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Jewish World Review March 4, 1999 /16 Adar 5759

David Corn

David Corn
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...and Dumber


No, not to the allegations of sleazy Clinton misdeeds.

(What is one to make of a 21-year-old rape charge when White House aides shrug their shoulders and say, "Who knows?")

The other never-depleted well in Washington is the source of Republican ineptitude. In the post-impeachment period, the GOPsters keep proving their cluelessness. Once their poorly reviewed impeachment production closed, the Republicans realized they were in desperate need of a new start.

Reflexively, they turned to tax cuts: The grand idea was a 10-percent across-the-board cut, which was to be the foundation of the Republican revival. It lasted about three weeks—this past week, House Republican leaders pronounced their blockbuster win-’em-back proposal DBA—dead before arrival. Moderate and conservative GOPers, for different reasons, didn’t cotton to the plan, so it was quickly shelved—before Clinton and the Democrats could attack. Even when the Republicans are on the playing field alone these days, they lose.

The 10-percent solution was a dumb idea. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonprofit research outfit, nearly 60 percent of the tax break would have benefited taxpayers hauling in more than $100,000 a year.

This slice of the public would have pocketed thousands of dollars. The benefits for most Americans were slight: Those making less than $38,000 would have netted $99. Moreover, Republicans never said how they’d pay for the tax cut. Were they going to use the budget surplus? If so, then they were about to mount a trickle-up transfer of wealth.

Nearly the entire surplus is the result of Social Security taxes. But those taxes are only paid on the first $65,000 of income. Using the surplus from these taxes to disproportionately dish out money to those who make more than $65,000 would have been obscene. The Republicans were indeed contemplating a raid on Social Security to benefit the rich. It’s unfortunate they retreated before the public caught on.

Bad and unjust policy was not the only evidence of their cluelessness. The tax cut proposal ran counter to all public opinion polls, which rank such an initiative below other priorities, such as education and preserving Social Security. So it failed on the pander-meter. Moreover, the quick abandonment revealed little strategic thinking under way in the GOP. Before unleashing a major policy initiative, shouldn’t a party canvass its own and determine the plan’s support? Thus has Rep. Dennis Hastert, the no-name legislator who became speaker because Larry Flynt has money to burn, failed his first test as a big-league player.

Conservatives around town were aghast. One right-wing columnist explained the Republican misstep to me this way: "What’s the cause of bad thinking? Stupidity."

What’s next for the Republicans? There’s nothing obvious, but there are Republicans cooking up ideas. In Colorado, two elected Republicans—U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and state Sen. John Andrews—signed a pledge calling for the elimination of all public schools. The pledge was devised by a California group called the Separation of School and State Alliance, whose motto is: "It’s not the business of federal, state and local governments to be involved in Monday school any more than Sunday school." Tancredo, who sits on the House Education Committee, told The Denver Post that he signed the pledge "to push the envelope of debate." Imagine if Hastert and the GOP leadership embraced the abolition of public schools.

It’s unlikely the Republicans will push the envelope of idiocy that far, yet after the embarrassing retreat on taxes was announced the Republican leadership kept acting like directionless whiners. At a meeting with the President, Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Majority Leader Dick Armey said they wouldn’t work with Clinton on Social Security and Medicare unless he assured them that the Democrats would never use the issues against Republicans in the 2000 elections. Aren’t Republicans the ones who are supposed to relish and have faith in markets, including the marketplace of ideas? If the GOP has the best proposals on Social Security and Medicare, then what do Lott and Armey fear? Are they asking that they be permitted to put forward any scheme they like and then be immune from criticism during an election? The Republicans are roaring like mice.


IT’S TOUGH TO RESIST dwelling on the delusions and wacky after-the-fact analyses of pro-impeachment conservatives. So why resist?

Unsurprisingly, some of the best nuttiness keeps emerging from the Free Congress Foundation, the shop of Paul Weyrich, the social conservative leader who invented the term "moral majority." Weyrich recently sparked a media spasm when he announced that Clinton’s acquittal meant that "cultural Marxism" has triumphed and urged conservatives to turn off and drop out of U.S. culture.

Next, Cliff Kincaid, a chief Weyrich lieutenant, began talking up a Miami lawyer’s effort to file a lawsuit that would overturn the impeachment verdict. Kincaid is calling on House Republicans to file suit against the Senate for violating the Constitution in its handling of the impeachment trial. Does Kincaid’s proposal signal the rise of a new strain of right-wing ideology: masochistic conservatism? Once Hastert introduces a bill to outlaw public schools, perhaps he’ll proceed with such a suit.

Timothy Tardibono, another Weyrichian, issued his own statement seconding Weyrich’s assessment. "We have lost the culture war," he asserts. "The moral poverty in this nation is epidemic." His solution: the "faith community of America" must revive the "original intent of the Founding Fathers." The constitutional midwives—actually, midhusbands—of this nation, Tardibono insists, "knew that moral virtue, rooted in Biblical precepts, would be the fertile soil where honorable character traits could flourish and nourish the people. They knew that courage, duty, respect for authority, rationality, self-control, bravery, patriotism, chivalry, generosity, charity, kindness, peace and love would all help make up the difference for whatever shortcomings were present in their governing document... The thriving church can revive the moral virtue the Founders relied on, thus creating an inevitable transformation" of the culture.

The founders included some wonderful guys, but in response to Tardibono’s effusions about their moral vision, a cheap shot is warranted: slavery. Why hail as shining moral examples those who failed on the greatest moral issue of their day?

If only we could turn back time, Tardibono laments. "America has ceased to be good and has consequently ceased to be great," he gripes. "Only a church-driven return to moral virtue can change the moral climate of America making the atmosphere again open to the Constitutional governance as envisioned by the Founders."

How good were the good ol’ days, when slavery flourished or when genocide was practiced against Native Americans? Do we really want to emulate the limited moral vision of the founders? As lousy as the culture may be these days, at least when a black man is dragged to his death by racists in East Texas, an historic stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, the act is criticized throughout the land, and a popular Washington radio shock-jock—the Greaseman—who jokes about the murder in racist fashion is tossed off the air. Now why don’t Weyrich & Co. cite this as cultural progress?


JWR contributor David Corn is the "Loyal Opposition" columnist at New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

03/01/99: Post-Mortem Ad Nauseam
02/25/99: What’s Next?

©1999, NY Press.