Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.
I can’t figure why Republican Sue Lowden who opposed the health reforms and seriously suggested bartering (with chickens or vegetables) to pay for medical care, is ahead in the polls and may defeat Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who has led the fractious Senate to pass historic legislation and whose position gives Nevada great influence.
But then, consider the real and frightening possibility that the tortuous Oklahoma law all but outlawing all abortions, and the Arizona law calling for a police state to deal with undocumented immigrants could easily became the laws of our land should this brand of Republicans return to power next year or in 2012.
These draconian laws are not isolated events, but part of a pattern of reaction that threatens a restoration of the worst of the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney/Newt Gingrich/Sara Palin/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck politics.. These are people who have threatened to secede or nullify laws they don’t like or understand because a liberal Democrat is in office.
I had written this and then saw that Frank Rich echoed my thoughts in the May 2 New York Times:
“The more you examine the (Arizona’s) law provisions and proponents (every Republican in the legislature) the more you realize it’s the latest and (so far) most vicious battle in a far broader movement that is not just about illegal immigrants – and that is steadily increasing its annexation of one of America’s two major political parties...The law dovetails seamlessly with the national ‘Take Back America’ crusade...”
First we should take note of the meanness of the crusaders and these Republicans as they toss around epithets like “socialist,” “communist,” “traitor” and “baby killer.” Such rhetoric that has been thrown at the president, Democrats and liberals has its origins in Newt Gingrich’s 1995 memo to the Republican political action committee, called GOPAC: “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” which taught conservatives to use sharp and negative words and exaggerations to describe Democrats and positive expressions for Republicans.
And Gingrich lectured in training sessions on how to use “shield issues” such as abortion, same sex unions, gay rights and immigration to disguise the Republican agenda while putting Democrats on the defensive.
Consider the downright maliciousness of the Republicans towards women going through a crisis of an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy in the Oklahoma anti-abortion law, which evades the guarantees of Roe v. Wade. The law debases women and treats them like farm animals because they choose (and may need ) an abortion.
Even if their pregnancy is life threatening, they are required to undergo an ultrasound and a vaginal procedure to view the fetus. Mississippi’s abortion prohibition stands even in the case of birth defects. Florida’s law requires a doctor to describe the ultrasound results even if the woman doesn’t want to know. And these Republicans preach against the dangers of government intrusion into our lives.
The Arizona law is similarly vindictive as well as a racist reaction to the fact that, as Rich pointed out, the state’s Anglo-Caucasian population, which votes Republican is becoming a minority. Senator John McCain, who once supported a decent immigration law, now panders to the radicals who have him under siege.
The Times veteran Supreme Court reporter, Linda Greenhouse, called the law a police state measure not unlike the worst of Soviet communism and South African pass laws, which required black people to have passes to go to certain areas. She described it as “breathing while undocumented.” She is correct when she says that Barry Goldwater, a true conservative, would never have supported such a trampling on his libertarian soul.
The language of the law is bad enough as a government intrusion into an individual’s rights, but its consequences include breaking up hundreds of families who have lived and worked in America for years if one partner is undocumented.
Former Republican congressman Duncan Hunter, from California, who also believes in the right to life (which, he says, begins at conception) wants to deport the live children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. He has also favored repeal of the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal rights to all Americans including, according to the courts, children of undocumented immigrants.
And Arizona followed up its racism with punitive legislation to ban teachers with “heavy accents” and to prohibit ethnic studies. In Alabama the Republican candidate for governor said he saw no need to study any language besides English.
I have dwelt on the these two issues, because they illustrate the most politically profitable and easily demagoged “shield issues” that put Democrats on the defensive. But they are all of a piece with the radical and revanchist efforts of the Republicans to take revenge for the 2008 election and “take America back” - that is, take the nation back from Barack Obama and his government activism.
That seems to mean returning to the agendas of the last dozen years during which the Republican Party has undergone the kind of metamorphosis imagined by Kafka. His character awoke to find out he had turned into a bug.
The radical Republicans, for example, include an army of fundamentalist Christians who believe, as George Bush believed, that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, and that creationism belongs right up there with (or even ahead of) Charles Darwin in public schools.
These Republicans would also end any real action on climate change for among this party’s leaders are the two most conservative, anti-government senators from Oklahoma, James Imhofe, who denies any possibility of man-made climate change, and Dr. Tom Coburn, who delights in saying “no” to any and all legislation and nominees by Democrats. Funny that both anti-government senators collect their handsome salaries and perks.
But the denial of evolution and climate change would be in line with a revival of a Bush know-nothing doctrine, reported in Politics Daily by Sheila Kaplan, who wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency staff was forced to ignore relevant science in monitoring data on the environment’s impact on human health.
The same was true at the Food and Drug Administration and every federal regulatory body that was based on science.
There is little doubt that the radical Republicans, with the help of the insurance and drug industry, would relax or ignore all regulations of the recently passed health reforms. They may not be able to repeal it, but Republicans are not known for enforcing regulations. So expect Medicare to be privatized. And Social Security may fall to the privatizers.
If and when the Tea Baggers take back America, their Republican masters will put the financial regulators like the Securities Exchange Commission back to sleep so we can have a repeat of Madoff, Lehman Brothers. Said Roy Ulrich, writing for the think tank, Demos, “Financial regulators during the Bush era kept their foot off the pedal for ideological reasons and failed to spot” or simply ignored the crimes before their eyes.
Similarly, the Office of Thrift Supervision, led by regulators who didn’t believe in regulation, failed to see the coming collapse of Washington Mutual.
Closer to criminal neglect were the hijinks, including parties, drug and alcohol use, sexual encounters, and bribery in the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The latter is under investigation for failing its regulatory responsibilities which contributed to the disaster at the Massey Energy mine that killed 29 miners. Massey had been cited for dozens of safety violations, but suffered only wrist slaps.
The Minerals Management Service, according to the Wall Street Journal, failed to require British Petroleum to install an acoustical switch, or control, required on foreign oil rigs that might have prevented today’s catastrophe. The reason? Regulation was not a priority for BP which has been involved in several oil spills.
The switch costs a half-million dollars to install but, according to environmental attorney Mike Papantonio, speaking on the MSNBC’s Ed Schultze show, that regulation was tossed out for drilling off America’s shores during still-secret meeting Vice-president Dick Cheney had with oil industry executives in 2001.
In addition, says the Journal, the job Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, did in failing to cement the well has also been called into question. Maybe better cementing or the installation of the acoustic switch might not have worked, but we’ll never know.
Too often in journalism, we are so preoccupied with events, each of which is worth our full attention, that we fail to connect the dots from the Republican crusade against abortion and illegal immigrants to the mine disaster, to the financial meltdown and the unregulated free market that is now responsible for the worst environmental disaster to befall the nation.
Is this the America the radical Republicans intend to give us when they take it back?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sheila Halet: The Book of Days