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
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
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 (email@example.com)
is still hoping this is all just a really, really bad dream.