Letters

Readers weigh in on Bush's huge tax handout, Arianna Huffington's challenge to wimpy Dems, and the truth about America's slave legacy.


Salon Staff
June 1, 2003 4:05AM (UTC)

[Read "What the Bush Tax Cut Could Have Bought," by Laura McClure and Mark Follman.]

I could not help but notice the figure of $25 billion that "could" have been spent on Head Start. This raised a red flag for me; I worked in administration for an urban public school system and believe me, spending more money is not the answer. Increased accountability is. The U.S. is spending on average $7,000 to $9,000 per pupil, depending on whose figures you look at. I believe one estimate put it as high as $13,000 per pupil in the D.C. public school system, and this was merely the "third" highest per-pupil rate in the nation. This is just direct public funding. In addition, many corporations and foundations provide grants for a whole host of other programs, deducting said monies from their federal and state taxes. The actual figure for government funding would therefore be much higher.

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Yet, as with so many government programs, the efficacy of them is never debated. The programs suffer, so it is claimed, because there is never enough money, teachers, books, computers, etc. Many private schools (mostly religious ones) are able to provide better-quality education at a fraction of the cost: $1,500 to $3,000 per student.

While working in the public school system, I remember looking through a progress report submitted by D.A.R.E. (the anti-drug program), which has over the years received substantial funds. The mission was hazy and therefore it was difficult to determine whether any of the goals in fact were being met. I believe that this is true for not only education but also job-creation programs. Job Corps is a prime example. Why not just send everyone to temp agencies, which provide better training, cost the taxpayer less, and arrange directly for jobs? A study by one conservative think tank estimated that it cost $16,000 to place one applicant through Job Corps. It did not say how long the applicant may have lasted at said job, only that he or she had been "placed."

This raises other concerns regarding some of the figures mentioned in the article. Would these additional monies actually achieve better results? I have my doubts.

-- Brian Asmus

Great article. On a related note, here is a little numbers game I like to play: The current U.S. military budget is approximately $400 billion. Let's say we cut that spending in half and redirect the excess money to schoolteachers' salaries. The result? We'd still have the biggest military in the world by far, and we could hire 4 million new teachers at a pay rate of $50,000 per year -- considerably better than what most teachers currently make.

-- Lee Nichols

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Does anyone ever think that it is not the role of the federal government to provide healthcare or to pay off state budget deficits? Nor are schools a federal responsibility. And once one of these one-year gems comes into being, the costs are forever.

Politicians always talk about how hard it is to raise taxes, which is a load of horse manure. The hard thing is to cut spending. It never happens. You want to fund all these nice little give-backs, find it in the current budget. Cut the pork-riddled farm bill, get serious about reforming Medicare and Social Security. Herein lies the rub: Tax money is not the government's to do with as it pleases. That money is mine and I like being able to keep more of it. I work hard for it.

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-- Kevin McCreavy

I guess what we all have to do, since the Bush administration isn't doing it for us, is to use our tax refund money to fund these programs ourselves. For example, I hope to use mine to support my local NPR affiliate, MoveOn.org, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Unfortunately, I won't be getting back the big bucks. Maybe then I could really make a difference.

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-- Jenny Hoffman

[Read "Democrats: Profiles in Spinelessness," by Arianna Huffington.]

As one who has pretty much accepted the fact that the Democratic Party no longer exists (let alone Democratic leaders), I found little comfort, but poignant confirmation, in Arianna's essay. Her indictment of the party was right on the mark.

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One need look no further than the present field of presidential candidates to accurately predict the future; as Harry Truman said: "Given the choice between a Republican, and a Democrat who acts like a Republican, voters will choose the Republican every time."

The irony is that when one of these aspirants actually has the courage to say something meaningful about the state of the nation, or to suggest that the present administration is leading the country down a rat hole, DNC chairman McAuliffe expresses his unhappiness on national television, as he did recently in response to Howard Dean's refreshing candor.

If the party is to be resuscitated, people like McAuliffe will have to go. The American people are thirsting for an alternative to perpetual war and tax cuts. Is there a Democrat left, with the exception of Robert Byrd, who has the courage and conviction to tell it like it is? I'm not holding my breath.

-- Tom Liston

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This past week another large nail was hammered into the coffin of the legacy of FDR, JFK and LBJ. In the face of huge budget deficits, accumulated in just over two years, the Republican-controlled Congress approved a tax cut that is a critical part of the party's master plan, which is to starve the federal government of revenue to support any programs other than national defense.

Armed with the knowledge that a majority of the adult population is uninformed or misinformed, and with the increased nervousness concerning the terrorist threat, this administration is rapidly making progress in dismantling and abolishing government funded social programs. The continued acquiescence and lack of outrage by the Democrats in Congress, who continue to shrink in the face of the mythical and obtuse popularity of George Bush, has only served to make this process embarrassingly easy.

Regardless of their minority status in the Congress, the Democrats should be shouting their opposition to the rafters on Capitol Hill. They seem to be unaware that we are facing a historical sea change in the relationship of government to the governed, advocated by an opposition that is united and ruthless in the pursuit of its goal to permanently alter the social fabric of the country.

