Behind the Smile
By BOB HERBERT
New York Times Editorial
November 11, 2002
One of the definitions of slick is "deftly executed; adroit." Synonyms include "sly, shrewd, slippery, wily." These words came to mind as I watched the Republican Party's remarkable off-year election triumph last week. Give credit where it's due. Bill Clinton at his most devious was never as sly or as cunning (or as politically effective) as the Republican Party has become.
I think of the G.O.P. as the costume party. It wears a sunny mask, which conceals a reality that is far more ideological, far more extreme, than most Americans realize.
Among the less meaningful questions being asked in Washington is whether the Republicans, having won control of the Senate and strengthened their hold on the House, will now go too far and outpace their mandate. My question is: Where have you been? In a nation that is divided almost 50-50 politically, the Republicans flew past their mandate a long time ago.
Driven by its right wing and aided immeasurably by George W. Bush's genial smile, the G.O.P. is putting in place profoundly conservative policies that will hamper progressive efforts for decades to come, no matter what happens in upcoming elections.
With the help of Democrats who should have known better, the Republicans have already enacted a huge and potentially hazardous round of tax cuts. In an environment in which budget deficits have returned and war appears to be imminent, common sense would seem to suggest that the government tread softly on tax cuts for the time being. But a key element of the G.O.P. agenda in the immediate aftermath of last week's stunning victories was a plan to make the current tax cuts permanent and enact a new package of cuts.
There is a method to the G.O.P.'s tax cut madness, beyond the obvious benefits to the very rich. Conservatives have long reasoned that the only way to destroy popular programs that actually help ordinary Americans (Social Security, Medicare and so on) is to starve the government of the money needed to pay for them.
The intensity of the conservative opposition to such programs can be startling. To Ronald Reagan, for example, Medicare was an affront to the very idea of America. The historian Robert Dallek noted that Mr. Reagan "saw Medicare as the advance wave of socialism, which would `invade every area of freedom in this country.' "
During a budget fight in the mid-90's, Newt Gingrich, apparently referring to the original fee-for-service version of Medicare, which had become cherished by the elderly, wisecracked: "We don't get rid of it in Round One because we don't think it's politically smart."
The way to cripple such programs without openly opposing them is to bleed the government of the money to pay for them. With the prospect of budget deficits stretching far into the future, and with the first wave of baby boomers already well into their 50's, the day of reckoning for Social Security and Medicare is not far off.
The right wing of the G.O.P. has also proved itself hostile to environmental protection, and to the myriad health and safety regulations that protect Americans against poisonous foods and other dangerous products and practices. One of its most important leaders in those fights, Representative Tom DeLay, will now ascend to the post of House majority leader.
How extreme is Mr. DeLay? When the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the discoverers of the link between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion, Mr. DeLay mocked the award as the "Nobel Appeasement Prize."
And then there are the federal courts, which are being packed by conservatives from coast to coast, with the big prize � appointments to the Supreme Court � still to come.
Over the next couple of years as many as three (or more) Supreme Court vacancies could open, which could determine the direction of the court for the next 30 years. President Bush has made it clear that he favors justices in the mode of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. With two more justices like that, progressive government would be caught in the devastating trap of a right-wing assault from all sides � the White House, the Congress and the courts � with the Treasury drained of all money for new initiatives.
Slick? Adroit? Any number of adjectives will do. How about dangerous?
Why am I posting this editorial on my website? Because it's not enough to throw up my hands and say "It's not my fault, I didn't vote for them." The Republican party is going to do so much damage to the United States over the next few years, it will take decades to recover.