Sunday, March 20, 2005

Want to Understand Compassionate Conservative Politics? Pay Attention to Today's "Meet the Press"

Viewers will have to decide whether to believe what they heard on this week's Meet the Press.

But what was discussed at the start of the reporters' roundtable gets at the heart of what JABBS has been talking about for more than a year. Simply put, what was discussed falls in perfectly with the theme of great recent works such as Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas.

My fellow Americans: look past the conservative spin, lazily thrown about as fact by television talking heads and radio dittoheads, seeping into not just the conservative columnists of newspapers nationwide, but front-page news articles inThe New York Times and The Washington Post. Forget the spin, my fellow Americans, and instead pay attention to the facts.


The reporters' roundtable led with the sad case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman at the center of a national "right to life/right to death" debate. The conservatives in Congress -- led by Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have loudly chosen to author legislation that is intent on keeping Schiavo alive. (An aside: Many Democrats, including Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agree with the legislation. But to read most media accounts, one would assume this is a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Hmmm ...)

Let's take a look at the Meet the Press transcript:

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Bill Frist, a physician, who is the majority leader, said that he did not examine Ms. Schiavo but he looked at the videotape of her. Tom DeLay, extremely outspoken on this. Ron Brownstein, a Washington Post report today said there was a memo circulating that this would be good for the 2006 mid-term elections with the Christian conservative voters. ... What are we looking at?

RON BROWNSTEIN (Los Angeles Times): Well, like most things in Washington, it's part politics, probably, and part conviction. ... We have a situation now in which our politics are -- the most volatile and explosive issues in our politics are related to values more than interests. The Republican Party is a coalition, I think, founded on social conservatism; it's the core. It is the animating principle. And I think when Bill Frist went on the floor last night and said, "This is about a culture of life," he gave away part of the game. This is about responding to a base that is essential to their vote.

GWEN IFILL (PBS): Well, look at what happened in the 2004 elections and what's happened since. Congress has actually done a great deal, but they've done a great deal on the economic front. They've passed bankruptcy reform. They've passed class-action reform. "Reform" is the word that they use, but they have done a lot to benefit people economically, and people end up--before they left town, they passed a whole new raft of tax cuts which would disproportionately benefit wealthy people. That wasn't speaking to the base that got George W. Bush re-elected or sent them back to Washington. So what we have seen this week is they can seize on certain cultural issues that will draw the spotlight to them, and even if the actual legislation they're passing, that they're asking the president to happily sign, benefits the economic classes, they are now speaking to the cultural classes by seizing on issues of life and death -- they never talked about Terri Schiavo until this week -- on seasoned cultural issues like drugs for your kids and the baseball hearings. It's not a stupid thing to do, and as this memo shows it's something they're very much aware of.


Now, conservatives may choose not to believe the comments by Brownstein, who many consider a balanced political reporter, and Ifill, who liberal media critics suggest has a rightward bent.

But if you do believe the participants in the discussion, then you have a pretty straightforward account of how Terri Schiavo plays into the "compassionate conservatives" gameplan.

To break it down:

-- Congress, which is led by the Republicans in both houses, just passed $134 billion in new tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy (and provided more tax cuts than even President Bush asked for). It passed corporate-driven bankruptcy reform that has been criticized for ending several loopholes that were designed to help those who became bankrupt because of such things as sudden and mountainous health care costs. The bankruptcy bill did, however, maintain "asset protection trusts," which are designed to help the wealthy shield their assets after declaring bankruptcy.

-- Congress just passed a budget that cuts housing for the poor, health care funding and nutrition programs for low-income families, and community-based programs for at-risk children and teens. The budget slashed aid to state and local law enforcement, nearly eliminating, for example, a program providing grants for states and municipalities to hire police officers. And the budget provides less money than President Bush promised for a host of things, including Pell Grants for students, the National Science Foundation and border patrol agents.

Neither of the above benefit the "Republican base" -- the people Frank discussed in What's The Matter With Kansas.

The conservatives don't want their base to notice the economics legislation, because it clearly benefited the privileged -- private or corporate -- that are also dear to the GOP.

Terri Schiavo has been in the news, off and on, for several years. But as luck would have it for DeLay and Frist and the rest, the battle between Schiavo's husband and her parents came to a head this week, and they jumped on the bandwagon. "Look over here," they told their base, steering clear of all that nasty economics talk and heading into safer terrain.

Tom DeLay holds a press conference, and Bill Frist makes the appropriate comments to the press. The conservative noise machine on the radio and the television start talking about the liberals in Congress as advocates of death, even though several top Democrats have made statements either in support of the pending legislation, or in general support of Schiavo's right to life.

The conservatives shout far and wide about how they are looking out for conservative values. And why? Because DeLay and Frist know that this will help them in the 2006 mid-term elections. For the "Republican base," it's classic bait-and-switch: our budget helps the wealthy, but we talk with a twang and speak out about Terri Schiavo. Please vote for us.

It was all there on this week's Meet the Press. You can choose to believe the reporters' roundtable or not. But here at JABBS, the conservatives' use of Terri Schiavo seems pretty transparent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been pretty hard on the democrats recently as i feel they have lost their way and caved to the wants of the far left.

That said, I find the congressional action on the Schiavo case despicable. There is little room, if any, for Congress to be called in emergency session, to rule over the courts on one person's case. It is absurd and an obvious political play by the conservatives. I am not saying that some people arent voting their conscience--not really the point. I am saying that Congress has no jurisdiction here and that is the issue. When Congress is trampling on states rights and courts rights, and where courts have been clear wrt this case for many is sad.

This is a travesty for our system and just shows how politics has taken over Washington completely. I blame the conservatives for pushing the issue and also cannot believe how many democrats voted for the legislation. Sickening.

9:57 AM  

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