The Last Page

The Last Page

What is going on? The richest Americans are about to give themselves a big tax cut. The bigger the cut, the less money there will be for government programs that many less-than-rich Americans need. Ordinary greed is at work here, but also ideology. The proposal of the new administration is designed to starve the government as well as to increase the income gap. So why isn’t there more opposition? This is a pocketbook issue. It’s the economy, stupid. Don’t people still have nerve endings in their wallets? Politics is supposed to have, so we were always taught, a material base. Obviously it still does: the rich have material motives. But the rest of us seem to be…what? materially anesthetized. How was this accomplished?

The economic downturn is starting to bring “welfare reform” home across America. Many Americans are at the end of their entitlements; the help that was once available isn’t there anymore; for some of them it’s not just that the safety net has holes; the net has simply been taken down, folded up, put away, like the flag at the end of the day. So, why isn’t anybody screaming? Where are the protests, the organized anger?

Work safety rules established in the last weeks of the Clinton administration have been disestablished by a congressional majority that consists of all the Republicans and maybe 10 percent or 15 percent of the Democrats. The GOP has discovered solidarity and democratic centralism; the Democrats are weak and divided, a party of (as we used to say) renegades. Why is no one outraged? The Republican whips carry whips; the Democrats plead for the support of their own members.

A student takes one of his parent’s guns, shoots up his high school, killing and wounding many of his fellows. Everyone is shocked. But everyone has been shocked before. The killings give no impetus to efforts to control the sale and use of guns. The people who want to do that are still around. The National Rifle Association and its lobbyists are still around. And between these two, among the people we call “the people,” there is no agitation, discussion, movement. Why not?

Immediately upon coming into office, Bush II shut off all U.S. aid to clinics abroad that give counseling about or actually provide abortions. Sympathy with third world women should have produced a fierce response. And if not that, then self-interest. Obviously, this is what Bush would like to do at home, too. Where is the feminist militancy of yesteryear? Don’t the Democrats remember the gender gap?

There is a two-fold answer to all these questions. First, in America today the Republicans are the party of conviction; the Democrats are the party of sentiment and opportunism. Some residual feeling for poorer and weaker citizens survives among rank-and-file Democrats; they are still the local party of the left. But the feeling isn’t ideologically defined and reinforced. The Republicans, by contrast, have a doctrine;...