For anyone who adheres to a belief in democracy with a social conscience, this is a critical moment in our nation's history. If, in the next few months, the Democrats do not put forth a cohesive message, and do not articulate that message loudly, passionately and aggressively, they must assume full culpability for the direction this country takes for decades to come.

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-- Bob Telaak

I couldn't agree more with Arianna Huffington's essay. I've watched the party with growing dismay ever since it and Al Gore botched his attempt to get a recount in Florida. They've half-heartedly opposed Bush in everything he's done since, apparently quaking in fear that anything they say or do will offend someone.

It will be a miracle if any of the current candidates learn to stand up on their hind legs and say what they really think before the election. The only one of whose rhetoric I approve so far is Carol Moseley Braun's, and she has about as much chance of winning the nomination as I have. Terry McAuliffe should be replaced immediately by the only Democrat who still knows how to get things done -- Bill Clinton.

-- Karen Paolini

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The time has never been more ripe for a genuine class war on behalf of the middle class, and if the Democrats can't make hay out of Enron, the phony energy crisis that ripped off Californians, national healthcare for Iraq, growing disparities in wages, shrinking 401(k) accounts, and a level of economic insecurity that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, they are beyond worthless.

Elite pundits inside the Beltway will cluck with disapproval, but they are so out of touch with the average American that their opinions hardly matter. Such snooty disdain could even work to a skilled candidate's advantage in any number of ways.

I usually vote Democrat and fear the economic calamity of another four years of Bush League, but I swear I will sit out the election if some namby-pamby GOP-lite like Joe Lieberman is the nominee.

-- Bernard Gundy

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Arianna Huffington is dead right about the self-destructive timidity of the Democratic leadership in failing to challenge George Bush and the Bush-eviks. But she also needs to recognize another factor beyond cowardice in the Democrats' behavior: The American public really likes George Bush. That this preference is the political equivalent of an insatiable craving for anything with trans-fatty acids over healthy food makes no difference.

In 1956, Adlai Stevenson pledged to "talk sense to the American people," and he did, and he got trounced. It is sad but true that the public will often choose stupidity over intelligence if it is packaged with simplicity, directness and tough talk.

Americans are by nature conservative -- not right-wing -- but conservative in the tradition of liberal Republicans such as John Chafee, Charles Percy and Mark Hatfield. I believe this attitude and philosophy now have their home among the mainstream of the Democratic Party and its leadership.

Give the public a true conservative alternative to the Bush agenda, package and present it with the same kind of direct rhetoric that the right has mastered, and the voters will buy it.

-- Robert Benjamin

[Read "The Never Ending War Over Slavery," by Louise Witt.]

This country was built literally on the backs of slaves -- both the Northern and Southern economies are tainted with blood money. Slavery was not just a system of free labor in exchange for room and board; it was about death, torture and the annihilation of the family unit. That this is even a debate is absolutely outrageous.

The prevalent American attitude is dismissive -- "Slavery happened, Lincoln freed the slaves, there was a civil rights movement, let's move on." The period between Reconstruction and the civil rights movement has been completely ignored. I hope Wilder's museum will explore the Jim Crow South and the legacy of peonage, which continues to cast a large shadow in the South.

How can we still have Confederates hollering that some slaves were "loyal" to the slave owners and the Southern cause? This is an outrage. Consider the Iraqis who supported Hussein even as American soldiers marched on Baghdad. They were afraid -- afraid that the Americans would leave, that Saddam would return, and that there would be hell to pay. The slaves who "supported" the Confederacy also did so out of fear of reprisal. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if Germans claimed that Jews liked the ghettoes, or that some Jews supported Hitler?

-- Andrea Reino

I notice that Louise Witt brings up a cherished myth among modern neo-Confederates: that black slaves not only fought to protect their masters, but were actually allowed to fight alongside white troops in the Confederate armies.

As the June 1915 issue of "Confederate Veteran Magazine" shows, this myth was exploded by the legions of Confederate veterans still alive at the time. The magazine also noted that while Robert E. Lee, who actually opposed slavery, had begged Jefferson Davis to allow him to recruit blacks to fight in the Confederate army, Southern opposition to this idea was so strong that permission for it was not actually granted until March 28, 1865 -- far too late to actually implement, as the Confederacy was already in full collapse by that point. (Appomattox would happen barely two weeks later.) And even then it was noted by one Southern writer that slave owners would sooner send their wives and daughters to fight than send their slaves.

One hopes that Governor Wilder will include this information in his proposed museum of slavery. The "Black Confederates" myth is one of the most pernicious and pervasive lies perpetrated by the modern neo-Confederates; several "historical" markers have been set up throughout the South in recent years in order to promote this very myth, as a means of soothing white consciences over America's greatest sin.

-- Tamara Baker

America rarely deals honestly with its past. We choose legend over truth. It was not until college that I heard the term "genocide" used to describe our "interactions" with the natives of this land. I was older still and reading of the excavations in New York before I began to get some small inkling of the truth about the lives of slaves in this country.

This is a huge part of our history. A raw, unfiltered, unbiased look at slavery and its repercussions is necessary to understanding our country.

-- Wahrena Pfeister


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