Civil War


With a self-satisfied smile tugging at his lips, chairman Henry Hyde pronounced the House Judiciary Committee’s judgment on President Clinton late last week. It was a somber moment— certainly one of the most serious in U.S. history since Reconstruction. Yet Hyde and his right-wing colleagues clearly were relishing every moment. And why shouldn’t they?

The four impeachment articles sent to the House floor strike a blow for the conservative revolution on two counts. First, by hitting boldly at the president, the right-wing Republicans propel their insurgent agenda forward, undermining not only the credibility of the hated and distrusted executive branch but of its leader. For years they have sought to stamp out any residues of the New Deal, seeking to close down whole departments of the government when the opportunity arose, and working to kill what pitiful remnants of social welfare programs remain. Now the privatizing of Social Security— the proudest and most successful emblem of the New Deal— and even the sunsetting of the progressive income tax are within their sights.

Second, pillorying the president as an adulterer strikes a blow on behalf of the right wing’s “family values” crusade (which, ironically, was a Clinton/Gore campaign theme as well). It stands as a stark reminder that, for all the prating about individual liberty, sex outside of marriage and for purposes other than procreation is not likely to be tolerated by conservatives in this country if they ever truly consolidate power.

This is, of course, payback time for the right: payback for the cultural excesses of the ’60s, of which Clinton was a sympathetic if somewhat distant product, and revenge for the forcing from office of Richard Nixon, who in the right’s view was hounded from the presidency by liberal hacks in the press and their weak-kneed lackeys in Congress.

If the House impeaches Clinton this week, then he faces a truly ominous prospect in the Senate, where Chief Justice William Rehnquist— the right wing’s judicial champion— would preside over the first trial of a U.S. president since Andrew Johnson.

The acts of the House Judiciary Committee over the past month have not been careful scrutinizings of the law and alleged lapses in observance of the law. They have not been intended to be. They are part of a radical right-wing program to retake the United States, turning it once and for all sharply away from the last social welfare inheritances of the New Deal.

Social Security Sellout

White House Readies Wall Street Xmas Gift

The buzz in the corridors at the Marriott Wardman during last week’s White House conference on Social Security was all about impeachment— not whether Clinton was going to be impeached, but how a Senate consumed with impeachment would ever have the time to pass the Social Security reforms Wall Street needs to get portions of the giant cash reservoir flowing to mutual fund managers in New York.

For months, everyone here has known that Clinton will agree to some form of privatization of Social Security, probably by setting up a system in which individuals can invest a small part of their savings in IRA-type accounts. At last week’s conference, there even was talk of establishing a new tax whose revenues would fund private market investments— i.e., a tax that would benefit Wall Street.

Privatizing Social Security promises to be the biggest financial industry boondoggle ever. Not only will it pour money into Wall Street, but it provides a further guarantee that the stock markets will never be allowed to collapse. How could they with the U.S. government standing behind them? And it will be another giant step toward dismantling what little regulation of Wall Street exists. The hedge funds, which nearly broke the system, aren’t regulated, and the burgeoning 401(K) mutual fund­based pension schemes are largely uncontrolled, meaning that workers and consumers have absolutely no protection if a 401(K) fails.

Over the last year, right-wing think tanks like Heritage and Cato have run a blitz for privatizing Social Security, arguing that the middle class and minority poor would be better off with market-based accounts. Heritage contends that the existing system discriminates against African Americans because they have shorter life spans than the rest of the population, and that Latinos get a bum deal because they are disproportionately younger.

In rebuttal, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities asserts that Heritage hasn’t accurately figured in administrative and other costs. Pointing out that elderly African Americans receive more than three-quarters of their income from Social Security (Latinos over 65 get 86 percent from the system), the Center says they and other low-income Americans could never afford the investment advice to make any real money in the market, and would be hard hit by initial administrative costs that discriminate against those with small investments.

Beavis vs. Butt-Head

Gush and Bore Defile Compassion and Idealism

Clinton’s impeachment defense begins to sound a little like George W. Bush’s campaign platform— a document devoted to what the Texas governor calls “compassionate conservatism,” which resembles nothing so much as a smoothed out version of Pat Buchanan’s “tough love.”

George W.’s compassionate conservatism means stripped-down, no-nonsense education dished out in decentralized public schools where pupils must meet tough standards or suffer the embarrassment of low scores that are publicized. It means transferring functions once carried out by the state to churches and other eleemosynary groups, like the wing of a suburban Houston prison that is run by a church as a “Bible-based, Christ-centered” program. Muslims can join, but they’re expected to convert to Christianity.

“My view is simple,” Bush told the Heritage magazine, Policy Review, recently. “Government does not have a monopoly on compassion. . . . [I]t’s time we shifted our focus from compassionate intentions to compassionate results.”

Over the last few months, Bush has been assembling a brain trust of sorts, consisting of members of the New Right, and, as The National Review has reported, people like Richard Neuhaus and James Q. Wilson, who used to be called neoconservatives. Although Bush listens to Reagan-era ideologue Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, he reportedly told her that he does not share her opposition to bilingual education.

George W.’s compassionate conservatism can be contrasted with Al Gore’s recent infomercial/speech before the Democratic Leadership Conference in which the vice president laid out his philosophy of “practical idealism,” in the process poking fun at Bush. Gore stressed time off to be with young children and sponsoring the next generation on the Internet as a way to create “equal opportunity” and jobs.

“America needs something better than compassionate conservatism,” Gore declared. “We need an approach that will take this country forward, not backward; and not only forward, but also upward.”

Udder Insanity

Hormones, Herds, and Health

Based on new information surfacing in Canada, the Center for Technological Assessment, a public-interest group specializing in biotechnology issues, is asking the Food and Drug Administration to remove rBGH, the artificial growth hormone used to stimulate milk production, from the market on grounds it may cause disease in animals.

The fight against engineered foods faces tough going in the U.S., where Monsanto easily won acceptance of its bovine growth hormone in 1993. But Europeans still have not dropped barriers to rBGH, and efforts to approve the hormone in Canada have provoked widespread controversy.

Six Canadian scientists went public with accounts of pressure that was put on them to approve rBGH. A subsequent government investigation resulted in the creation of two panels to look into the issue, but that prompted an even bigger flap when opponents maintained that one was biased because it included a McGill University nutritionist who had worked for Monsanto.

“[Canadian] scientists are forced to approve drugs not safe for animal and human consumption,” said Maude Barlow of the advocacy group Council of Canadians, adding, “This is the corporatization of . . . Canada’s health protection branch.” She said that private business provides 70 percent of the regulatory unit’s financing and exercises undue influence on its decision-making process.

A Canadian Sierra Club official claimed to have obtained internal documents that show the drug caused cysts in the thyroids of rats. Monsanto insists it has no harmful side effects.

An analysis by the St. Louis Post Dispatch found that Posilac, Monsanto’s brand of rBGH, had $160 million in sales last year— up 30 percent from 1996. About a quarter of the U.S. dairy herd will be injected with rBGH this year. The U.S. is the main market for the drug, although it has been cleared for commercial use in 13 other countries.

Additional reporting: Bob Frederick