Listening to conservatives at the CPAC conference last week is a remarkable experience. It might make you laugh, it might make you cry, or most likely both. It will probably give you a headache and raise your blood pressure if you listen too long, so do be careful. But if you listen to the underlying ideas, one thing comes through over and over again, which is that any form of government involvement in the economy to help working families or lower income folks -- from the minimum wage to Social Security, from Medicare to feeding hungry children -- is Socialism with a capital S.
Today, I want to focus on a couple of clips from interviews with two of the leading lights of the modern conservative movement, Tom DeLay and Louie Gohmert. Gohmert is one of the most influential and outspoken leaders of the Tea Party wing of the House Republicans. DeLay was the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill from the time Gingrich was forced out of the House in 1998 until DeLay himself was indicted and forced out himself in 2006. They had a lot to say to Lauren Windsor from The Undercurrent news show on The Young Turks network.
First, check out the Gohmert interview, which I particularly loved because of his historical analysis:
I have to first note that when Gohmert was asked about income inequality, his immediate response was to start talking about socialism. When he was asked about "entitlement programs," he said they give people incentives not to work. If you look at the DeLay video, there is the same kind of sentiment expressed -- in fact, for Delay, it isn't only socialism -- the minimum wage and "welfare" are unconstitutional. (One must assume from the context that he is talking about all government programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps).
But back to Gohmert on history, which was truly special. Gohmert says that socialism always sounds good in theory but doesn't work in practice, and he cites, fascinatingly enough, both the Christian Bible and the Plymouth colony. He is correct that the earliest Christians lived according to this very socialist rule spelled out in Acts 2: 44-45: "And all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed."
But then, he says, it didn't work, so they switched to Paul's dictate that everyone had to work before they could eat. Sorry, Louie, it didn't exactly work that way. The early Christians, led by Jesus' brother James and the closest disciples, did live that way for the two decades following Jesus' death, and as far as church historians can tell, it worked fine -- until James was executed; Jerusalem was burned to the ground; and all its remaining inhabitants were massacred by the Romans. Paul's later dictate, to one church in one situation, was the exception to the rest of Jesus' and early Christians' preaching and practice of caring for the poor.
Okay, so Louie doesn't know his Bible or church history very well, but surely he knows American history better, right? Well, maybe not. It is true that in the most absolutely desperate moment of the Plymouth colony's history, in the middle of a horrible winter with everyone starving to death, there was a rule established about needing to work in order to eat. But they didn't arrive at that desperate moment because people had been lazy, they arrived at it because of the brutal winter. And they didn't survive it because everyone went to work -- they survived it because the native people there took pity on them and gave them food. Further, the Puritan colonists believed strongly that everyone in the community was bound to help each other. Here's Puritan leader John Winthrop, the 'City on a Hill'-exceptionalism guy conservatives love to quote, years after that horrible winter supposedly changed their entire philosophy away from "socialism," writing in 1630 about what Christian charity is:
Sounds pretty socialist- at least according to Louie Gohmert and Tom DeLay's definition. Which leads me to DeLay's remarkable interview, one of the most bizarre I have ever seen. DeLay not only said that welfare and the minimum wage were unconstitutional; he had a whole list of wild and crazy pronouncements, including:
"For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body."
- that for the first time in a hundred years, progressives have completely taken over the government and that's why things are so terrible right now. Um, Tom, FDR passed Social Security and the minimum wage; broke up the big Wall Street banks; instituted stiff regulations on all kinds of big businesses; passed an income tax with a top rate of 90 percent; made it far easier for workers to join unions; and got the biggest expansion of student financial aid in history. Truman got the biggest foreign aid package ever passed; pushed hard for national health care; and railed against "a return of the Wall Street dictatorship." In the JFK and LBJ years, government created the Peace Corps, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act, immigration liberalization, Legal Aid, Head Start, the Pell Grant, and the War on Poverty. All those things you bitterly oppose, except for Obamacare, were passed by past progressives who ran the government.
- that under Republican passed welfare reform, single moms started marrying the fathers and everything got better than things are now with all this wild food stamp usage. There are so many things wrong with that statement it makes one's head spin, but let's stick with the big two. First, more and more people are staying unmarried longer and longer (or never getting married at all), and that includes mothers. Second, welfare reform passed during the biggest economic boom in this country in the last 50 years, the last six years of the Clinton era -- of course when there is full employment, less people will be on food stamps than in the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression!
- that the progressive philosophy itself is unconstitutional. That would have been a big surprise to the writers of the first amendment to our constitution, who said that the freedom of speech and conscience was part of being an American. It would have been a big surprise to Lincoln, TR, FDR, Truman, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr, and all the other great progressives in American history. According to Tom DeLay, "Income inequality is a code word for redistribution of wealth, a Socialist mentality. The progressives don't believe in the Constitution."