|Number 160||June 14, 2002|
One of the greatest powers a President has is the power to appoint government functionaries and bureaucrats. Each President appoints 3,000 of them, in fact. These people have a great deal of power to interpret, shape, and enforce the laws as they see fit, making the ideology and the priorities of these appointees a subject of great importance. So this week I take a look at just one of the appointees of George W. Bush.
I'd like to extend a special appreciation in this issue to my nephew Matthew. Were it not for his successful salesmanship in his recent magazine subscription drive, I would not be regularly looking at TIME Magazine, the inspiration for one of this week's essays.
For those of you who look forward to it, the plan for next week is to have another Stroll Through the News With Nygaard. (Unless nuclear war or something breaks out in the meantime.)
See you then,
In last week's Notes I raised an alarm about the threat of "tort reform" under the Bush administration. Such "reform" is not a done deal, due to the efforts of many activists who are working hard to counter the propaganda and organizing efforts of the business lobbies that are pushing it. If you want to learn about what is at stake in this fight—and I hope you do—one of the best groups to check out is the Center for Justice and Democracy, which can be found at http://www.centerjd.org/index.html.
Although CDJ has been around since 1998, it somehow flew under my radar when I first wrote about tort "reform" in 2000. At that time I referred people to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, still found at http://www.atlanet.org, and they are a good group. But CDJ has a little broader base, claiming to be "the only national consumer organization in the country working round-the-clock to fight the ‘tort reform' movement." They have a pretty impressive list of supporters, including such reputable types as Ralph Nader, esteemed scholar Michael Rustad, and Labor Party founder Tony Mazzochi, as well as activists Michael Moore and Erin Brockovich (the real one!).
Some of their stuff is only available to members, which is annoying but understandable for a low-budget organization. But many of their studies and papers are there for all to read on-line. Definitely worth checking out to get the citizens' perspective on this technical-sounding but crucial issue.
Last year, in Nygaard Notes #s 113 and 114, I proposed that we stop using the terms "Left" and "Right" when talking about politics, since they mean almost nothing to anyone. At the time, I proposed a different way to quickly describe one's political beliefs. I went on and on about it at the time; go to the website and re-read the essays if you are interested. Now I'm going to do something about it.
In the mainstream media, it seems like "Left" has become synonymous with "liberal," which in turn has come to mean "One who, in some way, shape, or form, considers former president Bill Clinton to be a human being." And "Right" or "conservative" refers to "One who considers Bill Clinton to be Satan." Or, substitute Ronald Reagan, and reverse the order. In other words, the political spectrum revolves around the two mainstream parties—Demublicans and Republicrats, that is.
Using the current language, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate a political actor who is genuinely "radical"—that is, who goes to the root of a problem in order to understand and solve it—from a "liberal" who prefers to tinker around the edges and recoils from any focus on institutions or structures. I mean, isn't there some difference between Noam Chomsky and Al Gore? Between Mumia Abu-Jamal and Ted Kennedy? I think there is, although in mainstream discourse they would all be characterized as "on the Left." Furthermore, I think there is a bigger difference between Mumia and Al than there is between Al and George W.
Right? Left? Forget it. If the terms were ever useful, they are no longer.
Therefore, I think it is time to unilaterally discard the terms "Left" and "Right" within the pages of Nygaard Notes, and replace them with...something or other. I have been thinking about this for a while, and the problem is that all the good words are already taken. That is, all of the good ones already have more narrow and specific meanings attached to them. Sometimes I refer to "Free Marketeers," but what do you call their opponents? "Socialists?" Already taken. Some extremists could be called Libertarians, but they are extreme on both the "Left" and the "Right," only in different ways. And what would you call their opponents? Limitationists? Tyrannists? It quickly gets ridiculous, because the "Left" and "Right" thinking is so limiting.
So, from now on, when referring to the so-called "Left" or "progressive" elements in the world, I will use "SC," for "Social and Cooperative," and it will refer to those who value Solidarity over unfettered Liberty, Justice over Opportunity, Compassion over Toughness and Survival, and Democracy over Free Markets.
