Anarchy in the U.S.A.: The GOP Plays a Dangerous Game With It’s Far-Right Fringe

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Behind the Waco and the Whitewater hearings lies a concerted effort on the part of Republican right “revolutionar­ies” to make use of its anarchist fringes.

Ever since Newt Gingrich turned self-hate into a campaign manifesto last November, the GOP has been conducting a risky affair with the far right. Now, though, this “we’re crazier than the crazies” stance seems to be backfiring. As the Waco hear­ings have demonstrated, it helps to know a little about the cause you’re supporting. Far from martyring David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and hence elevating the Christian right above law and order, the testimony of one Davidian survivor last week only reinforced the government’s accusations that Koresh was a child abuser.

No doubt Republicans, and their NRA sponsors, will have better luck beating up on the ATF and FBI once hearings begin into the 1992 Ruby Ridge raid on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver, but for the moment they are split on how to play their far right wing.

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Gingrich continues to indulge the anarchists, just last week weighing in on the favorite wacko topic of who killed Vince Foster. Meanwhile, Helen Chenoweth in the House and Larry Craig in the Senate continue to run wild, attacking the effrontery of federal agents and invoking the specter of the dreaded black helicopters.

But last week mainstream con­servatives regained their voice. In the Washington Times, Peter King, Republican congressman from Long Island, wrote in an op-ed, “Why now are some conservatives so willing to turn the presumption against federal law enforcement agen­cies such as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? Why was it wrong to call cops ‘pigs’ in the ’60s, but acceptable to call federal agents ‘Nazis’ and ‘jack-booted thugs’ in the ’90s? If it is because gun own­ers are considered to have a status different from blacks and left wing demonstrators, that would be unac­ceptable since principles are immutable and cannot be altered to suit the situation.

1995_Village Voice Thomas Goetz chart covering killings by the government from 1969 - 1993

“Nothing that happened at Waco and Ruby Ridge justifies citizens arm­ing themselves for some eventual struggle with the government. That is not what we do in a democratic society where we have the means to control government abuses at the voting booth and through the courts. Militia supporters talk of the ‘spirit of the Founding Fathers,’ but it was George Washington, the Father of our country, who denounced Shay’s Militia and the Whiskey Rebel­lion as threats to ‘republican gov­ernment.’ Any armed force with a political agenda in a democratic society is a threat to republican government.”

The Waco hearings have provided little substance. Unlike Watergate, or even the Iran-contra inves­tigation, there has been little or no effort by the Republican chairmen to figure out why the raid was staged, and the hearings have largely omitted the ludicrous attempts of the ATF to woo the press that played a major role in the timing of the first raid. From start to finish, the hearings have been a PR move, basically an effort to publicly attack the ATF in order to revoke the assault-weapon ban. More sub­tly, the hearings have played to the Christian right, key supporters of the Republican majority, and an entity everyone in Congress fears. But more than anything, the hearings have provided a dazzling display of farce and hypocrisy. Repub­licans who had been slashing away at the Fourth Amendment on the House floor earlier this spring in their determination to pass a tough crime bill have now been portray­ing themselves as feel-good liberals, invoking the rights of the Constitu­tion on behalf of Koresh and the other “individualistic” Christians within the compound.

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Aside from the desire to pander to Christian conservatives and the gun lobby, the Waco hearings are also an attempt to play to the lib­ertarian-anarchist wing of the party. Behind the attack on the ATF is anarchist frothing for the role of county sheriff in govern­ment. In Waco, the sheriff was on friendly terms with Koresh and clearly had no intention of challenging the Davidians, despite the accusa­tions made against the group. Indeed, various Republicans at the hearings came awfully close to suggesting that the sanctity of pri­vate property should have acted as a barrier against any federal intrusion. The argument that what Koresh was doing was his business and nobody else’s will get any politician, Christian right or other, firmly clobbered in the polls.

At first look, the new love affair with the role of county sher­iff might seem to go well with the overall Republican effort to decentralize govern­ment, removing power from Washington and spreading it out to the states — whose gov­ernors Republicans see as natural allies in the revolution to remake the federal government within the frame­work of states’ rights. But states’ rights is not county rights, and invariably states are opposed to county rights, siding again and again with the federal government against efforts to wrest control of land and water from the feds. State governments, especially in the West, where county rights is a much-publicized movement, are generally dri­ven by their urban citizenry, who stand to lose power should rural, often sparsely populated, counties suddenly grab more political power.

Western revolutionaries, such as the Wise Use and county movements, have gained national prominence, and a degree of legitimacy, over the last year, but just how the Republican right, centered around the followers of former interior secretary James Watt, intends to rope in these loos­er-than-loose cannons is unclear. Whipping up emotions over the sovereign rights of the county sher­iff may be good as a Gingrichian sound bite, but is a card no serious Republican politician who wants to stay in office is apt to play.

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Why, to cite but one example, would any serious Republican (or Democ­ratic politician) in Nevada want to put rural Nye County, the hotbed of the county secession movement, on an equal footing with Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in the nation?

And playing to anarchist Repub­licans almost inevitably opens an attack on the whole structure of local government. In Oklahoma, for instance, the Oklahoma Tax Com­mission revoked Woodward County agent June Griffith’s appointment after she filed what she called her “sovereignty papers.” According to the Enid News & Eagle, “similar papers show up in courthouses across Northwest Oklahoma, with only the filing party’s name changed, rejecting Social Security numbers, birth certificates and marriage licenses and renouncing U.S. citizenship.”

In northwestern Oklahoma this movement, which threatens to play havoc with the local Republi­can organization, “appears to be little more than a loosely orga­nized collection of disgruntled property owners who have lost their land in foreclosure actions and who hold forth on farms and in homes across Northwest Oklahoma to redress their grievances against the system.” The result is clogged court filings with false judgments against banks, bogus liens, phony subpoenas for state prosecutors, lawsuits against federal, state, and county governments.

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Through the Wise Use, county, and property rights movements, the GOP has built a supercharged engine of conservative politicking. This attack group leads the fight against environmentalists and is the driving force of every move­ment aimed at tax reduction. It is an angry and highly motivated group that Republican politicians have actively encouraged, and one that they can scarcely afford to have split and turn on itself.

That, though, as Democrats have learned over years of internal rift, is always a danger when mobilizing angry constituencies. The Waco hear­ings exposed one more time that the fragile coalition that makes up the Republican right is itself riven with contradictions.

It is seldom understood, for example, that the Christian right is not made up of anarchists. As a group, it believes in strong federal government that can institute and enforce the repressive codes of social conduct in birth control and education that they advocate. Unlike the racist survivalist faction, the Christian fringe has no interest in retiring to some wilderness tract in the Northwest. It wants to take power in Washington and then exercise it.

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When you strip down the revolutionary rhetoric coming from Congress, it isn’t hard to see what a dangerous game the GOP is playing.

If the Republican majority were seriously interested in addressing the Waco raid, then, turning to the Treasury Department’s excellent indictment of its own handling of the matter, it could seek to prose­cute the leaders of the department for dereliction of their duty. Top of the list is former Treasury head Lloyd Bentsen, a conservative Republican in all but name, whose han­dling of the raid points to a clear case of incompetence and derelic­tion, leading up to direct violation of constitutional rights.

Also, the Treasury’s report makes a powerful case against the ATF as an institution. Add to that the bureau’s recent history of sex­ual harassment cases, not to men­tion its racist “good ol’ boys” reunion. Here, sunset legislation to abolish this agency, turning its duties over to other existing law enforcement agencies, would be a welcome and most constructive step forward.

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Why not abolish the ATF? That would definitely play to the anar­chist crowd, and to the money bags at the NRA. It would help carry on the sense of revolution infused by Gingrich. But it would also run the powerful risk of opening its spon­sors to charges they are soft on crime — a charge that right-wing Democrats showered on the hear­ings from the beginning. Most importantly, it would turn over the duties of the ATF to other law enforce­ment agencies, i.e., the Secret Ser­vice, something the NRA would fight hard to avoid.

Sooner or later the Republican anarchists will get the message that they are being played with by the Republican right, and bolt off into the gullies and under the rocks from which they only lately have emerged. They will especially get the message when the Republican right sides with the government in wiping them out, which can’t be far from happening. ■

Additional reporting by Julian Foley, Pat McDonald, Vinita Srivatava

1995_Village Voice article by James Ridgeway about the paranoid far right

1995_Village Voice Thomas Goetz chart covering killings by the government from 1969 - 1993


Republican Nation: The New Poor Laws

The New Poor Laws: How Mr. Gingrich Brought Back Tiny Tim
January 10, 1995

THE PUSH TO END WELFARE is more than just another front in the war on big govern­ment and high taxes. In the name of reform, America is about to cross a gigantic social fron­tier.

