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"Stray Animals" and Republican Radicalism

By now you've probably heard of the bizarre comments by South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer--a candidate for the governorship later this year--over the weekend, wherein he compared people receiving food stamps or free school lunches to "stray animals" who think of little other than "breeding." Bauer has expressed "regret" about the "stray animals" passage because stupid people took it as an "analogy, not a metaphor," but has defended the underlying sentiments, and even attacked those who criticized his remarks for "cynicism."

Bauer's remarks weren't in an off-the-record private conversation (like Harry Reid's "light skin" comment about Barack Obama), and he didn't commit a small, one-sentence gaffe that was taken out of context. No, Bauer was speaking in a "town hall" meeting with state legislators present, and the "stray animals" remarks was part of a fairly long, coherent (if evil) rant about the "culture of dependency," the refusal of public assistance recipients to "give back" to the community, and the growing tendency of people to "vote for a living rather than work for a living." He didn't take any of that back in any way, shape or form.

And by and large his fellow South Carolina Republicans, many of whom really, really don't like him, have gone to his defense, or at most suggested he made a "poor choice of words." Nothing wrong, it appears, with suggesting that an actual majority of the population of his own state are folks who are ripping off taxpayers instead of working, and are "voting for a living" by supporting socialists like Barack Obama, so long as we all understand that comparing them to fast-breeding animals is a "metaphor, not an analogy."

What this really represents is the growing radicalism of the Republican Party. It's clearly advanced in South Carolina, where Bauer's remarks are little more than a lurid version of the views of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who has suggested that the "culture of dependency" that Bauer talked about extends not only to people receiving food stamps, but those benefitting from Social Security and Medicare, and not only to parents whose kids eat subsidized school lunches, but parents who rely on "government schools" (better known as "public schools") to begin with.

And beyond South Carolina, Bauer is also reflecting the narrative, beloved of the Tea Party movement and embraced in part by John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, that "looters" and "freeloaders" abetted by "radical" groups like ACORN blew up the economy by obtaining home mortgages they couldn't afford, then demanded "bailouts" and elected their guy Obama president to introduce socialism.

How big a change is that in the views of Republicans? Lest we forget, the food stamp program, long beloved of Republican Members of Congress from farm states (most notably 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole), was designed to ensure that poor families could eat and didn't get use up disposable income on more trivial expenditures. The school lunch program, which has never been controversial up until now, was based on the rather common-sense observation that hungry kids don't learn very well, significantly reducing the likelihood that they would become productive members of society who could raise their own kids to be the same.

Moreover, listening to conservatives today rant about the "welfare entitlement" and those who refuse to "contribute to society," you'd never know that Republicans just over a decade ago were boasting endlessly about a federal welfare reform initiative that eliminated any unconditional entitlement to public assistance and introduced work requirements and time limits. It didn't go away in the years since 1997.

Unfortunately, Andre Bauer reflects some pretty scary trends within the Republican Party. And those Republicans who don't want to be understood as favoring a dehumanization of poor people and minorities and conspiracy theories about welfare looters "voting for a living," have a responsibility to denounce utterances like Bauer's as something a bit more serious than a "poor choice of words." How about a poor choice of morals, and a poor grasp of their own country?

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This is PRECISELY the issue that Democrats should be taking-on and rebulding a governing majority with.

The Liberal agenda since the American Revolution has been to remove barriers to human progress. The Liberal agenda freed America from British monarchical rule, freed America's slaves, established the Bill of Rights, gave women and blacks and other minorities the full rights of citizenship to vote and enter the professions and live and go to school where they want to. The Liberal agenda outlawed child labor and established the 8 hour working day. It now enables seniors to live out their lives in dignity with Social Security, provides health care to the poor and elderly and the military through Medicaid, Medicare and the VA (in largest part because the private sector has never been able to figure out how to cover these people and make a profit).

In short, while conservatives in America have opposed every one of these initiatives and advances, with many lives lost and untold human costs, Liberals fought for all of these advances for opportunity and Democracy in America.

The fact is that American Liberalism has built and unleashed the extraordinary, unmatched human resources that make America the strongest force for progress and Democracy in the world.

Now conservatives oppose extending access to (private sector!) health insurance to all Americans. The conservative tea pity-partiers whine about paying a fair share of taxes. These and many other shortsighted, self-defeating efforts weaken America. Our people are our most vital resource. Chinese is now the foreign language most often taught in universities in the U.S. Why? Because China subsidizes the pay of teachers of Chinese all around the world! They subsidize their best and brightest students to study in the best universities. Meanwhile, America’s pity-partiers, work feverishly to tear-down the fabric of educational, infrastructure and social supports that build and maintain our vital human resources. China, India and other nations get this. They are investing massively in their human capital the way America once did. Good for them. Memo to tax-gutting conservatives: you might want to urge your kids to learn Chinese.

The vast majority of Americans want their country to be strong and they want people to have the opportunity to be all they can be. We need to make the case clearly and relentlessly that the conservative agenda of downsizing government and social services is downsizing the hopes, aspirations and potential of millions of people who are Amnerica's future. The conservative agenda is hastening America's decline, while the Liberal project of expanding opportunity and Democracy -- focused on supporting and building our human resources -- is and always has been the truly American way to strength and prosperity. What we just saw in So. Carolina makes this abundantly clear.

So let's reclaim the high ground of the American project of human progress built on opportunity and Democracy for all. It is the central compelling narrative in American history and the (Liberal) agenda that most Americans support.

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