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 GUEST COLUMN: A look behind the accusations


By Robert Atwood / Rutherford

(Oct. 21, 2010) — I am an angry and frustrated Republican: I believe in capitalism and the free market, the brilliance of our Constitution, small and efficient government. And, like Vincent La Iocona (guest column, “You’re stupid … and a racist, too”) I resent my views being dismissed as stupid and racist. But Republicans and conservatives need to consider that those labels stick for more reasons than La Iacona suggested.

I receive a lot of e-mail blasts from conservative and Tea Party sources. I am also a policy wonk with a penchant for fact checking. And I am appalled how often conservative outrage is based on misrepresented or even falsified facts. For example, the death panels of the health-care reform that would pull the plug on “granny,” come as close to an outright lie as I have seen used in politics. How can I convince the “other side” that I am not stupid when those on “my side” are getting worked up about things that aren’t even real.

Sometimes it seems that the Republican leadership, conservatives and the Tea Party are lost in outrage, accusations and indignation, and offer as solutions nothing but myths, clichés and platitudes.

We have to immediately bring down the deficit and cut taxes? I have not read a single reputable economist who says we can do both. So which is it going to be?

Get our economy going with tax cuts? Certainly George Bush’s tax cuts helped bring America out of the 2000-01 recession. But it was also the jobless recovery, and even the boom years of the last decade had a real un/underemployment rate double that of the 1990s. Is that the only policy option we have to offer and will that really solve our unemployment problem?

Fifty-percent of the population pays no income tax? That is talking about the half of the population that is below, at or within reaching distance of the poverty line. What will we gain by forcing people who can’t support themselves now to pay taxes?

End public assistance? Sure we can, but we should acknowledge that people surviving on Social Security, disability, child support, food stamps, minimum wage jobs, etc. rarely have other options. And when people are unable to obtain food, shelter and medical care, they die.

End government regulation?  In the last 10 years we have seen increases in E. coli and salmonella contamination in food, mercury in freshwater fish, arsenic in our water, dead zones in our fishing grounds. There were revelations of unsanitary food processing, harmful chemicals in household products, toxic chemicals in imports.

We need a “stronger” foreign policy? At the beginning of the Bush administration, Iran had moderate President Khatami, Russia’s Putin was making positive overtures to the West, Chavez in Venezuela was a nobody and the entire world rallied to America’s support after Sept. 11. End of the Bush administration, a radical Iran was close to nuclear weapons, Putin invaded Georgia, Chavez was a major anti-American figure and the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq had dribbled to nothing. Is that good foreign policy?

And I am afraid there is more to accusations that Tea Party conservatives are racist than La Iacona addresses? Could it be our constant blaming of immigrants for our social and fiscal problems and opposition to anything done by or for American Muslims? Or claiming Obama is not a citizen when he is, not a Christian when he is, and that he is a socialist when his actions have shown he is not? Or our objection to assisting foreclosed homeowners, disproportionately minorities who often were defrauded by brokers and lenders. Or regular attacks on public sector workers, which happens to be one of the few avenues to the middle class consistently open to blacks. Or the desire to cut federal programs from Head Start to college loans, which have been beneficial to minority communities? Even from my position on the other side of the philosophical divide, I can say that if I saw consistent attacks on every government program and service that benefited my ethnic group, I would question whether the motives were racist.

America is philosophically a conservative Republican country. And it is a country hungry for conservative Republican solutions. But they must be real solutions. America faces complex, multi-faceted problems with no perfect solutions.

Clichés and platitudes don’t cut it.

I agree with La Iacona that it does not serve the political debate for conservatives and the Tea Party to be stereotyped as stupid and racist. We will do a lot to help our own cause if we stop sounding that way.

Guest columns alternate with Craig Ruvere’s column, “The View From Here.” Send guest columns to

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