Washington is a mess. The barriers separating bureaucracy, commercial lobbying, and elected officials are gone, and the same small elite of the rich and well-connected trade jobs and favors and money. Overpaid and coddled federal bureaucrats pretend to manage expensive programs which don’t work. They tell ordinary Americans what to do and how to do it, and don’t care about the cost or what we think.
How did that happen? The conservative answer is very loud and certain: “It’s the Democrats’ fault. We need Republicans, the more conservative the better, to clean up that monumental mess before it overwhelms us.”
That’s the part that seems puzzling. Over the past 30 years, Republicans have controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress for 6 years, and either the Presidency or both houses of Congress for 20 years. In those 30 years, the only time that more than 2 out of 9 Supreme Court justices were appointed by Democrats has been the past 2 years.
If Washington is a mess, then the Republicans have been making that mess, too, for decades. So how do they avoid taking any responsibility?
Well, when was the last time a politician took responsibility for anything wrong? That’s a bit of bipartisanship we would all like to get rid of.
But blaming the Democrats is not just typical political hypocrisy. What the conservatives hate is mainly due to Democrats, but not entirely. They hate the 1960s.
Republicans avoid talking about their leadership and power in Washington for the past 30 years, because they are fighting to undo the changes in our political system that came earlier, during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Conservative Republicans want to do away with the environmental protections that have safeguarded our health since the 1960s. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1963,and the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act set the first standards for vehicle emissions in 1965. The Environmental Protection Agency, that Rick Perry says is a “jobs cemetery”, was proposed by Richard Nixon and created in 1970.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency that protects citizens from dangerous products, was created in 1972. The Energy Department was created in the 1970s, because the oil crisis of 1973 made us realize the need to consolidate energy policy.
The movements for equality that conservatives are so angry about, the women’s rights and gay rights movements, grew out of the popular recognition in the 1960s that inequality was rooted in American laws and customs. Roe v. Wade affirmed women’s constitutional right to control their own bodies; it was decided by a 7-2 vote, with 5 of the those affirmative votes by justices appointed by Republicans. The Office of Economic Opportunity was created in 1964 to administer new programs designed to reduce poverty in America, such as Head Start, VISTA, and Legal Aid. Republicans are now trying state by state to reverse the expansion of the franchise to poor people that developed out of the voting rights protests of the 1960s.
Conservatives lost the battles in the 1960s to stop these reforms from being put into place. They have tried for decades to obstruct, weaken and defund them. They point to every problem with programs that they have been in charge of for most of the time. Their message is not, “We failed.” It is, “These programs can’t ever work. Let us get rid of them.”
One person symbolizes everything that conservatives hate about the 1960s. Barack Obama, son of a foreigner, community organizer, black, and liberal, could not have become President, if it hadn’t been for what the American people accomplished in the 1960s, over the vocal objections of conservatives.
But they won’t succeed. The revolution in American politics that was won by American voters in the 1960s and 1970s still commands majorities. A September Harris Poll showed that 51% of Americans support same-sex marriage, 56% support stricter gun control laws, 64% support abortion rights, and 75% support stricter environmental protection. Even after the poor and the immigrants are excluded from the polls, even after the relentless bombardment of billionaire-financed TV ads, most Americans want the rights, the freedoms, and the securities for us and our children that the 1960s brought.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 22, 2011