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A history lesson, Bush style

June 19, 2005 1:07 am

HISTORY TELLS US that the pen- dulum will swing back toward the left, eventually, when Americans realize we have taken our one step back and that it's time to take two steps forward.

But until then, the words and actions of a Republican-heavy Washington will range from annoying to downright frightening.

Not that taking a step back isn't sometimes an educational thing. We get to discover what the combination of tax cuts and uncontrolled government spending can do: Create record deficits. We also get more evidence that U.S. poverty rates trend upward during Republican administrations, and downward when a Democrat is in charge.

Of course we should be concerned about the Bush administration's big issues, such as a war, or quagmire, that's costing too many American lives and dollars, or an energy policy that puts corporate greed ahead of environmental concerns, or the potential for an ideologically rigged Supreme Court that could, among other things, threaten a woman's right to choose.

But we shouldn't lose sight of how convenient it is for the administration that such high-profile issues help divert attention from other actions--like budget manipulations here, or presidential directives there--that take a quieter toll on the programs we have come to know and love in America.

For example, I'm not sure what's worse: a Republican-led House subcommittee voting to strip the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of its federal funding, or the panel's chairman, Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, saying the cuts had nothing to do with GOP dissatisfaction over public radio or TV programs. "There's not enough money for everything," he said.

Let's be frank, Ralph. Public radio and television programming has been perceived as having a liberal slant, just as all mainstream media are. That's why you want to do away with it. But perceptions don't make it so. This is speech that could be censored by axing its budget, so that makes it fair game. But that doesn't make it right. That you have the power doesn't mean you're required to abuse it.

I was impressed, maybe even a little disappointed, with how balanced PBS and NPR 2004 campaign and election coverage was. So many stories on public radio and television tell us of the less fortunate, here and around the world, and of those who have overcome hurdles to succeed. Should stories about the toll American actions have taken on others not be told? I wonder what Native Americans might think about that.

Indeed, $400 million is a small price to pay for stories that might not otherwise be told.

Would inserting reruns of "The 700 Club" and "The Old Time Gospel Hour" between episodes of "Sesame Street" and "Reading Rainbow" make it all OK?

Last week it was reported that government lawyers, apparently at the Bush administration's behest, backed off of monetary penalties being sought from Big Tobacco--funds that were to be used for smoking-cessation programs.

The result of the 11th-hour change of direction is that the Justice Department won't ask for the $120 billion from Big Tobacco that would have targeted the 45 million Americans who smoke. It will settle instead for $10 billion earmarked for preventing future smokers from taking up the habit.

The result is a break for big business, and a greater number of long-term smokers whose habit-related ailments will further overburden the nation's health-care system as the boomer generation ages. It's a typically short-sighted view from a short-sighted administration.

President Bush also believes the Patriot Act is such a good thing that it needs to be strengthened and made permanent.

This is the perfect example of dangerous policy that combines two Bush administration favorites: the politics of fear and the abuse of power. By using the former, he is seeking permanent authorization of the latter.

The U.S. system of checks and balances also applies to the scales of justice. There are safeguards in place to prevent the government from knowing more about you than it needs to. There is an understandable fear that the Patriot Act tilts those scales in the government's favor under the pretense of keeping Americans safer in an age of terrorism.

The original compromise that required it to be periodically reauthorized was a good idea and should be maintained. Any modifications demand thorough scrutiny.

It's the U.S. government's responsibility to keep us safe, but to accomplish that without compromising the personal freedoms that set us apart. Big Brother isn't welcome here, but no matter how the president tries to justify it, that is what he wants.

What he also wants is Big Moral Brother, a compass that always points toward the GOP conservative wing's view of things. The president approves of the precedent the government set by taking sides in the case of Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman who was allowed to die after subsisting for 16 years in a vegetative state. But about 80 percent of Americans, no matter where they stood on the issue, think government should have kept its nose out of it.

The same holds true for embryonic stem-cell research. Large majorities of Americans, up to 70 percent, want the research to proceed based on the promise--not the guarantee--that it could hold the key to various maladies and diseases from which actual living people suffer.

Has the president taken that information to heart? Probably not, because he believes that God is on his party's side. That is irrational and preposterous, but some Americans seem to buy it.

The abolitionist, suffragist, and early women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) put it this way:

"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

Too bad she is unavailable for interviews.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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