The Roots of Treason, Explained
From Shelby Steele, writing on American Taliban
John Walker on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal (December 10,
Walker came out of a self-hating stream of American
life. Yes, alone in Yemen and later in Pakistan, he may have been seduced by
charismatic people. But he was prepared for this seduction not just by the wispy
relativism of Marin County, but also by a much broader post-'60s cultural
liberalism (more than political liberalism) that gave his every step toward
treason a feel of authenticity and authority.
From Tammany boss George Washington Plunkitt, as recorded by reporter
William L. Riordan in his 1905 classic Plunkitt of Tammany Hall,
discoursing on "The Curse of Civil Service Reform" (which, of course, made it
difficult for Tammany to put its supporters on the city payroll):
Say, let me tell of one case. After the battle of San
Juan Hill [in the Spanish-American War], the Americans found a dead man with a
light complexion, red hair and blue eyes. They could see he wasn't a Spaniard,
although he had on a Spanish uniform. Several officers looked him over, and then
a private of the Seventy-First Regiment saw him and yelled, "Good Lord, that's
Flaherty." That man grew up in my district, and he was once the most patriotic
American boy on the West Side. He couldn't see a flag without yellin' himself
Now, how did he come to be lying dead with a Spanish uniform on?...[I]n the
municipal campaign of 1897, that young man, chockful of patriotism, worked day
and night for the Tammany ticket. Tammany won, and the young man determined to
devote his life to the service of the city. He picked out a place that would suit
him, and sent in his application to the head of the department. He got a reply
that he must take a civil service examination to get the place. He didn't know
what these examinations were, so he went, all lighthearted, to the Civil Service
Board. He read the questions about the mummies, the bird on the iron, and all the
other fool questions--and he left the office an enemy of the country that he had
loved so well. The mummies and the bird blasted his patriotism. He went to Cuba,
enlisted in the Spanish army at the breakin' out of the war, and died fightin'
That is but one victim of the infamous civil service... Ah, how many young men
have had their patriotism blasted in the same way!
Bless You, Little Redundancy
Say you're the head of a New Democrat think tank and a report you've
commissioned on how to downsize the U.S. Postal Service, in best third-way
fashion, has just been plopped upon your desk. Right up top in the introduction,
the study forthrightly acknowledges that the proposed reforms "may well mean that
the USPS will cut its workforce substantially." And then the anthrax starts
hitting, and postal workers take sick and die, and talk of downsizing the
department sounds heartless to even the tinniest New Democrat ear.
Such was the challenge faced this month by Will Marshall, president of the
Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), whose December 6 cover letter accompanying
the PPI's report is a masterpiece of first-paragraph delicacy (its composition
clearly demanded of the affable Marshall the most intense tonal concentration).
"The men and women of the United States Postal Service have suffered greatly in
the wake of the terrorist attacks," Marshall begins. (This is way high up to
let on that we'll be adding to their suffering, too, right? We're still
just sitting down and saying hello.) "While mourning the loss of colleagues, they
have also experienced financial losses as mail volumes dropped, in part due to
fear of anthrax and in part due to the deepening of the recession." (Is it too
soon to bring up economics, even in this sympathetic vein? You think? Back to
straight sympathy?) "Our hearts go out to them in this time of loss, and our
thoughts are with them as they work to make the mail secure again." (This
thing is being delivered by courier, right? Now--is that enough with the
sympathy? Can we get to the point? Can we write like third-waysters already?
"We must remember, however, that the problems faced by the USPS are not only
the result of terrorist acts....USPS has shown little ability to innovate, and
compounding the problem suffers from severe labor relations problems." (Now
If At First You Don't Succeed...
Last October, while the World Trade Center ruins still smoldered, House
Republicans decided that the best way to help the economy along was with a
gigantic corporate and upper-bracket tax cut thinly disguised as a "stimulus"
package. At the time, all they managed to stimulate was a healthy and widespread
disgust. But Senate majority leader Tom Daschle has put the kibosh on the House
plan, refusing to use it even as a point of negotiation. For weeks, the talks
have been stalled, with Daschle correctly concluding that no stimulus plan was
better than the one the House had passed.
But in mid-December, the House Republicans, again with White House approval,
put out a "new" stimulus plan. Guess what? It looks a lot like the old one. The
old plan handed out about $212 billion, most of it to large businesses that pay
little in income tax; the new one hands out $202 billion. The old bill completely
repealed the "alterative minimum tax" (ATM) and actually refunded about 15
years' worth of ATM revenues; the new one repeals about two-thirds of the tax and
hands out the rebates more gradually. Both bills vastly increase depreciation
write-offs for corporations to the tune of about $109 billion over three years.
One manifestation of an obsession is to keep doing the same thing after it's been
shown not to work. Would somebody please put this party on the right medication?
GOP Charitable Giving
Where, oh where, are our tax dollars going if the key provisions of the
House economic-stimulus package make it into the final legislation? (Assuming
there ever is final legislation.) The list of corporations up for
mega-handouts--should they get rebates for the "alternative minimum taxes"
they've paid over the past 15 years--is a platinum collection of America's Least
Needy. There's no question, though, as to the identity of the biggest sinkhole
into which these public dollars could be sunk: Enron.
Yes, Houston's leading corporate citizen was up for a cool
$254 million under the terms of the GOP's first stimulus plan, and stands to
collect most of that in the newly revised version. As is not the case with other
corporations, moreover, we have a pretty clear sense of how Enron is apportioning
its income these days. Right before it filed for bankruptcy, the company handed
out more than $55 million in bonuses to nearly 500 of its top executives. Right
thereafter, it laid off 4,000 of its less august employees. (Also, in possible
violation of federal law, it had prohibited most of its 21,000 employees from
selling the Enron shares in their 401(k) portfolios. Many Enron workers thus
approach retirement with little to nothing in savings--but reside, at least, in a
All in all, the GOP has found the perfect beneficiary for its largesse: an
institution where wealth is distributed not even top-down but top-sideways.