What’s at stake today is not whether the dependent poor will shiver in unheated apart­ments and sink slowly into malnutrition. That was the ’80s, when the real value of welfare grants dropped nationally by an average of 25 per cent. And city governments cut costs fur­ther by “churning” — arbitrarily lopping welfare recipients off the rolls and making them reapply.

In the ’90s, a bipartisan consensus has emerged to take us beyond administrative harass­ment and immiserating budget cuts. In this national movement, there are no hawks and doves — only Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The Republicans are the tough, unyielding Bolsheviks, uncompromising in their zeal to abolish the exploitation of the taxpayer by the indigent. The Democrats are the Hamlet-like Mensheviks, tortured by moral scruples, concerned that the pace of change is too fast. But neither party disagrees on principle: Both insist that the old order is cor­rupt and must be eliminated. And since no one opposes it, the revolution accelerates.

The latest proposals from the Republican-led House Finance Committee contain provisions that make the Contract With America seem like the New Deal. Not just because of 50 per cent cuts in the value of some grants. Or because more than half the children who now qualify for aid would be ren­dered ineligible because they were born out of wedlock. More funda­mentally, the new measures strip the indigent of their right to receive public assistance based on need.

As in the last century, when the urban gentry — chiefly property owners and their allies in bank­ing — passed sweeping legislation against the poor, the current plan for welfare reform will produce not just a decline in the standard of liv­ing but a change in the civil status of the poor, stripping them of rights they have had for more than 50 years. Taken together with legislation passed in state houses and city halls across the country, these federal proposals amount to a new set of poor laws — that 19th-century term for regulating the underclass.

The inspiration for enacting poor laws in America came from Britain, where, in 1834, a parliamentary commission met to rectify the damage done to the incentive structure of the poor by well-meaning 18th-century Tories — the ’60s liberals of their day. The result of the commission’s deliber­ations was to privatize state charitable institutions, crimi­nalize begging, set up private “mendicancy police,” jail va­grants, roust the homeless from public shelters, and abolish what Victorians called “outdoor relief.” The urban elites insisted as a condition of receiving assistance that poor peo­ple live and perform hard labor in a workhouse.

What makes us willing to step again into this same river of urban misery and calculated cruelty? Why are we willing to reconsider social Darwinist notions that poverty has a ba­sis in biology? And that, as an hereditary pariah group, the poor no longer qualify for basic human rights?

THAT THE POOR have any rights at all in this coun­try is largely due to the passage, in 1935, of the So­cial Security Act. At the time, all across America, state and local relief programs had gone bankrupt. New York City didn’t even have such a program. The 1897 City Charter forbade it.

Essentially, Roosevelt’s New Deal and Tru­man’s Fair Deal created two primary entitlements. First, the Social Security Act gave states access to unlimited matching federal funds. And then, in 1950, the federal government granted in­dividuals entitlement status, depriv­ing states and cities of the power to deny the needy.

The Social Security Act contained deep flaws. It allowed localities to establish different benefit levels, which could never be standardized by the federal government. This crazy-quilt pattern kept the U.S. from mandating welfare as a national program, the way European nations do. And the provisions for unemployment compensation — at the urging of Southern congressmen — left out blacks by ex­empting maids and farm workers. But for all its defects, the Social Security Act did grant poor people entitlement sta­tus. Local governments can’t simply turn them away with the explanation, “That’s all folks, the money’s run out.” If that happens, officials are obligated to raise more.

But in the new welfare consensus, state and individual entitlements disappear. Automatic matching funds are transformed into “block grants” administered by the states. Spending caps are imposed on programs for the poor. Even legal immigrants become ineligible for aid. Cities and states will again be able to dump the indigent by a competitive lowering of benefits. The few states — like New York — whose constitutions guarantee the right to aid will be threatened with inundation: Elsewhere, local officials will need only a shrug and a show of empty hands to fend off the importunate poor.

The real issue looming today is whether America will once again draw the line against the growing millions of its urban poor, turning a deprived economic class into a de­spised social caste, propelling the poor into the presumptive criminal status they enjoyed throughout most of the 19th century. The new poor laws could create just such an outcome. In this respect, they are exactly like the old poor laws — even down to small particulars.

Last fall, fusion mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared war on soup kitchens. He demanded that the City Council close ranks behind his decision to deny funds for those who would feed the hungry. In the 1890s, fusion mayor William L. Strong led a similar crusade against permissive soup dispensers. These philanthropists helped the deserv­ing and undeserving indiscrimi­nately, leaving them more money “for gin palaces and low public houses.”

“Workfare,” invented by the Ford Foundation in the mid 1970s, doesn’t mean work at fair wages. It means working off the value of your welfare check, which in some states can mean a wage of less than $1.25 an hour. It revives the 19th-century work test, a key element in the orig­inal poor laws. Before allowing the indigent to eat, the New York Char­ity Organization Society took male applicants down to their West 28th Street wood yard. If they chopped vigorously enough, they might get fed. (Or, if an interviewer discovered a pattern of dependency, they might be sent to jail.) Female paupers were taken to the COS laundry to see if they could really scrub. Such measures rehearse the small humiliations and petty irritants the 19th century inflicted on the poor.

Rudolph Giuliani’s criminaliza­tion of squeegee men and beggars outside the ATMs ominously repris­es the furious campaigns against begging and vagrancy that began in the 1870s. The battle reached a peak in 1911, when the state legislature, at the behest of the New York City COS, passed a law that created upstate prison camps for city beggars.

The idea that the dependent poor could be transformed once again into quasi-criminals hardly seems far-fetched any­more. The punitive and ascetic 1990s already resemble the 1890s more than the comparatively liberal 1970s, when the dominant idea of welfare reform was to give every Ameri­can a guaranteed income. That was Richard Nixon’s plan!

What happened? One easy explanation is that “Reagan’s the one.” For the left these days, Reagan still serves as in­tellectual Hamburger Helper to pad out our understand­ing of painful changes we can’t quite yet grasp — from the fall of the Soviet Union to the decline of the U.S. labor move­ment. But we need to get past our fixation on Ronnie. A Democrat is chief executive now.

Those who prize simple explanations could far more plau­sibly blame Clinton for rekindling the spirit of poorhouse America. As New York Times welfare writer Jason De Parle observes, “Clinton has taken a tougher stance on welfare than any other president.” It was he who literally took a page from Murray’s book. It was Clinton, not Reagan, who insisted on the two-year cutoff; Clinton, not Reagan or Bush, who campaigned to “end welfare as we know it.”

But Clinton’s responsibility for America’s rightward shift on welfare ought not to be stretched too far. To advert to the postmodern idiom, “Clinton” is not a subject. As a signifier, he simply expresses a certain malaise of the Democratic Par­ty. He’s a vector of various polling results, not an agent of so­cial change. If the welfare reform parade hadn’t been com­ing down the street, if the Ford and Rockefeller foundations hadn’t already agreed to pay for the band and the uniforms, Clinton wouldn’t have stepped off the curb to lead it.

Nor can the feminization of poverty explain the resump­tion of America’s class war against the poor. In 1984, Bar­bara Ehrenreich and Frances Fox Piven predicted that by the year 2000, the poverty population would consist entirely of women and dependent children. Feminists argued that the whole binary structure of wel­fare — “male” programs like unem­ployment don’t have the built-in surveillance requirements of AFDC — as well as the growing hostility to welfare expressed nothing less than a patriar­chal backlash.

But the welfare recipients under the most severe attack are those drawing General Assistance (“Home Relief” in New York). These are poor people in need of emergency aid who can’t qual­ify under any other program. They’re not blind, old, disabled, or caring for dependent children. In New York, their number has grown to nearly a quarter of a million — at a rate 10 times faster than the growth of the AFDC caseload. Reformers don’t just want to discourage or cut back on Home Re­lief. They simply want to abolish the program. But the point is that Home Relief recipients are overwhelmingly male. The angry focus on this program has fiscal not patriarchal roots: AFDC, SSI, and food stamps are chiefly fund­ed by the feds, but every dollar of Home Relief comes from local taxes.

What about the power of ideas? Is the ground burning under the feet of the dependent poor because Charles Murray and his fellow neocons developed powerful proposals for welfare reform? Whatever one says about Murray, no one can accuse him of having an original thought. Not a single one of Murray’s claims, not a single criterion for handling the poor, would have surprised Thomas Malthus. In fact, Murray’s main rant — that welfare causes black girls to have extra kids — is a false coin handed down directly from Parson Malthus, whose 18th-century Law of Population was specifically designed to afflict poor welfare recipients and comfort rural landlords.

Most of the remaining items in Murray’s policy invento­ry consist of variations on Jeremy Bentham’s “less eligibil­ity principle.” As Bentham’s disciples put it in 1834, in the famous Chadwick Commission Report that inspired the Vic­torian poor laws, the pauper’s “situation on the whole shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent laborer of the lowest classes.” Translat­ed from 19th-century policyspeak, the idea was to keep workers from applying for relief and to prevent paupers from staying on the dole. Conditions have to be made worse for the pauper than anything likely to be experienced by the poorest worker. Very simply, if the worker’s conditions are terrible, the pauper’s must be made revolting.

