EYES RIGHT!: Reflections on the November 8th Elections
The beauty of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and so many other Republicans is that they make it all sound so simple.
If the Republicans can reduce taxes, increase defense spending, balance the budget, get people off welfare, reconstitute the American family and accelerate the current reduction in crime – if they can do all that – they deserve to be in power. God bless them. They should be running the world.
But if you walk the streets of urban America, where the punishing effects of the Reagan-Bush years are most stark, you will be overwhelmed by the evidence that the Republicans cannot do what they are promising. America’s cities are the encampments for the most seriously sick and wounded of the last Republican revolution – the Reagan revolution.
On Thursday, an unemployed plumb-er’s assistant who lives in a doorway in the East New York section of Brooklyn said bitterly: “I don’t care who won the election. They can’t do no worse to us.”
He was wrong. The Democrats were no prize, but the Republican Party is approximately as friendly to the cities as the Visigoths were to Rome. When the next Congress is sworn in, the Republicans will resume their war on Urban America with a vengeance, targeting especially the elderly, the poor and the very young.
“You will see that this will be a very dark time for the cities,” said a high-ranking national Democrat, who asked not to be identified. “The Reagan Administration launched a vicious attack on urban programs. Most programs were eliminated, or downsized to the point where they became totally ineffective. Politically, the Republicans have no motivation to solve urban America’s problems. They have no constituency there. For the Republicans, the urban scene is the embodiment of all that is wrong with America.”
But it is not just the cities that face serious trouble. The G.O.P. message, so simple and attractive, is a fraud. Mr. Gingrich is grinning like the Cheshire cat because he’s put one over on the country. Complex problems like underemployment, the budget deficit, inadequate health care and crime will not yield to simple-minded solutions. Many of the voters who joined in Tuesday’s orgiastic backlash against Bill Clinton are going to find that they cast their ballots against their own interests.
What the Republicans are good at is siphoning money from the lower and middle classes and funneling it to the wealthy. In the introduction to his book, The Politics of the Rich and Poor, Kevin Phillips wrote, “Despite the armies of homeless sleeping on grates, political leaders – even those who professed to care about the homeless – had little to say about the Republican Party’s historical role, which has been not to simply to revitalize U.S. capital but to tilt power, policy, wealth and income toward the richest portions of the population.”
That was in 1990. Here we go again. Representative Bill Archer of Texas, who will likely become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wants to abolish the Federal income tax, replacing it with something more regressive, like a national sales tax. This would be an incredible boon to the rich, and would hurt virtually everyone else by making consumer goods much more expensive.
Mr. Archer has also expressed his disdain for the whole idea of universal health coverage, which he derides as “socialized medicine.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich is gleefully readying his plans for tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for the poor.
You can’t blame the Republicans. Why should they change the bait when the fish keep biting? But what about the Democrats? What do they do now?
The first thing they should do is stop pretending to be Republicans. The Democrats are so busy running away from their President, their Party and their traditional supporters that they never were able to benefit from the successes of the last two years.
The Republicans had a simple-minded message, but the Democrats had no message at all. Throughout the country Democratic candidates pointed to Bill Clinton and said, “We’re not with him,” and they pointed to the traditional Democratic voters and said, “We’re not with them.”
It’s hard for politicians to win when they are ashamed of their base. It may be that the voters who spoke loudest on Tuesday were the voters who stayed home.
“A Simple Case of Fraud,” appeared in the Nov. 13, 1994, issue of The New York Times. Reprinted with permission.