What is so great about our bloated federal
government that when a libertarian threatens to become a senator,
otherwise rational and mostly liberal pundits start frothing at the
mouth? What Rand Paul thinks about the Civil Rights Act, passed 46
years ago, hardly seems the most pressing issue of social justice
before us. It's a done deal that he clearly accepts.
Yet Paul's questioning the wisdom of a banking bailout that rewards
those who shamelessly exploited the poor and vulnerable, many of them
racial minorities, is right on target. So too questioning the enormous
cost of wars that as he dared point out are conducted in violation of
our Constitution and that, I would add, though he doesn't, prevent us
from adequately funding needed social programs.
Under the leadership of President Bill
Clinton, Wall Street secured the radical deregulation of the financial
industry that its lobbyists had long sought. I opposed that betrayal of
the sensible policies of the last great Democratic president, Franklin
Delano Roosevelt, and I suspect that Paul applauded the move as an
extension of the free market that he so uncritically celebrates.
Where I agree with him is that with freedom comes responsibility, and
when the financial conglomerates abused their freedom, they, and not
the victims they swindled, should have borne the consequences. Instead,
they were saved by the taxpayers from their near-death experience,
reaping enormous profits and bonuses while the fundamentals of the
world economy they almost destroyed remain rotten, as attested by the
high rates of housing foreclosures and unemployment and the tens of
millions of newly poor dependent on government food handouts.
But the poor will not find much more than
food crumbs from a federal government that, thanks to another one of
Clinton's "reforms," ended the federal obligation to deal with the
welfare of the impoverished. Yes, Clinton, not either Paul, father Ron
or son. It was Clinton who campaigned to "end welfare as we know it,"
and as a result the federal obligation to end poverty, once fervently
embraced by even Richard Nixon, was abandoned.
Concern for the poor was devolved to the
state governments, and they in turn are in no mood to honor the
injunction of all of the world's great religions that we be judged by
how we treat the least among us. That would be poor children, and it is
unconscionable that state governments across the nation are cutting
programs as elemental as the child care required when you force single
mothers to work.
"Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwart More
Job Seekers" ran the headline in The New York Times on Sunday over a
story detailing how in a dozen states there are now sharp cuts in child
care for the poor who find jobs, and how there are now long lists of
kids needing child care while their mothers work at low-paying jobs at
places like Wal-Mart. In Arizona, there is a waiting list of 11,000
kids eligible for child care. That is what passes for success in the
welfare reform saga, with mothers forced off the rolls into a workplace
bereft of promised child care that the cash-strapped states no longer
wish to supply.
A couple of weeks ago came the news-reading like a page out of Dickens
(or perhaps like a parody from The Onion )-that the Terminator was
again in action, this time terminating California's programs for the
poor. The son-in-law of Sargent Shriver, who once ran the federal war
on poverty, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now seeks to eliminate the
Golden State's CalWorks program. By ending the once celebrated program
along with child care funding, Schwarzenegger expects to save $2.2
billion. As the Los Angeles Times reported, "Ending CalWorks, which
provides recipient families with an average of $500 per month, would
make California the only state not to offer a welfare program for
low-income families with children."
Schwarzenegger apparently doesn't care;
poor kids can't complain too loudly, and while the governor backed down
in his earlier threats to cut funding for somewhat more privileged
college kids who protested those cuts loudly, he found the safety net
for the poor an easier target: "You cannot have a safety net if you
don't have the money for that safety net."
Sure you can't, and so the safety net is
being shredded in state after state, but why don't we have the money,
and why was responsibility for the poor left to the tender mercy of
state governments while the federal government maintains a lavish
welfare system for needy bankers who treat a few billion in government
bailouts as chump change?
I am not a libertarian; I proudly remain a
bleeding-heart liberal, as befits one who began life in a family on the
dole during the Depression. But if the federal government exists
primarily to serve super-rich defense contractors and bankers while
ignoring the poor, I say it is time to expose as the enemy of progress
the Washington bureaucracy that tends to the greedy rich at the expense
of the truly needy. That is the problem; Rand Paul is the distraction.