Without a whole network of foundations, think tanks, grants, and conservative publishing houses amplifying the low wattage of his contribution, it’s unlikely that so many Americans would have paid attention to Mr. Murray or his fellows. These people brought us welfare reform in the same sense that the Budweiser Clydesdales bring us beer. Some­one hitched them to the wagon. Who is that? And why now?

WERE YOU AWARE that the real estate project most associated with the Rockefeller family­ — Rockefeller Center — is going down the toilet? The New York Times business pages suggest they and their Japanese partners, Mitsubishi Estates, will renege this year on the mortgage payments they owe and simply walk away from Rockefeller Center, Christmas tree and all. That’s on Fifth Avenue. The downtown real estate situation is much worse. Vacancy rates in the area approach 30 percent, and rents continue to fall.

That’s why the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association, headed by a vice chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, came up with a massive bailout plan called the “Low­er Manhattan Project.” The Wall Street area stands as prob­ably the most subsidized square mile of real estate in the world. Battery Park City alone last year got a $127.8 million subsidy. But aggressive Wall Street panhandlers want more aid. They want the money to convert their office buildings to luxury rentals, to lower property taxes, and simply to wreck some of their superannuated buildings at taxpayer ex­pense. Promoters of the Lower Manhattan Project appear to have worked out a deal with Giuliani to get upwards of $234 million for these projects. At least that’s the bill for the first three years.

On the same day Mayor Giuliani announced the $234 million sub­sidy plan for the real estate rich, he proposed cutting public assistance payments by another $300 million. The mayor, of course, insists that Wall Street subsidies don’t take money out of the budget that could go to the poor. His plan provides seed for eco­nomic growth. Welfare for the real es­tate rich will produce jobs. But Nelson Rockefeller was just the first of many to promise the same thing billions of dol­lars ago, and downtown has fewer jobs now than in the ’60s. Downtown real­tors are simply shoving their way to the front of the municipal soup kitchen, elbowing aside the poor.

The same struggle drives welfare re­form at the national level. The Contract With America seeks to have welfare cut­backs finance capital-gains tax cuts and increased military expenditure. This­ — and not more diffuse cultural anxieties — ­is why it’s Murray Time again.

Welfare reform has an added urgency because poverty has grown to 19th-cen­tury proportions. The numbers of peo­ple on relief are far larger than the pub­lished figures reveal. In New York City, the official tally of 1.1 million is dwarfed by the number of people who actually receive aid from the basic means-tested programs. AFDC, SSI, Home Relief, and “Medicaid only” recipients total 1.8 million people. One out of four New Yorkers.

Naturally, welfare reformers, whose political base is in the suburbs and the white neighborhoods in the outer bor­oughs, focus their attacks on inner-city welfare moms. But they also want to take money away from disabled men. And from elderly ladies too. Cutting off old and disabled SSI recipients is all part of the Contract With America’s Personal Responsibility Act. Denying nurs­ing-home care figures heavily in Giuliani’s plan to cut Med­icaid by one-third.

Our modern elites need some higher justification for their calculated cruelty than Christianity and Judaism can provide. This is why social Darwinism is back. “What do the social classes owe each other?” asked America’s most famous 19th-­century social scientist, Yalie William Graham Sumner, in a bestselling book by that title. “Nothing,” he answered.

People chatter about “the right to existence,” complained Sumner. But where do we find this “right to existence”? Not in nature. There, he explained, all we see is a pitiless struggle between individuals. Go ahead, says Sumner, leg­islate such a right. What will happen? “It is plain,” he says, “that we shall not abolish the struggle for existence; we shall only bring it about that some men must fight that struggle for others.” Some people’s taxes will support others’ right to existence. What a waste!

Look at the poor drunkard in the gutter, exclaims Sumn­er. You want someone to help him, but your pity is perverse. “A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be. Na­ture is working away at him to get him out of the way. Nine-­tenths of our measures for preventing vice are really protec­tive towards it, because they ward off the penalty.”

If we map the social-policy landscape over the 150 years since America began rapid urbanization, what we find are jagged cycles of meanness and relative liberality. Permitting “public outdoor relief” and then angrily taking it away. These swings in mood and policy correspond roughly to the business cycle. And more particularly in big cities to the real estate cycle.

The meanness phase of the cycle begins when the real estate rich start to feel pinched. In the boom phase, they’re too busy speculating to worry about the bur­den of the poor. But when the real estate crunch comes, their incomes fall. They find themselves struggling to pay the banks. At the same time, as the hard times intensify, welfare rolls soar, putting pressure on the budget. Politicians seek to raise taxes. Real estate responds with a crusade against the poor and the urban machine that coddles the undeserving.

Today’s elites react not to the “feminization of poverty” or because blacks get AFDC checks disproportionately. They act because they are acted upon. They want to get rid of welfare because, with real estate revenues being squeezed, they want to appropriate the public revenue spent on the poor.

Social historians have misunderstood the 19th-century charity reformers. They weren’t just rich. They were rich real estate developers. As such they were city shapers and planners. They saw welfare expenses not just in terms of the tax burden, but in terms of lost opportunities.

The president of COS, Robert DeFor­est, who successfully led the battle to get rid of public outdoor relief in New York, was the principal developer of Forest Hills, Queens. He was financed by his co-reformer, Otto Bannard, vice president of New York Life Insurance. In their 1897 crusade against outdoor relief, DeForest and Bannard were following in the footsteps of Seth Low, who’d gotten rid of out­door relief as far back as 1870 when he was mayor of Brooklyn. Low, who inherited millions from his father in the opium trade, was the largest landowner in Brooklyn. He’d founded Brooklyn Charities with oth­er developers who’d invested heavily in what were then outlying areas of Brooklyn. What united these charity reformers were their speculations. They needed the city to invest heavily in streets, gas, and lights, as well as transportation, to make their in­vestments pay off.

The whole reason for the creation of Greater New York in 1898 was to grab hold of the Manhattan tax base to finance these projects. Developers insisted on pro­ductive, not unproductive, expenditure. Roads, not relief.

In New York City, in the aftermath of the great depres­sion of ’93, sleeping in the police station remained the last resort for the homeless. These lodging houses served as shel­ters for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. Until, that is, the election of the fusion administration of William Strong in 1896. Strong appointed Teddy Roosevelt to lead the New York police board. And Roosevelt persuaded the Charter Revision Commission “to remove from the organic law of the city the clause giving to the police the care of vagrants.”

In 1897, Strong also succeeded in get­ting the Raines Law passed. This meant, literally, no more free lunches. Bars could no longer serve them. Welfare reformers argued they attracted the homeless.

Next, New York’s welfare reformers turned to suppressing street begging and vagrancy. The COS campaign compiled an exhaustive list of street beggars. Based on this information, the COS’s own squadron of “mendicancy police” was able to round up beggars and turn them over to the police.

In 1896, the organiza­tion turned to Teddy Roosevelt. They asked him to establish a mendi­cancy police unit inside the department. Teddy was the scion of one of New York’s richest fami­lies. An uncle, James Roosevelt, had founded the Chemical Bank. The fam­ily led the redevelopment of Park Avenue after the New York Central de­pressed its tracks beneath street level. Theodore Sr. was president of the New York State Charities Aid Association. James was a member of the COS. So when Teddy was ap­proached by the COS, ac­cording to one witness, he “listened attentively for the few moments it took for him to grasp the idea,” and then ordered it done.

SCHOLARS ARGUE over whether it was Stalin or Hit­ler who invented labor camps. In fact, labor-camp proposals predate both the Soviet and Nazi regimes. As ear­ly as the turn of the centu­ry, New York charitable authorities promoted camps as a solution to the vagrancy problem.

Having been rousted from shelters and driven out of bars, vagrants were more underfoot than ever. Especially after the very sharp depression of 1907. As usual, questions of economy drove policy discussions. The State Charities Aid Association counted up the number of vagrants in peniten­tiaries, jails, workhouses, and almshouses in 1908. Authorities estimated the cost at more than $2 million. The vagrancy prob­lem could be more cheap­ly handled by the creation of a state labor colony.

At the prodding of the reformers, state legislators passed a bill in 1911 that called for the “detention, humane discipline, in­struction, and reformation of male adults committed therefore as tramps or vagrants.” A 900-acre tract in Dutchess County was set aside for the camp. But the next incoming governor, William Sulzer refused to appropriate the funds. Reformers howled. Sulzer was actually impeached a few months later. But the camp was nev­er built.

