THE FAMOUSLY effective GOP messaging machine has broken down.
On Wednesday, just as President Bush was insisting that Americans must “vote Republican for the safety of the United States,” Republican Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois was telling CNN that Congress can’t even ensure the safety of the young pages under its care. “Let’s suspend [the page program], send the pages home,” LaHood told CNN’s Miles O’Brien. “To send 15- and 16-year-old boys and girls to Washington, D.C. ... we should not subject [them] to this kind of activity and this kind of vulnerability.” In response, O’Brien commented: “Well, that’s kind of a sorry state of affairs. In essence, what you’re saying is that members of Congress can’t be trusted to be around young people.”
LaHood’s answer was blunt: “Well, that’s pretty obvious.”
Yup, that’s where we’re at, my fellow citizens. It’s a little hard to trust the Republican-led Congress to keep the whole United States safe when you can’t even trust them not to molest your children.
The Foley scandal makes for salacious reading, and it’s always satisfying to see hypocrisy exposed for what it is. But neither the Foley page scandal nor the Republican leadership’s energetic efforts to shove it under the carpet should come as a surprise. Though only the Foley scandal has generated substantial media coverage, the Republican-led Congress has a long record of child endangerment.
Recall that from 2000 to 2005, Congress handed out tax breaks for the rich like hors d’oeuvres at a Republican fundraiser. They slashed the estate tax and the capital gains tax, selling these cuts with an advertising campaign that misled ordinary people into thinking the cuts were going to help working Americans, instead of just the rich.
Meanwhile, they gave the president a blank check for the war in Iraq (and blithely sent other people’s children off to risk their lives in that war). They made no effort to hold the administration accountable for flawed prewar intelligence or the ongoing failure to bring some modicum of stability to Iraq. Instead, as the price tag for these failed policies went up and up, Congress kept right on writing checks.
This combination of irresponsible tax cuts and out-of-control spending guaranteed that there would be little left over for the crucial social programs American children need, such as meaningful spending on healthcare, job-creation and anti-poverty programs.
The result was predictable. From 2000 to 2005, the number of American children living in poverty went up by 1.3 million, and the likelihood that any given child is poor increased by 9%. (Incidentally, Washington, D.C. -- the one region of the United States under the direct control of Congress -- had higher child poverty rates than any state in the nation, with 32.2% of children living under the poverty line in 2005.) There are now more American children without health insurance, as well: From 2004 to 2005 alone, the number of uninsured children went from 7.9 million to 8.3 million children, with the uninsured now accounting for 11.2% of all American children.
Children don’t live in a vacuum, of course. They’re part of families, and their fate is entwined with their parents’ fate. And no matter how you slice and dice the data, American families and the children who live in them are more vulnerable now than they have been in decades.
The richest few are getting richer, but the middle class is disappearing, and the poor are getting poorer. From 2000 to 2005, the median income dropped 2.7% in real terms, yet Congress hasn’t raised the minimum wage in nine years. The federally mandated minimum wage is still a rock-bottom $5.15. At that wage, a full-time worker remains well below the poverty line. In 2005, seven in 10 poor children had at least one working parent -- and the number of Americans living in what the government defines as “extreme poverty” went up by 3.3 million from 2000 to 2005.
The statistics are dry, but what they mean, in real life, is babies who die because their mothers lacked adequate prenatal care, children who suffer from preventable diseases, children who have no homes and instead move from shelter to shelter and children whose lives are blighted by uncertainty, instability and fear.
Foley deserves our disgust and condemnation, and so do the Republican congressional leaders who worried more about their reelection prospects than the welfare of the children under their care.
But let’s be honest: Foley’s acts may have damaged the handful of boys unfortunate enough to have attracted his attention, but the damage to children caused by his abuse of power is still far, far less than the damage to American children caused by this Congress’ disastrous mismanagement of the American economy.