Woe to Those Who Divide 'Us' and 'Them' : The Republican mandate to separate 'good' people from 'bad' has a chilling precedent.

November 13, 1994|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a former national correspondent for The Times

The mob is being whipped into a frenzy by politicians stoking the flames of public rage. Instead of reminding us of our common humanity, they sic the dogs of discontent on the most vulnerable among us.

Poor people are no longer thought of as human. Rip the young from their mothers' bosoms is the slogan of Rep. Bill Archer, the Texas Republican who will head the all-powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Last week, he proudly crowed that the Republican reform plan would throw mothers off welfare after two years, even if they couldn't find a job: "You lose your welfare benefits and if the children cannot be supported by you, they have to be put into foster homes."

Understand clearly the savagery of this man's message. He would steal the child from a welfare mother even if she had been out there doing everything possible to find a job but, like thousands of other Americans, had failed. Without a job, she is judged worthless as a mother. So much for family values. Do the Republicans really prefer the costly warehousing of millions of children in state-funded homes?

Archer is just an extremist, you might say. Nonsense, he is now a top congressional leader of the party that swept to power Tuesday precisely because it espouses a rough and ready social Darwinism in which only the strong prevail.

Nor is he out of line with our own once-moderate governor who is determined to prove that he is up there with the wildest of the yahoos. Some had hoped that Pete Wilson's full-throated support for Proposition 187 was only a campaign aberration, that once safely elected he would bring us all back together.

This expectation did not reckon with the man's presidential ambitions, which have come to be based on his ability to play the cards of hate. There he was on election night, totally lacking in magnanimity, once again dividing and conquering, separating the good Californians from the bad. The good were the ones who voted for him: " . . . working Californians, those who work hard, who play by the rules, who pay their taxes, and who have raised their children to obey the law and to respect themselves and others." Who, then, are the bad others?

The inference is clear: the more than 3 million of us who voted against his heartless nostrums--tax-dodging shirkers who never do an honest day's work and who raise our children to be criminals.

This is in lock step with the polarizing ideology of House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich, who proclaimed that the President is an "enemy of normal Americans."

Just how far is it from this notion of "normal Americans" to talk about Aryan superiority? Shouldn't alarm bells be going off? They do for me.

As the first-generation product of a Lithuanian Jewish mother and German Protestant father, my stomach still churns at the notion of "good Germans," "normal Germans"--descriptions I heard often as a kid in New York's German neighborhood during World War II.

I have paid a dozen visits to my relatives in Germany, still trying to understand how my soldier-uncles on my father's side could have served the government that killed my aunts and uncles on my mother's side. The answer is always the same: "Times were hard then, we were only farmers, Hitler was just a voice on the radio, we were told the Jews and the other foreigners were responsible. What did we know?"

I tell them what they should have known. That there are no "others," that there is never a valid excuse for denying the essential humanity of any person, no matter how confused the social climate. How could my uncle, who is still alive and whom I love as a good family man, not have put himself in the shoes of a Jewish father? But he didn't, and I can't forgive him for it.

Obviously, it's an enormous leap to connect such experiences with what is going on in our country and state right now. But the common thread is unmistakably there: "They" are not like "us." Otherwise, how could any parent want the child of another parent removed from school because of nationality? How could any mother seek to deny prenatal care to a mother who doesn't have the right papers?

The language is chilling. Item No. 6 in the Governor's Executive Order W-113-94: "The Director of Health Services shall immediately notify providers that prenatal services for aliens without legal immigrant status will be discontinued. . . . "

Forget that the fetus in question will be a U.S. citizen by virtue of being born here. Think only about why the governor would want any baby condemned to low birth weight and otherwise bleaker prospects for a healthy life.

It must be that when he looks at that baby, he does not see one of his own.

Los Angeles Times Articles