Flash forward to 1994: House Speaker Newt shook up not only or­dinary folks but some hard­line welfare reformers with his insistence that kids born out of wedlock be sent straight to orphanages. “Horrifying!” exclaimed the American Enterprise Insti­tute’s Douglas Besharov, who performed a careful cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. Outrageously expensive! It turns out orphanages cost $15,000 a year per child. At present il­legitimacy rates, it would cost $70 billion a year to put all the kids born out of wedlock in these new Boys Towns. The entire AFDC program costs only $21 bil­lion. Besharov concludes orphanages would have a powerful deterring effect on young girls thinking about getting pregnant. But not one worth $50 billion.

Naturally there were sensitive moral thinkers like Be­sharov around in the 19th century. Their logic remains our logic. To see what choic­es present-day child-welfare reformers will embrace, we only have to examine the preferences of their 19th­-century counterparts.

The ordinal costs of child­-welfare alternatives haven’t changed since then. Or­phanages are the most cost­ly. Payments to single mother are less costly. And sheer indifference is least costly. Naturally, number three was the optimal choice for those dealing with the problem of homeless children in New York. But they faced a threat.

In 1898, while charity re­formers relaxed their customary vigilance, the legislature passed the Ahern Bill. It allowed public support for the children of widowed mothers. The measure would have used public funds to get these children out of orphanages and reunite them ­with their mothers.

Charity-movement repre­sentatives thundered against the bill. They had just ren­dered outdoor relief illegal; now the legislators were sneaking public outdoor re­lief in through the back door. Outdoor relief, argued a lobbyist from the State Charities Aid Association, was “a system which, in large cities, has always been found to promote pauperism, to discourage self-reliance and thrift, and to be especially li­able to flagrant abuses.” The welfare reformers convinced Mayor Strong. He persuaded the governor, who vetoed the bill that had been passed by the state house.

It had been official New York welfare policy since the 1870s to encourage family integrity. State orphanages didn’t even exist. But with child abandonment becom­ing an ever more serious problem, local officials began to resort to placing orphans in private orphanages — which received per capita funds from state institutions.

In an 1896 investigation, the State Charities Aid Association demonstrated terrible child abuse. One state supported orphanage, the Ladies’ Deborah Nursery, spent a total of 27 cents a day on its charges. Even in the 1890s that wasn’t a lot of money. Reformers argued that “the worst family home is better than the best institution.” They moved to empty out New York’s orphanages.

But as bad as many orphanages were, charity reformers encouraged even worse al­ternatives. The New York branch of the Na­tional Children’s Home Society, headed by the Reverend W. Jarvis Maybee, offered $100 a head for homeless children. He promised to find places for them: Many children wound up placed as prostitutes. Thousands of others were sent out West to become indentured servants. Farmers in­ particular sent in their orders for strong, healthy boys.

A whole pattern of cost-driven child dis­posal emerged, involving public authori­ties too. State investigators discovered that local officials in many counties “placed the child in any home obtainable, where it will cease to be a county charge.” They con­cluded that less cost to the taxpayer “seems to be the main consideration.”

UNLIKE INDIA with its Untouch­ables, or Japan and its Burakumins, the rationalistic West has no tradition of religiously sanctioned pari­ah groups. When competition for resources becomes intolerable, the “in group” (Sumner’s term) sanc­tions the creation of out groups by means of science. In the Great Depression, the Germans turned to racial science to justify stripping Jews of their civil rights and separating them from the rest of society. “Science” explained that the Jews were a parasitic growth on Germany. The 1935 Nuremburg Laws were offered as a step towards racial sanity. They also validated the eventual distribution of Jewish property among German businessmen.

It’s true that nothing today, or even in 19th-century America, compares with what the Nazis eventually did to the Jews. But in fact, the Nuremburg Laws didn’t establish death camps. They only caused the Jews to revert to their medieval status. Just as today the poor laws merely send our indigent back to their 19th-century semicriminal status.

The Germans made the Jews wear yellow badges. Until the mid 19th century in Bal­timore, the poor had to wear badges too. In colonial New York, paupers had the letter P sewed in red or blue on their clothes. Inspectors of the poor were directed, in the language of the time, “to See the Letter P: Sett on there garment as a Token of there Being Supported by ye Town.”

Similar economic conditions, filtering through similar institutions, provoke re­sponses that need to be examined for simi­larity. This isn’t the Great Depression, but never before in American history, not even in the ’30s, has the U.S. seen such a pro­tracted fall in wages. The twin pillars of U.S. business strategy — capital export and labor import — mean that workers can’t raise their wages. The only hope they have of pre­venting their incomes from falling further is to cut government spending and lower taxes. That’s why there is such a broad con­stituency for tax cuts and welfare cutbacks.

But the existence of an eager audience doesn’t tell us who’s producing the show. The Ford and Rockefeller Brothers foun­dations have been promoting radical welfare reform since the ’70s. That’s when the fiscal crisis ended the confident mood of the ’60s. In the wake of the real estate collapse of that decade, foundations began to pro­mote neighborhood “self-help” economic strategies in ghetto areas. Ford discovered the “underclass.” It funded experimental groups like Wildcat that put AFDC recipi­ents into unionized public-sector jobs. Workfare was born.

The urgency with which these measures were pressed seemed to fade with the sur­prising real estate revival of the ’80s. But fol­lowing the ’87 crash, the greatest real estate downturn in American history began to work its way through the budgets of cities and states. The fight for public revenues that began then is still going on. Local real es­tate elites need the cash now, not for any great projects, but just to stay afloat. They need Rudy. Just as the defense industry and the capital-gains seekers need Newt.

Of course, Speaker Gingrich is not a Nazi. He is a liberal. A 19th-century liberal, of the Manchester School. And Mayor Giuliani is no Gauleiter. He is simply another liberal admirer of the night-watchman state. And that is why Tiny Tim is back. ❖


Republican Nation: The War on Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Make no mistake. The goal of the Republican Revolution is to dismantle government as we know it.

They aim to eliminate at least six cabinet-level departments, can smaller agencies, and combine others into much smaller units. In addition, the Republican right will move promptly to end farm subsidies, speed up executions, bundle up all social-welfare programs in block grants and send them back to the States, and move forward with privatization of the social security system.

This new right sees itself as a wrecking crew for the state governors, who will wield all power in the new America. If they are successful in dismantling govern­ment as we now know it, the crew will abolish their own full-time jobs and turn Con­gress into a part­-time institution.

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Consider just a few of the planks of the real Republican contract, as set forth by the folks who put together the Reagan transition in 1980 — the Heritage Foundation:

WOMEN AND GAYS. The Republicans have yet to say how they will tackle the politically charged issues of abor­tion and gay rights. But they have weighed in on the mili­tary. The right wants gays out of the armed services, and if the courts don’t rule in their favor, they will draft legisla­tion to get them out. Women are already too involved in combat, and if the administration doesn’t pull them back, the Republicans will act in Congress to keep them off the front lines.

THE ENVIRONMENT. Return the public lands, compris­ing one-third of the nation’s landmass (as well as the bulk of its energy resources, national parks, forests, ranges, moun­tains, deserts, and the outer-continental shelf), to state gov­ernments for use as they see fit. Prevent the government from making new environmental regulations that encroach on private property — such as blocking a new factory over pollution concerns or halting the drilling of an oil well in a city’s backyard.

FEDERAL REGULATIONS. The rules that govern much of the nation’s economic life will go. The GOP will propose an immediate moratorium while new legislation to end the complex web of laws is drafted. New regulations would re­quire a two-step procedure in which, after legislation is passed, Congress would have to pass a second act setting forth in detail how it would be implemented. If it is decid­ed that the legislation would put a drag on the economy, then other related regulations would be cut back.

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LABOR. The minimum wage is out the window. Fair la­bor standards will go, as will current federal efforts to con­trol unsafe labor practices in the workplace. The Republi­cans will move to terminate Davis-Bacon (1931), Walsh-Healy (1936), and Service Contract (1965) — acts that require the federal government to pay union scale wage rates for anything made under contract with the federal gov­ernment. “These laws,” the Heritage Foundation argues, “make it virtually impossible for low-skilled workers, especially minorities and young people, to be hired on govern­ment jobs because their productivity cannot justify the man­dated wages. Besides their inherent unfairness, these laws cost taxpayers dearly.”

FOREIGN AID. The Republicans want to end the U.S. Agency for International Development as it currently ex­ists, tying economic development to free-market economies. The Heritage Foundation has published an Index of Eco­nomic Freedom, which argues that U.S. foreign aid reform should be rooted in the recognition that “the free market is the only proven method of promot­ing economic growth and development.” By using the In­dex, policymakers can identify which countries are making progress toward free-market reforms and which are not.

THAT’S JUST THE BEGINNING. Delaware Re­publican Bill Roth, incoming chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, proposes to cut federal agencies by up to 50 percent, in some cases privatizing the work. But his real goal is to eliminate entire agencies. Chief candidates are the Appalachi­an Regional Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Economic Development Administration. Roth is eager to abolish six entire federal de­partments: Commerce, Transportation, Interior, Energy, HUD, and Labor.

