March of folly
I always did think the Washington press corps had played center too long in the Great Football Game (old joke: sees the world backward and upside down), and now I know it.
For three months, we have been reading about "the new leadership" in Washington. People have devoted long and solemn thumb-suckers to the new leadership, analyzed it, psychoanalyzed it, and worked it by fractions.
Ignoring, of course, the real story, which is not the new leadership here but the new followership.
The government has been taken over by YAFers. All you onetime college students will remember YAFers--the Young Americans for Freedom--who used to bustle around campus in those dorky suits, like Mormons on speed.
Well, now they're in Congress.
Some of the new representatives were just Young Republicans in college, rather than YAFers, which is worse news, because at least YAF had that nice, goofy subset of libertarians who were a lot of fun. Young Republicans were never fun.
Boy, are these people followers. Lock step, in line, march in unison, chant in unison, don't think, don't learn, follow the leader.
I'm telling you, Rep. Sonny Bono is one of the intellectual giants among the Republican freshmen.
In addition to this awful sort of frat-boy rah-rah attitude, the new Repubs haven't even the grace to be humble, which is the proper role of any freshperson. Nope, these are amazingly smug.
A very distinguished and couth man said--under one of those Washington journalism rules where you're not allowed to name any of the people you quote--"I just want to slap them."
Here's an example of why one might want to slap a Republican congressional follower. You may recall a particularly puzzling bit of Republican mean-spiritedness: the bill calling for cuts in the Supplemental Security Income that goes to poor children with crippling conditions such as spina bifida.
Their specific problem with this otherwise-logical program (the supplemental income enables families to care for their own kids instead of having the government pay to send them to a hellaciously expensive institution--not even pro-family) was that the number of people receiving SSI has gone up considerably in the past few years. Soared, you might say.
So, the Republicans announced, poor people were clearly coaching their children to fake crippling conditions.
The mind-boggling notion of a four-year-old faking spina bifida did not give the Republican followers so much as a single pause. They gravely recited this rationale, apparently believed it with the greatest of ease, and cut the program.
Then the leadership role appeared.
The followers charge, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, needing to get out in front of his own troops, then carries their weird notions to new heights of bizarreness.
Gingrich told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a speech reported by Lars-Erik Nelson of Newsday, that poor people were not only coaching their kids on how to fake disability but beating them if they did not succeed.
"They're being punished for not getting what they call crazy money, or stupid money. We are literally having children suffering child abuse so they can get a check for their parents."
So, Gingrich concluded, this program encourages child abuse. Now we're not just talking fraud and fakery but horrible brutality.
Gingrich concluded that the SSI program encourages child abuse?!
Who should I find in Washington but one of the people who knows why the SSI rolls have gone up dramatically and who helped make it happen. Here's the real story:
While the Republicans controlled the White House, programs like SSI were run at the speed of molasses. The result was a great pile-up of applications for SSI. People who applied were first rejected automatically; then they had to file an appeal, then the appeals stacked up, and so on and so forth.
You might think this saved the government money, but no. It turns out that seriously ill people with few resources have to go to the hospital to die, and that costs a lot more money than the home care they can get with SSI, so this cruel delaying tactic actually made the deficit worse.
Then some influential people, including Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Florida, and others, started pushing the SSI bureaucracy, which then started moving faster on the backed-up applications, and lots more people were enrolled in SSI.
Not because poor people beat crippled children, but because some bigwigs goosed the bureaucrats.
The weirdest thing about this exercise in Republican fantasy is that anyone could possibly have believed it in the first place.
May I offer a suggestion as to what the problem might be? I think economic segregation in this country is so rigid that we literally don't know one another anymore. Republicans just don't know people on welfare or SSI; they grow up in the suburbs, go to pretty schools, get a good education, and think everyone in the country should be able to make it "on their own" the way they did.
As Jim Hightower says, "Born on third and thinks he hit a triple."
Which is why sensible people could entertain such lurid fantasies about "the poor," whom they think of as The Other.
It's either that or the entire Republican freshman class is a bunch of nutters.
When I think of the love, care, devotion, and patience I have seen lavished on disabled children by their struggling parents, and then I read Gingrich's cruel, ugly, wicked distortions, I want to slap somebody, too.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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