As often happens in the evening when my husband Derrick has heard a lot of political rhetoric on the radio or TV (I’m the one really watching or listening – he’s the one trying to do Sudoku to escape it all), Derrick will make one comment that will spark my imagination and get my fingers flying on the keyboard. Last night his quip was that the “beast” conservatives were trying to starve or drown wasn’t government, it was, among many would-be victims, our god-daughter who has Down Syndrome.
“Starve the Beast” has been a mantra of conservative politics for decades. The phrase is attributed to an un-named Ronald Reagan staffer and was most recently used publicly by Sarah Palin who called on Congress to “starve the beast” by cutting taxes. Grover Norquist, author of the coercive “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” rather than referring to some mythical beast, actually provides language that is closer to what Derrick suggested last night, when Norquist infamously said that “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” (Think baby and bathwater and you’ll see where I’m going.)
Our god-daughter has Down Syndrome and she and her parents get critically needed help from the government (we the people) to make it possible for her to thrive. From special education teachers, to social workers, to occupational therapists, to speech therapists, to local sports and arts programs, there are dozens of ways we the people work together to give this wonderful youngster a good life. All of these programs would be slashed if the “beast” were starved or drowned.
Americans need to ask themselves who is going to be starved and who is going to drown, and the answers are actually quite clear. Conservatives want to cut taxes on the wealthy by trillions of dollars and make up for it by slashing spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, infrastructure, research, disaster assistance and regulators. So, who is the beast?
Working and unemployed Americans between the ages of 45 and 55 are the beast. People in that age bracket, the most expensive when it comes to private insurance, will not only lose the light at the end of the tunnel which is the promise of Medicare, but access to any health care will be immediately cut off if “Obamacare” is rescinded and those with pre-existing conditions are once again denied access to any insurance. Young people between the ages of 18 and 26 are the beast, as they see their access to health care through their parents’ health plans cut off. Those two groups alone make up a huge number of people who are the beast, but the list is actually even bigger.
Teachers and students in public schools are the beast.
Professors and students in community colleges and universities are the beast.
Senior citizens in assisted living, nursing homes, getting in-home assistance, or who are on hospice are the beast.
Primary caregivers for senior citizens are the beast.
Children and adults with disabilities are the beast.
Caregivers for children and adults with disabilities are the beast.
Laid off workers and their families are the beast.
Police officers and fire fighters are the beast.
Social workers are the beast.
Sanitation workers are the beast.
Construction workers are the beast.
Scientists are the beast.
Veterans are the beast.
Patients, doctors, nurses, technicians, and aids in VA hospitals are the beast.
City, county, and state government servants are the beast.
I’m the beast. You’re the beast. Our children and parents and brothers and sisters and grandparents are the beast.
99% of Americans are the beast.
We the people ARE the beast that Grover Norquist is trying to drown.
When I think of this attack on this so-called “beast” I imagine a group of raging people carrying clubs and torches though the forest in search of the beast. Suddenly they come upon a lone house in the middle of that forest in which they believe the beast is hiding. Some brave soul walks up to the door and yells “open the door so that we may kill the beast!” But when the door opens, what they all see is a giant mirror. The beast they are trying to kill is themselves.
The question is, will they turn around and go home or will they smash the mirror?
Now let me briefly flip things around a little bit and say who another beast is, and who I think we need to be bringing out of that house in the woods for some good old-fashioned nonviolent intervention. That beast has worked for the last 30 years to slash taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations, removing trillions of dollars in revenue, while at the same time spending trillions of dollars on immoral and unnecessary wars, and doing both of those things together using a credit card that has run up trillions of dollars of debt. And then that beast has the chutzpah to stand in front of the mess that it made of our finances and blame teachers, disabled children, and senior citizens for the debacle.
For anyone who doesn’t know what “chutzpah” means, imagine that someone is found guilty of murdering his mother and father and is standing before a judge who will decide his sentence for that crime. “Please, your honor. Have mercy on me. I’m an orphan!” That’s chutzpah.
Yet another beast is the one who, knowing what the other beast sharing his house was doing, also kept on spending money it didn’t have, albeit on things considered important for the common good like education, infrastructure, scientific research, disaster assistance, student loans, health care, police, fire fighters, foreign aid, etc….
Policies enacted in the last 30 years, for which there’s plenty of blame to go around on all sides, have in fact drained the bath water to the tune of $16,004,335,589,706 (as of 8:02am this morning). “Your honor. Please have mercy. I’m broke!” is not going to help us get out of this mess, nor is doubling down on the policies that got us here.
We all have to look into that mirror now, accept that we are all part of the problem, and work together to put our country on a path back to a balance of revenue and spending. We’re smart enough, free enough, brave enough, resourceful enough, and wealthy enough to take care of each other today and invest wisely in our future so that generations ahead will live better, freer, healthier, safer and happier lives.
There actually is no beast that needs starving or drowning. There’s just an innocent and beautiful baby looking up at us, giggling and splashing in the bathtub, expecting us to love and nurture her and build a world in which she will thrive.
I think she’s worth whatever effort we have to put forth. How about you?
Craig Wiesner is the co-founder of Reach And Teach, a peace and social justice learning company. Reach And Teach also helps manage web operations for Tikkun/NSP.