Soaring after the Nov. 5 midterm elections, President Bush and the GOP Congress
are planning their social policy. Itís another wolf in sheepís clothing. I mean
a policy that includes the administration of social spending by Ďfaith-basedí
groups, as reported in the Nov. 27 Washington Post.
Trying to sound like they live on Main Street, these Republicans claim that
government social spending is flawed. By trying to help to people falling on hard
times, government harms them. Churches can do a better job for families, according
to Senate Majority Leader-elect Trent Lott (R-Miss.) He claimed in the Washington
Post article that people living between the east and west coasts would support
this Ďfaith-basedí change in social policy.
"The only places where these ideas are considered bad are on the two coasts,"
Lott noted. "Where the meat is in the sandwich, the rest of America, these are
pretty mainstream ideas." Jobless workers whose unemployment payments are slated
to expire soon might disagree. Their fate is one of dire necessity. They are the
people who must choose between food and rent. They donít see doctors because their
health insurance coverage has elapsed. By contrast, Lott lives well in his capacity
as a leading member of Congress. Case in point is his taxpayer-funded health care
To be sure, fake populism isnít merely a GOP thing. Far from it. Recall that
many Democrats with honorable exceptions such as the late Sen. Paul Wellstone
(D-Minn.) have supported the shrinking of government spending for people in need,
claiming that this policy was a public service to boost personal responsibility.
Welfare reform was packaged as a benefit to people whose individual initiative
had been weakened by government help that also hurt society. Across the Atlantic,
former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had said "there is no such thing
as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." U.S.
politicians still ape her view in their policies.
Now itís true that Democrats and the GOP use different rhetoric. They may disagree
on the pace of eliminating the welfare state for people. However, their aim has
been the same basic policy of driving down the living and working conditions of
the U.S. public. Author Michael Parenti has termed this the "thirdworldization"
of the nation. A walk down any downtown street across the country speaks volumes
about this process, clear for those who choose to see it.
It was Democratic President Clinton who led the charge to end welfare (not
poverty). He was the point man on the elimination of federally guaranteed cash
payments to the poorest members of U.S. society. This policy knocked down a key
peg of the welfare state for people established during the Great Depression. Surely
many big campaign contributors cheered Clintonís victory over the politically
powerless. Why? The unctuous former presidentís triumph forced more low-wage workers
into the job market. This move to help business profitability required employeesí
willingness to accept smaller (if any) salary increases from their employers.
A more recent reduction of government spending with similar effects for people
in the job market saw Congress, with President Bush giving it a wink and a nod,
refusing to extend jobless payments to workers out of a job. Some 2.1 million
jobless workers could lack federal or state benefits at the end of March 2003,
according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. How will church groups
deal with the sheer numbers of people living without regular paychecks and jobless
A GOP policy of religious groups administering social spending brings up several
more questions. One, where is the evidence that such groups can do a better job
than the government? Two, are church administrators more (or less) accountable
than government officials? Three, will the Bush administrationís penchant for
secrecy extend to this new Ďfaith-basedí policy of social spending?
Overall, the GOPís strategy is to distract those being economically attacked
from their attackers. Thus the GOP praises (some) religion and chides (some) government.
Democrats are less strident rhetorically. But the Democratic Party is offering
virtually similar economic policies to those of the GOP concerning an improvement
in the lives of ordinary people as the economy sputters. On that note, the fiscal
crises of local and state governments are coming fast and furious. How will Ďfaith-basedí
groups cope with an untold number of human beings in need when the spending of
state and local governments runs dry?
Consider what looms large for many in California. There, Democratic Governor
Gray Davis in early Dec. will announce possible budget cuts that could put an
unclear number of public employees out of a job, close schools and increase school
class sizes. The state has a deficit of $21 billion from the dot-com meltdown
that began in March 2000, and the national recession that officially emerged a
year later. The fiscal bottom line? California needs a bailout from the federal
government. Yet Uncle Samís past actions donít bode well for the future. The GOPís
support of Ďfaith-basedí government programs for people evades this political
"In July, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved a proposal to provide
fiscal relief to states through a temporary increase in federal grants for Medicaid
and social services, but it never became law," reported the Nov. 26 New York Times.
"The Bush administration and Senator Don Nickles, the Oklahoma Republican in line
to become chairman of the Budget Committee in the new Congress, opposed the increase."
Meanwhile, donít expect a Ďfaith-basedí administration of war spending from
the GOP. War spending makes corporate America rich and increases the political
power of the GOP and its Democratic "opponents." That kind of welfare is fine
with them. And the U.S. working class, the people who Sen. Lott claims to represent?
This group of increasingly disenfranchised folks pay for war spending while becoming
less economically secure. Yet the GOP rejects government responsibility for people
suffering the effects of the market economy. Presumably, government anti-poverty
programs are to blame for the rising number of poor people.
In the U.S. now, the GOPís attack (with Democratic assent) on the welfare state
for the people is a leading feature of the class struggle. One side is winning.
The other side is losing. But donít take it on faith that this current phase of
the conflict is cast in stone.
Take the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. It has launched a national campaign
to detail poverty levels by calling for popular resistance based on the view that
joblessness and homelessness as violations of human rights. By contrast, the GOP
majority in the 108th Congress would like the U.S. population to reject such a
vision of a better world and replace it with faith in market economy rules. Donít.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive
newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org