Magazine article Tikkun

The Cold Face of the Contract

Magazine article Tikkun

The Cold Face of the Contract

Article excerpt

It's an often-repeated mantra among progressives that the political parties have become virtually interchangeable. And as we read accounts of President Clinton's accommodation to the tenets of the Contract with America--his jockeying to match the Republicans tax cut for tax cut, welfare reform for welfare reform, his endorsement of the line-item veto, and his reactive zeal to reexamine affirmative action--we find little disconfirming evidence for the alarming prospect of the melding of the two-party system into a meaningless mush.

Those who've fallen prey to this malaise should try watching C-SPAN for an evening, as I did in March on the day that the Gingrichites passed their so-called welfare "reform." Watching a congressional debate can offset the tendency to reduce American political discourse to a set of intellectual constructs, ideas on the page, arguments to refute. Turning on the tube and seeing our elected representatives in action reminds us of the facts on the ground in the American political debate--who comprises the cast of characters and the contents of their particular arguments.

I found stark differences between the two parties in Congress and, among the rank-and-file members, people who spoke my language. It was a real education-enough to get a depressed progressive's pulse beating a little faster.

For starters, take the complexion--literally-of the GOP: While I hesitate to resort to essentialist arguments, the Gingrichites are the most homogeneous bunch of people you're likely to see in 1995, hardly a brown or female face in the group. In contrast, the Democrats really do look so much more like America, including Asian- and African-Americans, Jews, Latinos, in addition to the caucasians.

But more than in color or ethnicity, the contrasts show up in their worldviews. In the floor debate on the 'reform" of the welfare system, the Republicans displayed a strange dispassion about the human beings under discussion. They favored abstractions, with lots of speeches about self-reliance versus helplessness, initiative, and cultures of dependency. When they invoked real people, the images were warm and fuzzy, nostalgic anecdotes about the Old Days, Horatio Alger, the American Way--nary a Republican from modest beginnings neglected to include a bootstrap-pulling allusion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.