Wednesday, April 29, 2009


About Arlen Specter and other matters

The news that Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has switched parties, knowing that he can not be reelected as a Republican, has started me to ruminate (and rant a little) about the current ideologues who are running the Republican Party. What we have, both in Washington, DC, and here in California is a party dominated by the legacy of Howard Jarvis and Jerry Falwell. Howard Jarvis was a tax crusader who advocated small government. Jerry Falwell was a Conservative Christian minister who advocated a return to belief that the Bible is literally the will of God and placing his interpretation of the Bible ahead of the federal constitution as the supreme law of the land.

Jarvis, like such philosophers as Milton Friedman and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, advocated ideas that pleased his rich supporters. All three men were well paid by their patrons. Leibnitz convinced the rich of his day that, by arguments similar to those used in applying the calculus of variations to physical problems, the structure of society was stable and the only stable and proper structure, with a few rich men and a large class of poor people. The rich should therefore not feel ashamed about being rich. Friedman argued in favor of free, unregulated markets. By arguments similar to those of Leibnitz he convinced the corporate managerial class that unregulated free markets would produce a stable economic system in which every resource would be used and distributed for the greatest efficiency and good of the society. Jarvis's argument was that small government and low taxes would bring about the best society. Why, he asked, should government have to provide such things as free libraries or free education or free health care? Governments should be forced to abandon such unnecessary activities and the way to do it was to reduce taxes so that there would be no funds for them.

Jarvis was a clever rascal. He saw that there was no popular support for a general reduction of taxes. However, there was some popular hysteria over the rapid increase of property values and the concurrent increase in the property tax. Even that would have to be spun to achieve a populist swell to bring about his goal. He exploited the fear of aging homeowners that they would be taxed out of their homes unless something drastic was done, such as vote for Proposition 13 that froze property taxes at some arbitrary level.

Actually, he didn't care much one way or the other about the plight of the aging home owners. He was more interested in the welfare of his patrons, the landlords and the other business people who depended on using property to provide their incomes. Home owners could have simply not paid the tax. The State would wait until the property was finally sold or inherited to collect the back taxes. However, hysteria prevailed over common sense and the proposition passed with an overwhelming vote. (My wife and I were aging homeowners at the time and we voted against it.)

I won't write anything here about Falwell and other conservative clerics.

The Republican Party has traditionally been the party of the rich business class. I recall reading once about a poor American of latino descent. He hoped some day to be rich. The Republican Party was the party of the rich. Therefore, he became a Republican. Republicans have taken the philosophy of Jarvis to its logical extreme. In California, they refuse to consider any revenue enhancement to solve the budget shortage the State faces. Given their way, they would cut and eliminate enough State services to make the available tax revenue cover them. If that means very high tuition for the State Universities and Community Colleges, so be it. If it means school classes of 60 students, so be it. If it means closing of hospital emergency rooms, so be it. These are examples of services that government shouldn't be providing, anyway. Certainly the government of George Washington provided none of these services.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the country is moving away from these ideas. Young people want to be able to attend university and they want to be able to afford it. Nearly everyone wants emergency rooms to be available and funded and staffed so that one doesn't have a four-hour wait at an emergency room in case of a serious injury or stroke or heart attack. Nearly everyone enjoys and wants to keep free public libraries. The party that would deny them these things is not going to do well in coming elections.

Senator Specter knows that many more moderate Republicans of Pennsylvania have moved from the Republican Party to the Democrats and Independents. To achieve survival in the Senate, he has done likewise.

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