officers and teachers are being laid off, students are leaving school for lack of funding and prisoners are being released early. Bus and ferry routes are being dropped. States are raising eligibility terms for Medicare, and Medicaid is eliminating beneficiaries, meaning that some older citizens can no longer afford their life-sustaining medications. People will die because from this new round of tax cuts, just as the infant mortality rate spiked in the early Reagan years when pre-natal programs were cut. Tuition at state universities is rising dramatically, causing many young people to postpone or forego a college education, and forcing other students to drop out. And Bush Jr. is pushing a major tax cut! Who is being helped here other than the people who need it the least? The taxes on stock dividends were the first to go. Many of these tax-cut beneficiaries earned their money the old-fashioned way; they inherited it!

Bush Jr. told the National Governors Conference in February that states cannot expect help from the Fed because, " . . . we went through a recession and we're at war." Thus we have another policy convenience brought on by the war, and we're deep into a recession that started soon after Bush Jr. took office. And that recession is far from over, despite Junior's past tense reference. The huge projected deficits that come with the huge Bush Jr. tax cuts virtually assure that government can't finance public education, or other pesky programs Republicans hate like health care, affordable housing or the national epidemic of homelessness.

Supply side economic theories hold that by lowering taxes, people with money will have more to spend and invest, thereby stimulating the economy. The eventual expansion will result in more jobs and a stronger dollar. It sounds good. Somehow, heavy investment in the military is also supposed to help the economy by expanding the job sector. Tell that to the airplane manufacturers in Washington State and Wichita who are laying off thousands.

Bush Sr. promised a "Kinder, gentler" America during his campaign. Bush Jr. promised "compassionate conservatism" premised on moderation. If Bush Jr. is the compassionate moderate of the classic Ripon mold, then what is the alternative? Unrestrained fascism?

I'm wondering if Bush Jr. is going to borrow Reagan's re-election campaign slogan of 1984: "Are you better off than you were four years ago." Reagan asked that, knowing that stupid pride prompted people to believe they were, and would attribute it to him. People were stupid enough to buy it and re-elect him. I doubt that Bush Jr. will try the same tactic. So maybe the Democrats can ask that question this time around.

The second most profanely cynical breach of trust by Bush Jr. has been his executive order allowing HUD to finance the construction of churches, provided they offer some social service function in the new building. Call me old-fashioned but I think our founding fathers had it right about separation of church and state. Jefferson, Madison and the old boys were mindful of the persecution that was engendered by state religions throughout history. Bush and Ashcroft don't really care if a few Jewish, Muslim or Hindi children are pressured into group recitation of Christian prayers in their schools, but their parents do. Modern day Republican paternalism holds that a little Christianity never hurt anybody. But they weren't around to remember the crusades, and aren't big on reading history, so they can't learn from it.

The most profane and cynical breach of trust has been the brazen use of the 9/11 tragedy to undermine and discard many of our constitutional protections of speech and liberty in the name of fighting terrorism. Any reporter or lawmaker who dares to question the methods of Patriot Acts I and II is subjected to character assassination, with charges of aiding and abetting the enemy. By extension that makes them "enemy combatants" and subject to spending the rest of their life in the brig without any hope of seeing a lawyer or their families again. Junior and Ashcroft are fighting terrorism by modeling our justice system after the broken countries we're trying to fix.

You gotta' love it when Ari Fliesher talks tough. Like the time he sternly admonished a reporter to "be careful what you say," when the guy asked about whether the Patriot Act infringed on constitutional rights. Ari Fleisher has all the cajones of a 15 lb. lap-dog yapping at a 30 pound dog with a 120 lb. bull-mastiff protecting him. Where else can a stooge of so little merit assume a job of such inflated self-importance? ("As I was talking with the president this morning . . .") Ari is an immodest man with much to be modest about. Is this a great country or what?

Republicans don't like being told no. Congress said, "no" to drilling in the Arctic last year, but here it is again in Junior's proposed energy bill. Bush Jr. has bypassed Congress by using executive orders to accelerate logging, oil and gas exploration in previously protected areas.

Along with separation of church and state, I'm beginning to miss the old checks and balances. Do they still teach it in high school civics classes? Or is it just part of the history lesson now since it is no longer a relevant part of government.

Congress said no to federal judicial candidates Miquel Estrada, Priscilla Owen and others who have shown a penchant for right-wing knee-jerking, contempt for consumer rights, redressing discrimination, and workers suing abusive employers. Rather than nominate candidates who are politically moderate and decide cases on merits, Bush Jr. keeps trying to ram the likes of Estrada and Owen down the throats of Congressional Judiciary Committees. Bush Jr. won't nominate any candidate whose decisions have shown thoughtfulness toward anyone who has ever sued or challenged a corporate interest. That's why Estrada and Owen were re-nominated after being rejected last year. Opposition to abortion is another requirement for a Bush Jr. nomination to any federal bench. And anyone who opposes them are labeled "obstructionist."

As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) allowed many judicial posts to go unfilled, preferring to stall on Clinton nominees. So who is "obstructionist?" It is classic Republican double-speak; accusing the other side of your own crimes, as popularized by Reagan.

The paternalistic and sanctimonious Republican agenda still has a problem with birth control and AIDS prevention. Is Bush Jr. held hostage by the far-right wing of the Big Tent, or does he share their agenda? Or did his campaign appeal to them because he shares their goals? What used to be called "extremism" is now mainstream politics.

If you're not a committed, unreconstructed supply-sider, any tax cut at this time seems ill-advised. When you consider the deficits and dire needs of state and local governments, public school systems, and social services to meet basic human needs, this does not seem like a good time to be cutting the lifeblood for government financing. Factor in the cost for the war and reconstruction, and we're looking at many years of huge deficits and crippled government services.

So when a proposed $750 Billion tax cut was slashed to $350 Billion "moderate" Democrats saw that as an acceptable victory. Democrats have been running gutlessly scared of the far right since Reagan. They never fought back or resisted when Bush Sr. made the word "liberal" sound like something you wouldn't want to step in wearing nice shoes. Rather, they tried to re-make themselves as "moderate" supporters of the Republican agenda. It worked for Clinton and got him in the White House, where he was able to do some good. But "moderate" Democrats in Congress are doing Bush Jr's bidding when they don't aggressively stand up to him.

The number of Democrats who lined up with Bush Jr. in support of the war was shocking. More shocking is how ignorant they are about their compliance and acquiescence in Bush Jr.'s war against most American people.

A moderate Republican used to be called a Ripon. What remains of the Ripon Society claims to strive to be a "conscience of the Republican Party." Moderate Democrats enable the unconscionable agenda of the Republican Party.

Even IF supply side economics had been proven to work in the past, now is not the time. Even IF the fantasy that money saved from taxes would be pumped back into the economy, thereby stimulating spending and employment, today's circumstances don't lend themselves to that. Bush Sr. had it right when he called it Voodoo Economics in 1980. The only thing the big supply side tax cut accomplishes is a reward for the people who financed Bush Jr's campaign, and large-scale draconian punishment for the people and states who voted against him.

Richard Nixon was apparently right that history would look favorably upon his presidency. For all his sins of escalating the Vietnam War and abusing the powers of his office, after Bush, Jr., Nixon and John Mitchell almost look like good guys. And the old GOP seems thoughtful and civilized.