Trivial Pursuit

The Republican Party, particularly the ultra-conservative section of it, controls all three branches of our government. It spends most of its time on emotional issues, hoping to embarrass Democrats and bring its base out come November. Issues that demand attention have been lost in the attack on gays, flag burners, and in a recent unnecessary vote involving the war in Iraq. In fact, they shot themselves in the foot during the battle over troop withdrawals, labeling the Democratic proposal a cut and run strategy. The following day, General Casey offered a similar plan. The president and legislative spokesmen have tried to make an orange look like an apple, but no one's buying. The two proposals are the same.

The Democrats in the Legislature should be making proposals of their own and doing whatever it takes to publicize them. If their proposals are enacted into law, so much the better, but if they are shot down, at least they died trying. Harping on the Republicans' waste of time is only half the battle. Painting this Congress as being wasteful of opportunity is easily accomplished, but the Democrats need to make it clear that they are doing something positive themselves, and then keep doing so. It may be fun watching the civil war inside the Republican Party, but the Democrats need proposals and solutions to such problems as health care, the national debt, immigration, social security, and the environment, in order to be effective. There are no shortages of available ideas, and there are plenty of groups willing to promote them. Those sources of strength need to be tapped.

The Republican economic policy, beginning with Ronald Reagan and continuing through the two more recent administrations, has been to cut income and max out our credit card. This should scare the daylights out of fiscal conservatives—there should still be plenty of them in the GOP. These are the people who believe in paying their own bills, and think government should do the same. They are convinced that government is wasteful, and the pork their party is now responsible for proves them right. There is no way that government itself can be trimmed enough to pay the bills run up by the last three Republican administrations, but every legislative add-on to spending bills can be cut. Good publicity awaits those who capitalize on it. Witness John McCain.

I have no doubt that the next election cycle will feature mostly negative ads, since they seem to work, but contrasting negative behaviors with positive efforts would make the picture a lot clearer. No one gets elected to the Senate without a good grasp of public relations, and there was never a better time to put that knowledge to use. It's hard to paint yourself as a problem solver if you haven't proposed any solutions. It's time to stop playing defense, and start pressing the attack. Remember, quarterbacks are paid a lot better than linebackers.

Shhhh, It's a Secret

Today's papers had three interesting articles that are related, yet somewhat contradictory. The major story concerned the arrest of seven possible terrorists in Florida who allegedly planned to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. The second presented departing Treasury Secretary John Snow's defense of the government's secret tracking of our financial dealings. Although it was done without our knowledge or permission, he called it "government at its best." He implied that terrorist activities had been deterred by it, and that the secrecy of the operation was vital to its success. The third story involved the government's defense in a lawsuit challenging its secret collection of phone records. The administration maintains that if the suit goes forward, it threatens to reveal state secrets and jeopardize the "war on terror." The last two involved governmental snooping into our private lives, and the defense for both of them is basically the same.

Secrecy is an important commodity for our national leaders. The people who always know what's best for us guard those secrets, unless revealing them might have some political value. The arrest of the seven alleged terrorists in Florida was timed to make national news. It allowed Director Mueller to have a news conference. It also gave Vice President Cheney more material for his predictable exaggerations.

The seven plotters had no weapons, no money, and apparently no connections. The descriptions provided of them have the sound of spit and whittle club members bitching about life in general. The whole thing would fit nicely in a Pink Panther movie, if it didn't make the bad guys look more comical than the Inspector. Their capture will be hyped, no doubt, as a great accomplishment in the war on terror, and then slip quietly from the news. Of course, with the administration now in power, you don't actually have to break the law to be thrown in jail. You don't even have to be charged with anything.

The stand taken by the Bush administration is that whatever the president claims is necessary can and should be done, and does not have to be defended in court. The government need only invoke the so-called "state secrets privilege" to hide its nefarious actions. If this fails to give us pause, I don't know what will. And to think we are trying to teach the Iraqis how to be a Democracy.

The actions taken by the administration, and its Republican cohorts, amount to a campaign of fear. In fact, it is not dissimilar to the "bloody shirt" strategy that kept the Republicans mostly in power for the decades between the Civil War and World War I. If we fall for it now, we will be forfeiting freedoms that may never be regained. Power is a heady tonic, and those who enter politics have a large appetite for it. The present administration has demonstrated an enormous need for secrecy, and the chief string puller, Vice President Cheney, has an insatiable appetite for it.

Political freedom is a dangerous thing. It allows bad guys opportunities that are hard to find under a despot. The activities advanced in the name of safety, or freedom, are often carried out by secret police using powers that have no basis under law. In such circumstances, the only thing people have to fear is… government. The question before us is: How much freedom are we willing to trade for safety?

Think before you answer.

Stay the Cut and Run the Course

We now have government by slogan. Mission Accomplished, Stand Down when they Stand Up, Cut and Run, and Stay the Course are ones we've heard often the past few years. Now an effort is being made to paint the man who does little more than repeat those slogans, a man with no imagination and even less interest—hence, no alternative strategy—as a determined leader who sticks with his word no matter what the cost. It would be funny if it weren't so crushingly tragic. That cost, by the way, is borne by our youth in the Armed Services and their families. The rest of us have not been asked to make any sacrifice, financial or physical. The war is being paid for by Chinese lenders and is set to be repaid by the generation fighting the war, and by their children and grandchildren, provided we haven't declared bankruptcy by then. That's what would happen to us as individuals if we drastically reduced our income and increased our spending beyond reason. We can only hope that the Social Security System remains solvent, because the soldiers' grandchildren will be using their allotments to repay the Chinese.

The House of Representatives has passed a revision of the Inheritance Tax so that only three tenths of one percent of our nation's heirs will pay anything, and that will be about seventeen per cent of their inheritance. The Republicans call it the Death Tax and the Democrats call it more appropriately the Paris Hilton Giveaway. A majority of the public seems to be in favor of doing away with this tax since, I guess, they picture themselves striking it rich. For the great majority of us, it is tantamount to a libidinous ant ogling an elephant cow and murmuring, " Acres and acres." The Republicans' line is that present law is stealing the family farm, but they've never been able to come up with an example. It does sound convincing, though. The simple truth is that those with enough money to be affected by the inheritance tax also have lobbyists arranging loopholes, and the best accountants to make use of them.

This same House refused to increase the minimum wage above $5.15 on the basis that it would harm the economy and would put small businessmen out of business. It is almost a decade since the minimum wage was increased. During that time, legislators' salaries increased by $30,000. That increase didn't put government out of business, but it does seem like government stopped doing much of the people's business.

Recently, the Republican leaders in the Legislature wasted several days debating proposals designed to make the Democrats look weak on defense. Rather than run away from the votes, the Democrats should remember Harry Truman's message about the "do-nothing Congress." I'm sure they will stress the lack of an exit strategy, but they should also stress the government by slogan approach this sad lot has adopted. They should list the names of those who died as the result of our invasion of a sovereign nation. They should emphasize that our fighting men and women have been turned into sitting ducks for insurgents. If the casualties in this war do not count as victims of terrorists, then who or what does? Say, that has the makings of a slogan we might adopt.