The Republicans will try to do away with Congress as we know it. They will begin by defunding committees, cen­tralizing power under the Speaker as they return various functions to state governments. At the same time, they want to reduce by one-quarter to one-third the $329 million al­located every year to the General Accounting Office, which performs independent studies for members of Congress. The Republicans would privatize GAO, subcontracting its functions to the lowest bidders. They also want to shift the Government Printing Office to the executive branch, and then privatize most of what it does. The Library of Con­gress is next in line for cuts, especially the Congressional Re­search Service, which provides research for members. The GOP would like to get rid of the Office of Technology As­sessment, or at least sharply reduce its functions.

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THE RESULT of these cuts will be to drastically re­duce the flow of information to legislators on intri­cate issues such as telecommunication, the effects of biochemical pollution, and genetic engineering, not to mention hampering investigations into private-­sector fraud and high-tech crimes. But the most tangible effect of the Republican ax will be felt in the District of Columbia, the vio­lence-prone capital that is virtually bankrupt. The federal cuts will almost surely result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, devastating the black and white middle classes in the city. As the capital disintegrates, Congress can take back con­trol of the city’s finances and arrange for its ultimate disposal as a subdivision of the state of Maryland. So much for D.C. statehood — and the likely addition of two black senators.

Cutting down domestic social programs and the agen­cies that manage them frees up money for defense, which the right wants to increase. They also intend to cancel the War Powers Act, end the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and reverse the current limits on an arms buildup.

Such moves bolster the corporations that depend on mil­itary contracts. The private sector, in fact, will reap a windfall from the Republican revolution. Undertaken in the name of decentralization, the right’s program amounts to a scheme for turning over more and more power to private corpora­tions. When turning a governmental function back to the states complicates matters for corporations, as in the regula­tion of private health insurance plans, then right-wingers fa­vor federal regulation to accommodate the corporate interests.

MEANWHILE, IN THE White House, President Bill Clinton is under siege, from all quarters: drive-by shooters, gun-toting survivalists, homeless men brandishing knives, wackos on the Hill. But un­like most sieges, the object here is not to get the enemy to surrender. Bill Clinton can’t surrender. Not that he hasn’t tried. Since his election, Clinton has hoisted the white flag time after time — on gays, on supporting cities, on social welfare, on Bosnia, on the environment. But the Republicans refuse to accept his surrender. That’s because he’s more useful to them where he is. They want him to remain permanently on his knees, to go through the ritual act of surrender again and again. They want Clinton in office so they can keep taunting him. And the longer he stays, the more opportu­nities they have to wear down any remaining opposition to their revolution in American politics.

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What conceivable purpose does Clinton serve by sitting in the White House during this period of turmoil? The un­happy truth is that he serves the Republican interest in de­moralizing the electorate. The more disheartened people are by the spectacle of a lame-duck president, the less likely they will be to vote — and the Republicans need a low turnout in 1996 to win the presidency. They won Congress with 35 percent of the electorate. You could win a House seat with as little as 18 percent of the vote. The way to discourage peo­ple from voting is to keep them dispirited. What better ve­hicle for such a project than the hapless figure of Bill Clinton?

Of course, it’s always possible that Clinton will, for the first time in his life, discover his nerve. After all, Nixon faced a hostile Congress and that didn’t stop him from ad­vocating his policies. Nor did it stop Reagan or Bush. When the Democrats blocked Reagan, he pushed ahead rather than cave in.

But Clinton is different. He has no core convictions — he swings in the wind. His only institutional connection to the American people is within the Democratic party; and that barely exists except in the bank accounts of lobbyists and corpora­tions. As for the Democratic Na­tional Committee, it is less an ap­pendage of Clinton than of the lobbyists and corporate figureheads who own the party.

What’s left of the Democrats is to be found in Congress, mostly in the House, where Dick Gephardt, the minority leader, and David Bo­nior, the whip, may build a follow­ing. Both men fought Clinton on NAFTA and GATT, the two defining issues of this Congress. There’s almost no reason for them to side with the White House now; they will have to forge their own coalitions and discover their own politics.

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(Just to remember how differ­ent things might have been, note that, had Clinton stood with the rest of his party and fought these two pieces of legislation, the Democrats, even though in the minority, would still be calling the shots in the Re­publican Congress. Instead of spend­ing the first 100 days debating the Contract with America, the Democ­rats could fire up a debate on GATT that might split the Republican majority. But there will be no debate be­cause Clinton has already given away the store.)

With the Republicans pulling the levers in Congress, they can eas­ily crank up an investigation of Whitewater, pushing the two independent counsels already working on the probe. The possibilities for investigating Clinton are endless, reaching from Whitewater to the Tyson chicken empire. That includes Hillary Clinton’s mysterious com­modity trades and now accusations of cash payments sent by Tyson to Clinton himself. The Vincent Foster case is still alive. There are now ques­tions about Clinton’s past campaign funding and the behavior of numer­ous White House staffers. Beyond that, there is the continuing saga of his personal relationships. Any or all of these issues can be easily brought into the spotlight on Capitol Hill, and Clinton can be made to either apologize one more time or, if it is in the Republican interest, forced to resign.

Under this continuing pressure, the Democratic Party could actually break up. Since the election, both Gephardt and Bonior have made it clear they will turn their backs on the White House. Paul Tsongas is push­ing for a third-party movement, and Jackson hasn’t given up the presi­dential ghost. Meanwhile, Clinton’s own supporters are clamoring for the president to follow them to the right.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario that would deny the right-wing control of the White House in 1996. Under the best of circumstances it will take many years for what’s left of the Democratic Party to regroup. In the meantime, the Republicans have a clear path ahead. The only thing standing in their way is Bill Clinton, who really is no obstacle at all. ❖

Research: Valerie Burgher 


Republican Nation: Save Our Symbols

S.O.S.: Save Our Symbols
January 10, 1995

THE NIGHT AFTER THEIR REVOLUTION, Esther and I washed dishes in Laura’s kitchen. It was Laura’s birth­day, and we’d celebrated (because, fuck it all, we needed to). Now, we were talking about the fact and the fairy tale of what had happened. We threw around the common predictions — social repression, economic depression, the dismantling of civil rights. I tried to make fun of fundamentalists, but ended up retreating into the dislocated feeling I’d first experienced way back when I was 20 and nobody I knew elected Ronald Reagan. My country, their revolution: here it came again, supposedly the spawn of a Middle America I couldn’t see in my kind, tolerant, working-class Wisconsin cousins, or in my freedom-loving Northwest family, all middle class and raised religious, with different opinions about abortion and the welfare state, but none of them this inhumane or this foolhardy.

“What’s being said,” Esther muttered into the soap suds, “makes me feel erased.”

“I know what you mean,” I replied.

“No,” she said. “I mean by our side. By the left.”

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This is how believing in their revolution hurts us. Esther spent the Reagan-Bush years — her twenties — as an activist and a cultural progressive, organizing for ACT UP, hanging out in an experimental arts collective, teaching junior high, and designing workshops to promote racial tolerance. Like me, like our friend Laura the Middle East activist and new-music promoter, Esther was very busy during the ’80s. She endured failure and dissension within her various communities, but she also saw progress. She wasn’t just living in a boho fishbowl; her efforts educated, expanded the discourse, and often effected real change. And she wasn’t alone — across America progressives created different versions of this synthesis of radical culture and political organizing. Yet she was being told that the left she’d helped preserve during a decade of very hard times was dead; that street activism and identity politics, not to mention a too-strong focus on culture, had in fact destroyed the left long ago. And that the only way to reclaim power was to disregard the importance of the very ground people like herself had won.

“The ambitions of the left have been political and their triumphs cultural, while the ambitions of the right have been cultural and their triumphs political,” Adam Gopnik wrote recently in The New Yorker. This aphorism elegantly de­scribes the way much of the left currently sees itself. The duality it expresses makes possible the judgments self-styled leftsavers are making about activities they deem “cultural.” This cordoning-off of culture from politics leaves no room for the evolving reality of left politics since the early ’70s, as it’s been shaping up in the imagination and on the streets. It dismisses the power of the arts to effect consciousness, and questions the importance of lifestyle, education, or any kind of socially oriented work that falls outside the the traditional political arenas of the voting booth, the picket line, and the halls of power.

Yet the very slipperiness of the term culture highlights its capacity to jump and blend boundaries, emphasizing the interplay of knowledge, belief, and behavior through which a society emerges over time. The split between culture and politics is an unnatural one; this is the rudimentary lesson of feminism, queer liberation, and movements led by people of color. If such a split is reasserted, it will once again devalue these groups, who’ve often been dismissed by hard-line politicos, in a very old-fashioned way: by marking their pre­occupations as frivolous. (Did I hear someone say “too fem­inine”?) And it will narrow our political vision on an even deeper level. What we’ve developed by taking culture seri­ously is a view of the political as a web, connecting individ­ual identity to community concerns, and personal passions to a larger social agenda. Exploring this web has kept the left alive during an era of vicious attack from the right. More than that, it’s made the left a more inclusive, multifaceted presence in American society.

