Abstract ideology is tempted by extremism — a lesson Republican Governor George Allen was stunningly taught last week by the Virginia legislature. His $2.5 billion tax cut for businesses and individuals over 5 years was rejected, along with some draconian cuts in social service programs.
Granted the legislature is controlled by Democrats, but in Virginia that is usually another word for “conservative.” As House Majority Leader C. Richard Cranwell said at a news conference holding up 877 letters from constituents opposing Allen’s proposals: “The problem we have is the people have rejected it out of hand.”
So have some Republican allies of the Governor in the state legislature. They began hearing from their constituents about real life services in their community going down the tubes that help the genuinely helpless.
The facile anecdotes that have been paving the way for. Republicans at the state and federal level for draconian cuts in social services, such as homecare for the elderly, the disabled and the sick, are beginning to wear thin.
Newspapers around the country have been describing the kind of people who rely so heavily on these services. They do not resemble the kind of caricatures that Ronald Reagan made part of public discourse. They are like Joseph Hennesey, a U.S. Navy veteran who had his own business, but became a double amputee resulting from diabetes. He can live at home because he has a home-care attendant visiting him. Or Mary Larizza, age 93, who cannot live without her home attendant.
Cutting with a broad sweep these programs, based on some true or false abuses by some people, will send many of these people into nursing homes – – a far more expensive alternative. Or as Chris Bosch, laid off from his job at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and living on food stamps, a medicaid card and $300 for his monthly rent, told the New York Times: “I’m fortunate because I’ve got this. A lot of guys don’t have anything. If they get cut, they’ll be out there on the streets.”
In addition to putting some empirical reality on top of these “can you top this” budget cut race among some Governors — who, by the way, are not cutting their own pay and benefits, more questions are finally being raised about the much larger welfare system — the tens of billions of dollars in corporate welfare handouts.
Governor Allen and others of his ilk subscribe to the double standard between corporations and real people. To make the already “low-tax” state of Virginia more competitive, he said, Allen wants to give business more tax cuts and outright subsidies as he did for the withdrawn and infamous Disney project in Haymarket, Virginia.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Republicans are playing the game of handing more obligations over to the states without assuring them of any adequate funding. So some Republican governors have begun to questions this federal escape from responsibility and to see beyond the immediate headlines of the forthcoming shrinking Washington phenomenon.
Allen even managed to arouse college students and education leaders with his rampage against the higher education budget. Already receiving one of the lower per capita budget outlays among the states, Virginia’s colleges and universities trotted out some business leaders who objected to the cuts, saying it would make Virginia “less competitive” with other states.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich may not know it yet, but the meat axe approach for health, safety, education, transit, children and other program cuts will arouse the “silent Americans” who either are receiving such help or providing it. Efficiency yes, they are saying, but not abolition, not mindless and cruel dismissal of those whose cries for the compassion of their fellow humans test our democratic society.
Cong. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has begun to list the specific cuts and who specially will be affected in his back yard — New York City. The Republican majority in Congress cried foul. That is what happens when the abstract rhetoric of the affluent, the comfortable and the well-connected is brought down to Elm Street, USA.
Mr. Gingrich, meet George Allen across the Potomac River. You may have to learn his lesson that the oratory of class warfare against the afflicted will offend the basic decency of the American people. When that happens, none of your fast talking wordbolts will save you from their condemnation.