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Honor and Dignity
February 1, 2002
by Isaac Peterson

Bush and his people rode into town swearing that they would restore "honor" and "dignity" to the White House and civility to the government. Sometimes one of them would also use the word "integrity" and somewhere in there was the new craze that was sweeping the GOP (at least until the election was over), "compassionate conservative."

All these buzzwords were focus group tested - these were words that people responded to after years of being bombarded with the concept that consensual oral sex was about as evil a thing as could be imagined. The word to the wise was that if we somehow lost our collective minds, bought what they were selling, and elected their boy to the hardest job in the world, he wouldn't have oral sex in the Oval Office. Drug arrests, DUI's, even going AWOL from keeping America's borders safe from Mexico during the Vietnam War didn't count as measures of "integrity." Neither does having as your only talent the ability to get your dad to bail you out of every dumb thing you ever did. That stuff's okay, you just won't catch this guy getting a tune up in the White House.

They needed the compassionate part because of the reputation for heartless cruelty that Newt Gingrich and others gained when they were in charge. (I would love to see the focus groups whose hot buttons were pushed by the phrases "uniter not a divider" and "reformer with results.") A lot of those folks are still around - the spirit of Gingrich past is still around in Tom DeLay and Trent Lott, to name but two.

But enough ancient history for now. I'll come back to it.

Right now we're looking at a recession at exactly the same time that Clinton's welfare reform is due to start kicking people off the welfare rolls who have reached the end of their lifetime limit of 5 years. Between the tax cut to the upper 1% that was Bush's domestic policy centerpiece and the effects of September 11 on the economy, last year's budget surplus is gone. I've read that the war on terror is costing upwards of a billion dollars a day. That doesn't leave money for piddly little things like affordable prescriptions for seniors, better schools, Medicare, health care, or extending unemployment benefits to the unemployed, let alone all the people coming up who are going to slip through the cracks.

What we get from the White House to deal with the problem is their same solution to everything from acne to crop circles: more tax cuts to the people who have the most. Look at all the tax cuts we've had in the last couple of decades. If you make less than $200,000 a year or so, have you ever seen anything from one?

I would hope that the tax cut from last spring could at least be put on hold until things settle down a little, if not just outright repealed. And an economic stimulus package that gives more tax cuts to the wealthy and huge corporations isn't going to help anything right now. A few Democrats have been acting like they finally remember they're in a different party and opposed it, which means it didn't get passed before Congress left for the holidays.

Tom Daschle said "Sept. 11 and the war aren't the only reasons the surplus is nearly gone... The biggest reason is the tax cut."

And Dennis Hastert (Squeaker of the House) said "Perhaps the most important thing Congress did last year to promote economic security was to pass the president's tax relief proposal... Senator Daschle voted against that proposal and now he seems to indicate that he wants to repeal it,'' saying that would be "exactly the wrong way to achieve long term economic security.''

Yeah, jeez Tom, come on. First you say you don't want it, then you say repeal it. Make up your mind, for Chrissake. (Daschle never actually said he wants to repeal the tax cut. That's Hastert and Trent Lott putting words in his mouth. Ted Kennedy did just call for a repeal).

At the same time that people are having to leave welfare with no jobs waiting, other people are losing their jobs in the recession with no jobs waiting. Anyone's guess how that's all going to play out.

Here's my guess. Using Minnesota as an example, which (like most states) has a budget shortfall, states will be cutting funding to nonprofit and neighborhood groups which provide programs and services for the underprivileged. Women and children tend to be the main clients of these groups, and they are the ones who will be most affected by the welfare reform limits. No one wants to see people living out their lives on welfare, but it's getting clear that 'welfare reform' is going to need to be reformed.

A lot of these groups provide after school programs and computer access to children. The philosophy is that giving children an alternative to the street is a goal that will pay off later for the children and for society. But the schools are also facing funding shortages. The first things that typically get cut when that happens are arts and after school (extracurricular) activities. There is indication that the programs and support provided by the nonprofits and neighborhood groups has had a positive effect on lowering youth crime in the Twin Cities. But that could all go out the window.

And all over the country, states and cities are going to have to cut funding for police and fire departments, as well as other services.

Many of the people who will be affected are immigrants. Charitable programs and job training and referral programs will suffer from lack of funding.

People who are losing their jobs will have fewer resources to help with job location and retraining or education after their unemployment benefits expire.

So, these people have a lot more at stake than their dignity. Living on the street is what's ahead for lots of people who are going to fall between the cracks, and there won't be much dignity there. Even going to an agency for help isn't something that dignifies a person, but that blow to someone's pride hurts a lot less than eating out of garbage cans.

The Congressional Budget Office says that Bush's economic stimulus plan won't do much to stimulate the economy. And the New York Times reported that when the plan was put in front of focus groups they literally refused to believe that it was a serious proposal. The plan has a provision to give tax refunds to corporations going back years. Enron, who didn't pay taxes for 4 of the last 5 years, would get a huge tax refund from it.

The "conventional wisdom" is saying that the first Bush wasn't reelected because he broke his promise not to raise taxes. I think the "conventional wisdom" is wrong. The first Bush went over to Iraq and and came back with astronomical approval ratings. The country was in a recession at the time, people were hurting, but Bush wouldn't even admit there was a recession. When he finally did, he refused to do anything about it. He was out playing golf and boating and living it up when reporters would catch up to him to ask about the recession. He was making comments about how foreign policy was more fun than domestic affairs. And since it wasn't fun, families got to go down the tubes. I believe that had a lot more to do with him not being reelected. No one is ever going to convince me that the top 10% honked off over the tax increase all of a sudden voted for Clinton or Ross Perot.

The "war on terror" was knocked off the front pages by Enron. It looks like the search for bin Laden is pretty much down to putting his picture on milk cartons. The administration needs something to reestablish themselves in people's eyes, since new polls are saying that people believe they are up to their eyeballs in the Enron mess.

It's time to see some "honor and dignity" from the top. Bush's tax cut should be repealed, and his administration's economic stimulus plan should be redone so that money is put into the hands of the people who need it most and would spend it-which would actually stimulate the economy. We're told that corporate tax breaks will create jobs, but I highly doubt that. Jobs are created when there is more demand (I'll call this people spending money) than there is supply. Look at this past holiday season, with the lowest spending in years. Companies didn't unload all the supply they had then. How is giving them more money going to make them want to produce more if people aren't buying? And how are people going to buy more if they either don't have the money or are too scared to spend what they do have? If we give the money to the people who will spend it, we will start to move the economy.

It's time to make the pie higher, George. Time to prove you're not just a waterboy for the megacorporations.

Allowing hundreds of thousands of people to live with their dignity intact would be, well, honorable. Not to mention compassionate. Forget the focus groups and just do the right thing.


Isaac Peterson (isaac3rd@mediaone.net) is still hoping this is all just a really, really bad dream.

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