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SOME MAY SAY TALKING about the links between lifestyle and activism, or the symbolic and the material, is mere distraction in our current state of emergency. But dis­missing this conversation as irrelevant not only makes it hard to understand our weaknesses, it denies our strengths. The syncretic view is what fed the heart of the left as it beat within direct-action groups like ACT UP, WAC, WHAM, and Queer Nation; in those doing clinic defense, guerrilla environmentalism, and immigrant advocacy; in the oft-maligned academy; and through the work of artists ranging from Karen Finley to Public Enemy and Roseanne. What these various figures and groups shared was the radically democratic notion that politics could happen wherever a person’s strengths and interests led.

This principle is elemental to our nation of individual­ists. It became progressive through the social critique orig­inating in the civil-rights movement and the counterculture. Those of us schooled in this history invested less faith in electoral politics than we did in the changes that sprang from conversations across women’s kitchen tables or in the neigh­borhoods where community workers lived, or, yes, through the words and visions of artists who have helped us under­stand the structure and experience of oppression, and the possibility of freedom. Our faith came from witnessing how change happened in our own lives.

The decentralized approach many activists have adopt­ed since the ’70s suits our moment. Direct action efforts like abortion clinic defense, for example, require loose net­working that can easily adapt to changes in agenda. Battered women’s shelters, free clinics, or needle exchange services all originate (and thrive) through the efforts of a few dedicat­ed people who see a need right there, right then, and fill it. When such methods work, they offer an antidote to the big­-government approach the right accuses the left of backing: grassroots organizing reduces bureaucracy in favor of a hands-on, usually nonhierarchical, practical approach.

So much of our daily lives contradicts the old defini­tion of a common culture as a homogeneous whole and de­mands a new model for community. Technology makes mi­crocosms. Architecture subdivides. The marketplace places us in niches. We need a model that accepts difference and seeks the common within it — a key to the new language that arises from mixing things up. Multiculturalism tries to imag­ine such a model. Rather than the downfall-of-the-left naysayers accuse it of being, multiculturalism is at heart a complex lesson in the art of empathy, essential to forming a vital movement in divided times. Multiculturalism starts with a simple method: listen and learn. It uses culture’s tools (the story, the image, the custom) to ground analysis. The process takes time. As we unlearn the rhetoric of Barbie Dolls and a vengeful God, we replace it by hearing other tales, discovering other icons, celebrating other realities. If we really want a broad-based left, this is the first, most prac­tical step.

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SOME OF US DRAWN to the left since the 1970s studied politics or stumped for the Democrats in school; more often, we learned our values from what the left’s stern commentators would label “cultural.” Sometimes the way the web works is very clear, as when homocore punk band Team Dresch offers a self-defense workshop (women only!) to open a gig, or the San Francisco conceptual art team Margaret Crane/Jon Winet de­sign tiny, elegant placards inscribed with AIDS prevention information and distribute them in restaurants. Less easy to prove, but nonetheless traceable, is the path that leads from being a Pearl Jam fan to volunteering at a center for child abuse victims, or from frequenting the Body Shop to becoming an environmentalist, or from reading a Toni Morrison novel to organizing against racist policies in your local school district. (Or reading a Morrison novel and hating Clarence Thomas; your public opinion isn’t just based on watching the nightly news, after all.)

It’s not just Lollapaloozers who believe that your life can be changed by rock and roll, or a great book, or even a TV show. Ad people know that ritual and image influence how people structure their opinions and their lives. So does the Christian right. In fact, the right un­derstands that in the 25 years since Janis Joplin died, pop­ular culture has helped shape a more liberal public. Anita Hill’s fall followed the summer of Thelma & Louise, and al­though the hearings themselves favored a horrifying con­servatism, you can bet that the women and men watching at home — those who, in the next election, chose more women than ever before — took what they’d felt and learned from the confluence of imagined scenarios and cold, hard facts into the voting booth.

Now, the right aims to possess the leaky means of ideological distribution known as the popular. The right knows the value of culture; that’s why it uses talk radio and television and religion now, and why, before Clinton became the only punching bag that mattered, it fought so hard against lightning rods like Karen Finley, hip hop, and Murphy Brown. Conservatism’s superstars attract their supporters by making their narrow-minded viewpoints fleshy, fun­ny, and moving — ex­actly what rock and roll, street fashion, and strains within all of the common arts have done for radical thought over the past third of a century. For the moment, the right’s wet weekend with pop has given it a ruddy glow. But the mass appeal they’re mining is a cruel one, based around bullying. Their fun is a gouge in the eye — a shtick that’s always appealed to crowds, from Shakespeare’s time to the present. Such mean-spirited fun appeals to the weakness in people, which is certainly vast, but ultimately un­satisfying. The aspect of culture that’s about learning, about expanding the self, isn’t honored here. That’s why figures like Father Coughlin and Joe McCarthy fell, and why Rush and Howard will someday, too.

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Progressive movements have been far more successful in changing people’s worldviews. In fact, the loose web of attitudes reflecting some tie to post-’60s left politics has so successfully invaded the main­stream that it’s got its own market niche: alternative. This term, dread­ed by all who feel protective of the margins, encompasses everything from earth-friendly toilet paper to postpunk music to the Internet. Its impact remains hard to bottle: there’s been a sea change in attitudes about gays and lesbians since Stonewall, for example, obvious in the wide defeat of antigay legislation in the last election as well as in the popularity of Philadelphia and k.d. lang. Yet that legislation keeps pop­ping up, and as the tussle over gays in the military showed, many people aren’t willing to open the doors of American institutions to new values. Still, radical culture’s energy keeps regenerating, and when it’s tapped it can bring new people into the left, sustain those who are already com­mitted, and sway those on the fence.

The feeling on the left right now may be that we need to abandon our cultural focus and get seri­ous. I think we need to get serious about culture — as serious as we’ve ever been. We can see Melissa Etheridge at the Garden and feel uplifted, or give Mom a copy of Cor­nel West’s new volume and possibly affect one point of view. But we know that’s not enough. We need to retain the critique of capitalism that helps us recognize consumption as part of the system, not freedom from it. Then we need to take the next step, not abandoning the cultural but politicizing it further. That next step can lead in many different directions — toward intervening in institutions, seizing the means of pro­duction, changing our family lives, our sex lives, ourselves.

Artists and activists must be fearless now. Retreating isn’t the so­lution, and neither is penitence. We need to devise ways to make the symbolic a potent political weapon once again. The legacy starts here. ❖


Russian Collusion? Who Needs That for Impeachment When You Have Genital Grabbing?

As more and more pieces of the Russian collusion puzzle fall into place — was Trump negotiating a real estate deal with Moscow as he locked up the presidential nomination? Did Paul Manafort meet with Julian Assange in London? Did Roger Stone sanction the document dumps from WikiLeaks? — even those skeptical of the Mueller investigation have to start wondering if a foreign power tipped the presidential election.

But as guilty pleas pointing toward Russian influence mount, history teaches us that Republicans already have a reason to investigate Donald Trump for possible impeachment: sexual misconduct.

Let’s time-tunnel back twenty years to those more innocent days when Republicans threatened a Democratic POTUS with impeachment for … receiving out-of-wedlock oral sex. If Russia’s meddling in our nation’s most sacred event — the election of the Leader of the Free World — can’t set the impeachment gears grinding, surely the confessions of an extramarital genital grabber and twice-divorced sexual braggart should be cause enough for the GOP family-values crowd, right?

Wrong. On the September 29, 1998, cover of the Voice, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, a master of bullshit detection, dove into a dank witches’ brew brimming with Newts, Drudges, Tripps, and Starrs. What came bubbling up to the surface then was the Republican party’s hypocrisy, grown into a torrent today.

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For example, why doesn’t former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, advocate of Clinton’s impeachment and current superbooster of Trump, blanch at our president’s sexual predation? Perhaps it’s because, as Tomorrow points out in one panel, Gingrich also had a penchant for extramarital oral pleasure — “so that he could say he had not had ‘sex.’ ” And what about conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, also featured in Tomorrow’s cartoon? He believed Clinton’s sexual transgressions were impeachment-worthy back then, so how about Trump’s nowadays? Not so much.

For those who think Donald Trump has debased the Republican Party — this great Voice cover from two decades ago makes it clear that, on the contrary, he has set the GOP free.


