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COLUMN LEFT / LILA GARRETT

Fear of Flying With Only a Right Wing : Liberals must define what they stand for or risk losing gains of the last 50 years.

October 29, 1995|LILA GARRETT | Lila Garrett is a longtime Democratic Party activist in California. and

We are no longer a country by the people and for the people. We have become a country by the corporations and for the corporations. Privatization fever is sweeping the country and just about everything seems to be up for grabs. Airports, public lands, even prisons are being offered as ripe for corporate ownership. The giant corporate interests not only define the nation's goals; they are also writing the laws.

The new law letting CEOs off the hook for fraud and consumer injury was written by an executive from Goldman Sachs. Wisely, he left the company to write it. But once it was written he rejoined the firm. The proposed dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency was presided over by lobbyists from the mining and logging companies. The death of Medicare was orchestrated by the insurance companies, with special touches authored by the American Medical Assn., notably the part that raises doctors' fees by an estimated $4 billion.

It is a mistake to consider each assault on our social institutions separately. Welfare cannot be separated from health care, which is part of gun control and connected to education, the environment, civil rights, housing. The right-wing agenda is blasting ahead like a runaway train smashing every people-friendly program in its path.

And, according to David Stockman (Ronald Reagan's bad boy budget director), this train is right on time. In his tell-all book "The Triumph of Politics," he says the Republicans wanted to get rid of all the unprofitable social programs in Reagan's first term. Politically, they couldn't swing it, so they decided to force the budget up to the point where those programs would be unaffordable. In no time, the defense budget doubled to $300 billion. The GOP quadrupled the deficit. Stockman was so proud of the plan, he wrote a book about it.

Did the Democratic Congress under Reagan know what was happening? Of course they did. The Republicans tried to keep their agenda secret, but they really weren't that good at it. It was the Democrats who, while concentrating on the parts, refused to tackle the whole, figuring that the public wasn't ready to cope with it.

Now that the right wing is the majority, their Dr. Strangeloves have crawled out of the woodwork and are running the country.

How did they get so far so fast? It took 60 years of agonizing work to establish a marginally socially responsible federal government. How, in 10 short months, did the right wing manage to smash it?

Their first weapon is language. They have redefined major trigger words in our political dialogue, and they are so serious about this they hired a wordsmith to handle it. Frank Lutz, employed by the Heritage Foundation, is their language hit man. He gets credit for the loving title "contract with America." Lutz used the word revolution so that it now means going backward. The Republicans call their bill to obliterate Medicare "the Medicare preservation bill." The list is long. But the masterpiece of distortion is the strongest buzzword of all, reform.

Consider:

Making medical care unaffordable is health-care reform; cutting school lunches is education reform; abolishing gun control is crime reform; letting children go hungry is welfare reform; repealing the Clean Water Act, dismantling the EPA and selling our public lands to foreign developers is called environmental reform.

What does the right wing in America want? Are they like Ibsen's ruthless mayor in "Enemy of the People?" Don't they know that if people die on the streets because Medicare and Medicaid are gone, disease and pestilence will have a field day? Do they, like the mayor, think they are immune to this and to all the other ills that befall a country in despair?

The answer seems to be yes. Like Ibsen's self-obsessed mayor, they're sure they are set apart. The elderly and the poor are expendable because they are not consumers. The educated are expendable because they are complainers. The gays are expendable because they are gay.

Two groups are essential to the right wing: the powerful rich and the working slaves. The right has taken care of busting the unions. Now they need to escalate an atmosphere of confusion, desperation, violence and despair. At the same time, they themselves must remain organized, calm and patient. They have been for a half a century. They have the liberals who refuse to behave like liberals to help them.

We know what the right wing stands for. The left should at least begin to fight effectively by defining, loudly and firmly, what we stand for. And let's do it quickly. Now, before we've lost it all.

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