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The Long, Ideological Road to Nowhere

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia). (Photo: republicanconference / Flickr)

On June 1, Kathy Hochul (D-New York) was sworn in as the newest member of Congress. She won her seat in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Chris Lee in New York's 26th District, pulling off what many consider to be the biggest political upset since Republican Scott Brown snatched the “Kennedy” seat away from Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. This seat in New York had been held by Republicans since the 1960s. This district is so staunchly Republican that, in the 2008 presidential election, its members supported McCain (R-Arizona) while the remainder of New York State supported Senator Obama.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) does not see this upset as an indicator of pending change. He told reporters, “I do not think it can be seen as a signal as to the role of the budget reforms that we have proposed, including that in Medicare, … I know this town (Washington) loves to take signals from individual races. I think the best signal you can take is the 63 seats that we picked up in November.” Obviously, Cantor is driving down this ideological road using only his rear view mirror, failing to see the “bridge closed” signs right in front of him.

First, it is important to understand why Republican Chris Lee, a member of the party of “family values,” vacated his seat. Lee resigned in February, just hours after a web site reported that the married Congressman was soliciting women on the Internet and sent a shirtless image of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist.

It is important to analyze this “moral lapse” in its broader historical context. These things don't happen in a vacuum. It is just the most recent example of the moral hypocrisy demonstrated by the self-anointed arbiters of American “family values.” Lest we forget:

  • Former Republican Congressman Mark Foley, once known as a crusader against child abuse and exploitation, resigned from Congress on September 29, 2006, after allegations surfaced that he had sent suggestive emails and sexually explicit instant messages to teenaged boys who had formerly served and were at that time serving as Congressional pages.
  • Former Florida State Rep. and Republican Bob Allen was arrested July 2007 outside the men's restroom at a Titusville park after offering to perform a sex act on a plainclothes police officer. Allen sponsored the “Sexual Predator Elimination Act.” Previously, his 2006 re-election had received a 92 percent rating from the Christian Coalition of Florida. Bob Allen is married.
  • Republican Sen. Larry Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on suspicion of lewd conduct. Craig pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
  • Sen. John Ensign (R-Nevada) resigned May 3, 2011, after admitting to having an extramarital affair with a married campaign staff member, Cynthia Hampton. The Senate ethics investigation focused in part on some $96,000 Ensign's parents gave Hampton.
  • Former House Speaker and Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's extramarital affairs are well documented.

It's not that Democrats are without sin, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina) are recent examples of that fact. It's that Republicans are the ones who have intentionally injected ideological Christianity into mainstream American politics. They have created a litmus test for “family values” solely to gain political advantage. However, since their rhetoric was designed for personal gain and often times has little to do with reality, many of them have been exposed as hypocrites. It has become clear to many Americans that those “family values” are the values of a very dysfunctional family.

Second, during the 2010 mid-term elections, Republicans sold America a pig-in-a-poke by claiming budgets could be balanced by going after “waste, fraud and abuse” as well as maintaining that “there's not a revenue problem but a spending problem.” They lied! The New York 26th District race became the first test on a national level of the political viability of this Republican scheme, aka the “Ryan Budget.” One element of Ryan's (R-Wisconsin) budget is to privatize Medicare the same way Republicans tried to privatize Social Security. They want to gut Medicare by shifting the government provided health care coverage for retirees to the accounts of for-profit insurance companies. Voters in New York saw this fraud and summarily rejected it along with the Republican candidate, Jane Corwin, who supported it.

The focus on budget cuts is an attempt to distract attention away from the damage being caused by extending the Bush-era tax cuts. Trickle down or “voodoo economics” failed during the Reagan years and is failing now. The country would have been better served by allowing the tax cuts to expire and using the additional revenue to support the states.

All politics is local. The May 26, New York District 26 Republican failure came on the heels of a number of Republican statehouse failures for similar reasons. On May 5 in Wisconsin, Republicans lost a “sure” seat to Democrat Steve Doyle. In Maine on May 13, Democrat Cynthia Hill picked up a state Senate seat previously held by the Republicans. In New Hampshire on May 18, Democrat Jennifer Daler won a surprise victory, claiming a seat that Republicans had held since 2004, in a statehouse special election. These are all evidence of a repudiation of neoconservative scare tactics on the state level.

Third, to literally add insult to injury Cantor and other Republicans have adopted the morally bankrupt ideology of tying the balancing of the budget to disaster relief. The Republicans are already trying to balance the budget on the backs of working-class and middle-class Americans. Now, Cantor is reiterating his position that disaster relief funds for the tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri, “must be paid for with cuts to other programs.” Not only will this impact individual victims in Joplin, but failure to provide immediate relief also impacts small businesses. Tim Manning, deputy administrator of FEMA, stated on Fox 5 News in Washington, DC, that 40 percent of small businesses struck by a national disaster never recover. This could devastate long-term economic recovery in the region at the very time it is needed most. These are the same Republicans that claimed the president's proposed 3 percent increase of taxes on the people that earned over $250,000 would devastate small businesses.

Ideology does make for bad policy. Whether it's ideological Christian conservatism as the litmus test for “family values” or a knee-jerk reactionary, race-baited, neoconservative “Tea Party” driven ideology of less government means a better America, the electorate is slowly awaking to the nightmare that it voted for in mid-term 2010. It is a long, ideological road to nowhere filled with potholes and dead ends for working- and middle-class families, while transferring wealth to those who already have more than most.

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