The Republicans’ Alternate Realities Didn’t Start With Trump

As the nation heads into the 2018 midterm elections, it is important to remember that Donald Trump’s cruelty, crudity, mendacity, and penchant for distempered judges was not created in a vacuum. In the 1994 midterms, Democratic president Bill Clinton was drowned under a red wave. The Republicans captured majorities in both houses of Congress and immediately began attacking Clinton’s centrist agenda. Today, President Trump’s “accomplishments” — a tax cut that disproportionately helps the rich, the negligible federal response to Puerto Rico’s ongoing humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria last year, savage immigration tactics, support of the “fine people” who march under swastika flags, insert your favorite attack on civil society here — can be partially traced back to the Congress elected in 1994, which was in turn building on the earlier callousness of presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, all the way back to Calvin “The business of America is business” Coolidge. Although he went to jail for his role in the Watergate crimes, Nixon’s onetime attorney general (and campaign chairman) John Mitchell said, in the summer of 1970, “This country is going so far to the right that you won’t recognize it.” Indeed, his prophesy has been vindicated if we take, as just one example, the fact that a Republican Senate refused to even consider the judge that Barack Obama — a two-term, popularly elected Democratic president — chose for the Supreme Court. We have had one-step-forward, two-steps-back progress in America for decades now, due to the GOP’s mendacious machinations, and, with its unwavering support of Donald Trump, the nation has entered uncharted territory, which only gets bleaker the further the president and his enablers drag us into it.

In its January 10, 1995, issue, the Voice published a dozen-page special section exposing those earlier GOP policies that helped lay the groundwork for what has become the Darkness at Noon landscape of Trump’s presidency.

First, from that week’s contents page, we get a rogues’ gallery of the neutered Democrats and right-wing ideologues and con men who were leading the GOP’s slash-and-burn ethos.

1) Pat Robinson: Elfin evangelical demagogue; now a vocal Trump supporter

2) George Pataki: Callous “Empty Suit” governor of New York, 1995–2006. In 2016 he said, “I think Donald Trump would drive the Republicans off a cliff if he’s our nominee.” Was floated as possible ambassador to Hungary; still awaiting call from his president.

3) William Bennett: Pedantic, anti–public education secretary of education. In 1993 he wrote The Book of Virtues; in 2016 he threw it out to support Trump.

4 & 5) Two Hollywood actors from long ago — starred in an idealized movie the GOP views as template for the handling of unruly children

6) Oliver North: Bagman for murderous South American counterrevolutionaries; now president of the National Rifle Association

7) Marilyn Quayle: The brains of the family (see #23)

8) Rush Limbaugh: Rotund forefather of Infowars. On-air bloviator since he was 16, in 1967.

9) Pat Buchanan: Onetime Nixon speechwriter, political godfather of Trumpism; vocal supporter of the POTUS

10) Arnold Schwarzenegger: Muscles-for-brains governor of California (2003–11); married into Kennedy clan — it didn’t work out. Likens GOP under Trump to the Titanic, though rest of his party is hell-bent on melting all the world’s icebergs.

11) VJ Kennedy (no relation): Used to be on MTV; now on Fox Business Network

12) Clarence Thomas: Supreme Court justice who mocks Thurgood Marshall’s soaring achievements every time he gets out of bed

13) Tom Foley: Former Democratic Speaker of the House; drowned in 1994 Red Wave, first Speaker to lose re-election bid in more than a century. Died 2013.

14) Mario Cuomo: Vacillating Democratic New York governor (1983–94) who died in 2015, and is best remembered now for having a bridge named after him

15) Bill Clinton: Democratic POTUS who was at least better than having George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, or Bob Dole as president from 1993 to 2001

16) Dan Rostenkowski: Democratic virtuoso of the pork barrel. In 1996 was sentenced to seventeen months in prison after involvement in a mail fraud scandal; pardoned by #15 in 2000.

17) Jesse Helms: Unabashed racist senator from North Carolina who fought against voting rights for minorities at every turn; cultural warrior who decried Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic pictures: “The news media’s intellectual dishonesty in calling this perverse, filthy, and revolting garbage, calling it art does not make it art.” Died 2008.

18) Bob Dole: Wounded vet, U.S. senator from Kansas; last Republican on national scene with genuine sense of humor. Supported current president by saying, in 2016, “What am I going to do? I can’t vote for George Washington.”

19) Newt Gingrich: GOP Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, apparently named for an ingredient in a witch’s brew — his policy proposals were unrelentingly toxic. Now a rabid Trump booster.

20) Al D’Amato: Republican senator from New York (1981–99) known for fixing potholes and putting the fix into any progressive legislation. Supports Trump, but lightly admonishes the POTUS to “think, don’t tweet.”

21) Mary Matalin: Republican operative famously married to Democratic operative James Carville. Claims they never talk politics at home. Changed her party registration to Libertarian in 2016.

22) Arianna Huffington: Wealthy former wife of former Republican congressman. Proof that people can change for the better.

23) Dan Quayle: Handsome trust fund–supported Indiana senator 1981–89, vice president 1989–93; very poor speller

24) Calvin Coolidge: President from 1923 to 1929. Forget ideals and compassion — America’s raison d’être is turning a profit.

On the opening page of the Voice‘s special section, Richard Goldstein reports on Newt Gingrich’s vision for America: “The Republican revolution isn’t just a shift in the way government does business. It’s a transformation in the way people feel. It begins with permission to be indifferent to the needy.” Simply substitute “antagonistic” for “indifferent” and we get a sense today of just how successful the GOP has been in shifting the norm in America from caring for one’s fellow man to every man for himself, each armed with a Glock on his hip. Goldstein’s opener previews the articles to follow and exhorts the resistance of 1995: “This is no time to go gentle into that Newt night. Better to stand out on the highway, flagging down cars if you must, to shout out a warning. Even at the risk of seeming ridiculous, or dangerous, or deviant. Stand up and say, ‘They’re heeeere!’ ”

In the next piece, longtime film critic J. Hoberman tried to determine why Bill Clinton, elected in 1992, was being eclipsed in the media by Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich, speculating that it was because “the architect of Republican victory stormed the zeitgeist machine — superseding even O.J. Simpson as the object of The New Yorker’s fascination.” Hoberman asks questions that resonate morbidly in our own violent moment: “Did the Maryland kamikaze who crashed his light plane onto the White House lawn hear voices in his brain? Or was he just monitoring Rush on the headset? What about Martin Duran, the 26-year-old ex-GI with a prior history of racial and homophobic violence, who — less than a week before the election — sprayed the White House and its press room with a 29-shot round from an automatic assault rifle. What was his frequency, Kenneth?”

Also on those pages, theater critic Michael Feingold puts on his vestments to instruct children in truly Christian prayers to counter the Republicans’ blasphemies: “Restore our welfare system, that it may feed the starving among us. For thou hast said, ‘Give to him that asketh thee,’ yet our wealthy refuse to give, and call judgment down upon the poor where thou has said, ‘Judge not.’ Knowing that thou lovest charity above all earthly deeds, we pray for the greedy and the selfish of our Republican party, that they may learn to see by thy light, which so many of them falsely claim to be their guide.”

Next, Voice Washington correspondent James Ridgeway exposes the GOP blueprint of greed, and today’s readers might be forgiven in thinking that they have fallen into a far-right time warp: “Make no mistake. The goal of the Republican revolution is to dismantle government as we know it…[and to] speed up executions, bundle all social-welfare programs in block grants and send them back to the states, and move forward with privatization of the Social Security system.”

In “The New Poor Laws,” contributor Robert Fitch spells out “How Mr. Gingrich brought back Tiny Tim”: “The idea that the dependent poor could be transformed once again into quasi-criminals hardly seems far-fetched anymore. The punitive and ascetic 1990s already resemble the 1890s more than the comparatively liberal 1970s, when the dominant idea of welfare reform was to give every American a guaranteed income. That was Richard Nixon’s plan!” Fitch also points out another parallel from then to now: “Rudolph Giuliani’s criminalization of squeegee men and beggars outside the ATMs ominously reprises the furious campaigns against begging and vagrancy that began in the 1870s. The battle reached a peak in 1911, when the state legislature, at the behest of New York City COS [Charity Organization Society], passed a law that created upstate prison camps for city beggars.”

And finally, we get music critic Ann Powers musing on the personal as political: “I tried to make fun of fundamentalists, but ended up retreating into the dislocated feeling I’d first experienced way back when I was 20 and nobody I knew elected Ronald Reagan. My country, their revolution: here it came again, supposedly the spawn of a Middle America I couldn’t see in my kind, tolerant, working-class Wisconsin cousins, or in my freedom-loving Northwest family, all middle class and raised religious, with different opinions about abortion and the welfare state, but none of them this inhumane or this foolhardy.”




Newt Gingrich Defends Michele Bachmann’s Terrorist Witch-Hunt Into Huma Abedin

Call us crazy (read: rational), but we’re gonna go ahead and assume that Hillary Clinton aide/wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, isn’t a Muslim Brotherhood operative who’s infiltrated the highest levels of government — including marrying a once-powerful New York congressman — in a plot to turn America into an Islamic stronghold.

