By Larry Beck
Republicans in the United States Congress are still mired in the morass of a major piece of tax legislation cleverly disguised as health care legislation. The overwhelming beneficiaries of their proposed tax legislation are rich folks and health insurance companies. The overwhelming losers are vulnerable people who need access to meaningful health care to confront real health challenges. Poor children are big losers. Older people are big losers.
While this piece of venal legislation was making its legislative journey through Congress, a deranged man with a semi-automatic rifle, a handgun, lots of ammunition and a grudge decided to shoot at a bunch of Republican congressmen and their friends at a baseball field in Virginia. No one was killed. Although around 20 congressmen were there, only one was seriously injured: Steve Scalise, a Republican proudly representing the people of the 1st District of Louisiana.
Hardcore storm trooper
Congressman Scalise and I are both glad that he is not dead. However, the takeaway for each of us from the shooting and his serious injuries is likely to be very different. You see, Scalise is a hardcore stormtrooper for every right-wing cause in America. Ironically, just before he got shot, he was instrumental in passing draconian “health care” legislation through the US House of Representatives that is unapologetically intended to deny many Americans access to the health care that saved his life.
So, while Congressman Scalise was receiving the best health care that money can buy mostly at public expense as he struggles to recover from life-threatening injuries, there will be millions of others in America not so fortunate if Scalise and his Republican cohorts have their way. After all the thoughts and prayers for their fallen comrade had died down, Republicans in Congress went right back to work on that tax cut for the wealthy and health care cuts for the rest of us.
Do you wonder what the now recovering Congressman Scalise is thinking about this? I do, and I think I know. He can’t wait to get back to full right-wing stormtrooper status. Once near death, he will rise again to carry god’s message of tax cuts for the wealthy, gun rights for everybody and gay marriage for nobody without ever looking back. As he moves forward, his conscience will be clear because he has no conscience.
I would love to be wrong about this, but my bet is that making the 1st District of Louisiana proud will make me and many others gag. Think about this: One of the police officers who risked her life to save the good congressman is a married, black lesbian. She was injured saving the life of a good old boy from Louisiana who has consistently resisted fundamental rights and social justice for blacks and lesbians in America.
However, there is a much bigger picture here. After the shooting, none other than the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives told a troubled nation that “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” That might be a truly meaningful sentiment if the stated “us” extended beyond his congressional pals and if Paul Ryan had any record of supporting legislation to reduce gun violence in the wake of one of the rest of us killing another one of the rest of us. Somehow, the congressional “us” really got to him.
I can only hope that growing numbers of the “rest of us” recognize Scalise, Ryan and their ilk for what they are — a group of privileged and wealthy white guys fighting their hardest to enhance their privilege and wealth at the expense of the “rest of us.” Their shameful efforts to sell their vision of the economic wonders of their world of wealth as a substitute for a meaningful social safety net should be stunningly evident to the rest of us. Yet, for some reason, it isn’t.
Congressmen have access to really good health care, their kids usually go to good schools and universities, their neighborhoods are largely free of gun violence, and their country clubs provide recreational havens for their frivolity. Not a single one of them is awaiting food stamps to feed their children, nor hoping that Medicaid will provide access to limited health care for their family, nor hoping that maybe this is the year that available childcare services will make seeking a job an economic possibility. Congressmen have all of this taken care of already for themselves, yet many of them will do nothing but obstruct efforts to enable government to help make some of what they have available to those in need among the rest of us.
I continue to be perplexed about how the message of cutting taxes for the wealthy to further erode government services to the poor and middle class has worked so well for the privileged so many times in recent memory in America. Americans must be the stupidest collective on earth to try it again. Or maybe we are just suckers for white guys with low intellect selling us snake oil.
This is the story of fetid privilege in America. Until a significant number of the privileged are willing to choose a collective conscience over individual avarice, the most disadvantaged in our society will continue to suffer. They and many in a broad middle class will continue to wait for a better life to trickle down from those above. It is way past time to stop waiting.
Larry Beck is a lifelong leftist and activist. He has practiced criminal law as both a prosecutor and defender. For much of the last 15 years, he has been an international consultant working in the developing world on criminal law reform, governance and judicial reform issues. Beck has traveled to over 80 countries, worked in over 25 and lived abroad for extended periods. He was a Peace Corp volunteer in Costa Rica in the early 1980s.
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