"Ready for dinner"
It takes a Republican to be pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-torture, and pro-bombing, yet be “pro-life.” It takes a Republican to be down with the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout of the big banks, but outraged when Obama offers a modest foreclosure relief bill for struggling families affected by Wall Street’s casino capitalism.
We all know this, and there are countless other examples that demonstrate right-wing hypocrisy, from Benghazi to healthcare from budget priorities to placards that read, “Keep your big government hands off my Medicare.” But in her new release “A Fighting Chance,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren articulates the far right’s hypocrisy eloquently.
During the heady days of establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and in the face of hostile opposition from banking lobbyists and congressional Republicans, Warren continued calling on members of the House and Senate, both Republican and Democrat, to garner support for the fledgling agency designed to protect American families from unscrupulous lending practices.
Warren recounts a story of her meeting with Tea Party Republican Michael Grimm (R-NY). Grimm is the guy who threatened to throw a TV news reporter off the Capitol building’s balcony after this year’s State of the Union address. “I’ll throw you off this f—ing balcony. I’ll break you in half like a boy,” he threatened. And last month, Grimm was indicted by the U.S. attorney in New York on 20 counts of mail, wire and tax fraud. Irony, anyone? Warren writes of Grimm:
“He told me all about himself. He’d joined the U.S. Marines when he was 19, and he had been decorated for his service in Desert Storm. He got a degree from Baruch College, a public university in New York, went to law school, and joined the FBI, where among other things, he was part of the Financial Fraud Squad. He talked in animated terms about the great work he’d done with the FBI and the terrific training he’d received. Then he launched a small business before running for office.”
Despite being aligned with the Tea Party, Warren was hopeful Grimm was someone she could work with. “I didn’t care about his Tea Party ties. He’d been in law enforcement and dealt with Wall Street corruption. I was sure that someone like him would really appreciate the importance of having a watchdog like the consumer agency.”
Warren’s optimism was quickly crushed. After providing Grimm with an “enthusiastic description of what we were trying to get done at the agency, the congressman looked surprised.” With a clenched jaw, Grimm cut Warren off. He told her, “I don’t believe in government.” Warren thought she had misunderstood him. “What?” she replied. He repeated that he didn’t believe in government. “I asked him about the FBI, and he amended his statement to say yes, he believed in the FBI, but not other forms of ‘big government’ and certainly not a consumer protection agency.”
The meeting didn’t last much longer, but afterward Warren couldn’t stop thinking about Congressman Grimm’s remark: He didn’t believe in government.
“I thought about the congressman’s life,” writes Warren:
“A tour of duty in the military. A degree from a public university. Eleven years working in a federal government agency. Government training. And now a seat in the House of Representatives. Heck, he had even been quoted as saying that he wanted the government-paid health insurance when he joined the Congress, because ‘God forbid I get into an accident and I can’t afford the operation. That could happen to anyone.’ It seemed to me that he ought to be the poster boy for someone who understood all the good things that government can do.”
While acknowledging “government isn’t the solution to every problem,” Warren says that she hopes to one day ask Grimm: “Would you rather fly in an airplane without the Federal Aviation Administration checking air traffic control? Would you rather swallow a pill without the Food and Drug Administration testing drug safety? Would you rather defend our nation without a military and fight fires without our firefighters?”
Warren nails it. The collective thinking of today’s movement conservatives accounts for little more than magic wand waving, the dangerous belief that if we eliminate all forms of the federal government, all our problems will vanish into thin air. Rarely does campaign rhetoric move policy, no matter how soaring its high notes, but campaign words do have the ability to wreak immeasurable havoc on a country, and it’s arguable that the most damaging 11 words ever uttered by a U.S. president are Reagan’s “government is not part of the solution, government is the problem.” Or how about Reagan’s other famous line: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Those two phrases have blanketed an entire generation of Republicans with hypocritical habits.
“America has faced difficult problems before—and we’ve solved them together. We passed laws to get children out of factories. We set up a system that allowed aging workers to retire with dignity. We built schools so that every child would have a chance at a better life, and we created a network of highway and mass transit systems so people could get to work. We built an astonishingly tough military, superb police forces, and squadrons of first-class professional firefighters. No, the market didn’t build those things: Americans built them. Working through our government, we built them together. And as a consequence, we are all better off.”
Hypocrisy allows Republicans to ignore that it was the federal government that built the great American middle class through labor laws, reforms in the financial and banking industry, and a progressive tax code that shared the prosperity. It was also the federal government that created the interstate highway system, so that private enterprise could deliver to expanded markets. We tackled poverty with Social Security and Medicare, and so on and so on. But instead of trying to starve the government or drown it in the bathtub, “we need to tackle our problems head-on, and that will require better government.”
CJ Werleman is the author of "Crucifying America" and "God Hates You. Hate Him Back." You can follow him on Twitter: @cjwerlemanMore CJ Werleman.
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