As we reported in a prior post, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann apparently doesn’t find the aforementioned scenario as unlikely as we do — and she’s apparently not alone.

Despite several high-ranking Republicans (who still actually have jobs in government) — like Senator John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner — calling Bachmann out for her insulting witch-hunt, former House speaker/presidential candidate Newt Gingrich seems to think modern-day McCarthyism isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Gingrich appeared with Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen on POLITICO Live’s Driving the Day this morning where he actually defended Bachmann’s probe of Abedin’s ties (or lack thereof) to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“There weren’t allegations, there was a question,” Gingrich said this morning, adding that “the question ought to be asked across the board.”

Only problem is, the “questions” aren’t being asked “across the board” — they’re being asked (by a Republican) about an aide of a prominent Democrat who just so happens to be Muslim.

If you missed it, here’s a rundown from our prior post of Bachmann’s probe:

In June, Bachmann sought the help of inspectors general in the State, Homeland Security, Defense and Justice Departments, asking them to investigate “policies and activities that appear to be the result of influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bachmann later noted on a radio show that “It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

When asked by fellow Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison to provide “a full accounting of the sources you used to make the serious allegations against the individuals and organizations in your letters,” Bachmann provided precisely jack shit.

From Salon:

As evidence, she pointed to Abedin’s late father, Professor Syed Z. Abedin, and a 2002 Brigham Young University Law Review article about his work. Bachmann points to a passage saying Abedin founded an organization that received the “quiet but active support” of the the former director of the Muslim World League, an international NGO that was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe in the 1970s through 1990s. So, to connect Abedin to the Muslim Brotherhood, you have to go through her dead father, to the organization he founded, to a man who allegedly supported it, to the organization that man used to lead, to Europe in the 1970s and 1990s, and finally to the Brotherhood.

As noted above, high-ranking Republicans already have come out in support of Abedin, and against Bachmann’s whacky probe — Gingrich, apparently, didn’t get the memo.


Shamed Former Congressman John Sweeney’s Back! And He Wants George Maragos’ Money

If you’re running for one of the highest political offices in the country, you’d probably be advised to avoid certain unsavory characters who could potentially derail your campaign. You might want to avoid hiring a former congressman who was arrested for DUI (twice) and “had a woman on his lap when he was pulled over” to run your campaign, for example.

But that hasn’t stopped former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and GOP Senate hopeful George Maragos from hiring (er…allegedly hiring in Maragos’ case. More on that below) shamed former Congressman John Sweeney — who was arrested for DUI in 2007 (and again in 2009) and “had a woman on his lap when he was pulled over,” according to police.

As first reported by Jimmy Vielkind at the Albany Times Union, Sweeney sent a letter to the Federal Elections Commission claiming Maragos owes him $125,000 after the two agreed that Sweeney would run Maragos’ Senate campaign.

As even Sweeney notes, though, there was no written agreement — just a handshake.

“It was a handshake — I thought he was a credible guy,” Sweeney tells the Voice. “He kept telling me how much of a billionaire he was and not to worry about it.”

The former congressman — who was dubbed “Congressman Kickass” by former President George W. Bush for his role in organizing the so-called “Brooks Brothers Riot” during the 2000 Florida presidential recount — says he traveled to Rochester with Maragos last month to wrangle delegates at the GOP Convention with the understanding that he would be running Maragos’ Senate campaign.

“I went to Rochester and he told me he’d have my money,” Sweeney says. But Maragos never paid him, the former congressman — who in 2006 was named one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress
by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — tells the Voice.

Sweeney goes on to say “I was later told by a number of people that [Maragos] didn’t think he needed consultants, and he didn’t like paying people.”

Maragos’ campaign didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment. We’ll let you know if we hear back.

After several seemingly reckless years since losing his Congressional seat to Kirsten Gillibrand in 2007 — including a 30-day jail sentence for one of his two DWIs, allegations of domestic violence against
his second wife, and some health problems — Sweeney is hoping to get back into the political arena.

But don’t call it a comeback — Sweeney’s not planning another run for office, he says he’s sticking with consulting. He claims to be working on several Congressional campaigns, some of which are outside of New York.

“I’ve gotta pay my bills and feed my family,” Sweeney says.

Sweeney denies that his heart’s not in it — or that he’s only getting into politics again for the money.

“[Politics] is part of my life,” he says. “This is how I cut my teeth.”

See the letter Sweeney wrote to the FEC here.


Newt Gingrich Is Still Pretending To Run For President — And He’s Bringing His “Campaign” To New York

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is still pretending that he’s running for president, and will be “campaigning” in New York next week — which is hilarious for a number of reasons.

For starters, he has literally no chance of winning the Republican nomination — he currently has only 136 delegates, and already has said he realizes Mitt Romney (with his 666 delegates) will be the nominee. Secondly, New York hasn’t played a significant role in a Republican primary in more than three decades, so of all the places he could pretend to campaign next week, the Empire State should be one of the last.

As we’ve been reporting for about two weeks, Gingrich will be in town
on April 19, to attend the New York State Republican Party’s Annual
Dinner. But that won’t be his only stop — he reportedly plans to
“campaign” in New York in the days following the dinner.

A source in the know told the Voice last week that Gingrich actually planned on holding campaign events in New York — despite his campaign, at this point, being a waste of Gingrich’s time and his supporters’ money.

A Gingrich campaign spokesman confirmed our tip to the Albany Times Union (the Gingrich campaign did not respond to our request for confirmation last week).

From the Times Union:

“The campaign is what the campaign is. We’re limited by funds,” Stephen Luftschein, Gingrich’s volunteer coordinator in New York, told me by phone. But he said there will be “a couple of events in the Buffalo-Rochester area.”

Upstate, as Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s
Center for Politics, told us last week, is where Rick Santorum stood to
win a few delegates — 26, Sabato predicted — from the state’s
Conservative voters who question whether Romney’s far enough to the
right. Many of those delegates could go to Gingrich (who claims he’s the
last Conservative standing“), but it still would have literally no impact on the outcome of the primary.

So why would Gingrich continue to chug along? Sabato says it’s an
attempt to gain a little clout within the party. If that’s the case, it
seems like an odd way to go about it considering his campaign is
creeping into the humiliation zone. Others (Fox News, in particular)
think he’s trying to land a gig with CNN.

Whatever reason Gingrich has for waging on with his hopeless
campaign, one things is certain: he will not be the Republican nominee
for president.


Rick Santorum Bails On New York GOP’s (Pricey) Dinner

There’s bad news if you forked over $1,000 to New York’s Republican Party to attend its annual dinner: former presidential candidate Rick Santorum won’t be there.

GOP spokeswoman Becky Miller tells the Voice Santorum is out. Santorum, she says, didn’t give a specific reason, but we can only assume the former presidential candidate’s bailing on the pricey dinner has to do with his throwing in the towel in the presidential primary earlier this week.

Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker/now-faux presidential candidate Newt Gingrich were both scheduled to attend the dinner in what state GOP Chairman Ed Cox has pimped as one of the final campaign stops for presidential candidates before the New York primary on April 24. He’s made attempts to hype New York’s GOP as actually “playing a decisive role in this year’s Republican presidential nominating process.”

Even if Santorum was still in the race, New York probably would have had zero impact on the outcome of the primary (more on that here).

Gingrich, as far as we know, will still be attending the dinner — even though he’s all but bailed out of the presidential primary himself (he’s already referring to his campaign in the past tense and has said he expects Mitt Romney to be the GOP nominee. Yet, he refuses to back out of the race).

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will give the keynote speech at the dinner, which will be held on April 19, at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Manhattan. As we mentioned, it will cost you a thousand bucks to get in the door, and $5,000 to snap a photo with any of the GOP bigwigs.

Additionally, we owe our readers (and Miller’s boss) an explanation.

Yesterday, when we first wrote about whether Santorum would still attend the dinner now that his presidential campaign is kaput, we penned the following:

The New York state Republican Party is holding its annual dinner next week, at which now-former presidential
candidate Rick Santorum currently is scheduled to be a guest of honor. However, now that he’s bailed on his campaign, it’s unclear whether
Santorum will actually show up — and that’s because the New York GOP won’t tell us.

We’ve called, emailed, and even sent smoke signals (alright, maybe not smoke signals) to the state’s GOP asking whether Santorum would attend the dinner. Its response: crickets.

That’s all true (with the exception of the smoke signals) — we called twice and sent an email but got no response. However, Miller did actually send us an email response yesterday morning — before we wrote the article. Unfortunately, the email ended up in a “quarantine file” in our email system and we didn’t see it until this morning — nearly 24 hours after the article was published. We’ve since connected with Miller and she assures us she was not trying to hide the fact that Santorum is longer attending the dinner.