For those heretofore referred to as "right-wing" or "conservative" (or whatever we say about the people running the country), I will use the term "IC, which stands for "Individualist and Competitive." The term IC will refer to a wide range of people whose words and deeds seem to indicate a fundamental disposition to support a different value system than the one in the above paragraph. (Maybe I'll occasionally use the word "Icey" to make it a little more amusing.)
And, yes, I am aware that the world is not so simple that it can be reduced to two choices like IC and SC. If one gets right down to it, each person is so unique that a truly accurate and precise political lexicon would need more than 6 billion terms to really get it right. So, we'll go with IC and SC for now, knowing that everyone falls on a grand continuum in their own special place. At least it's better than "Left" and "Right."
The June 10th issue of TIME Magazine offered readers an article entitled: "Going To The Chapel," with the subtitle: "Wade Horn Is Bush's Marriage Guy. But Can He Get People to the Altar?"
Wade Horn is the federal government's Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Children and Families, appointed by George W. Bush and confirmed by the Congress about a year ago. The Administration for Children and Families has responsibility for a wide range of programs and services, including welfare, Head Start, various community services, refugee resettlement, and services for those with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.
Despite his broad responsibilities, Mr. Horn "has used his...title," TIME tells us, "to crusade for the government to take a more active role in promoting marriage." This idea "may seem odd, if not dubious, but the idea has supporters on both the left and the right," says TIME. The first supporter quoted is Democratic Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, identified as "a fan of Horn's," who says that marriage promotion is "worth a try," adding "What's the harm?" In the world of TIME, Mr. Bayh represents "the Left." Ha Ha Ha. While TIME did note that the National Organization for Women (whom Horn considers a "radical feminist organization") opposed Horn's nomination, they did not mention that almost one hundred grassroots welfare, domestic violence, labor, gay rights, and other groups also publicly opposed it.
Wade Horn and His Friends
When one looks up the writings of Wade Horn on the Internet—and they are extensive—one quickly comes across links and references to many well-known partisans of the IC ("Individualist and Competitive") persuasion. One of the groups is called Dads Against the Divorce Industry, or DADI. To get a feel for this group, one need only look at their "Fathers Versus Homosexuality" section, in which one learns about DADI's work in opposition to the "extreme demands of gay activist groups" that want to "end marriage." DADI posts many articles by Wade Horn.
Other groups enamored of Mr. Horn are the ever-present and ultra-IC Heritage Foundation, which promotes "the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values (they don't mean indigenous values), and a strong national defense," and the IC publications the Washington Times and National Review.
Beyond what we can learn about Mr. Horn by looking at the types of groups that admire him, we can learn something by looking at the groups he has helped to create. Horn is one of the founding board members of Marriage Savers, which is "a ministry that equips local communities, principally through local congregations, to promote marriage." Mr. Horn is also a co-founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), which rather hysterically states that "The most disturbing social trend of our times is the dramatic increase in fatherlessness in the United States."
The mission of Mr. Horn's NFI is "to improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers." In fact, if you look at contemporary research on the subject, you find that the well-being of children is dependent on a mix of factors, the presence of a biological male parent not being at the top of the list. So why is this group so worked up about the issue? Listen to Trish Wilson, writing in the excellent online journal Feminista!, who says:
Don't blame the Republicans for all this. Before Bush came along, HHS had already come up with a plan to "promote marriage." Under the plan, the states would compete to see who could get the most poor kids to live in "two-parent" families (they could still be poor; they weren't competing to reduce poverty). The states that "won" the competition would be "rewarded" with bonuses from the federal government. This was called the "the family formation and stability measure." As is the norm, before putting the plan into effect HHS had a period of public comment, after which HHS reported that "almost all who commented [on the rule] expressed serious methodological and substantive concerns." No matter. HHS stated that, despite what the public and the experts say, "We are committed to the marriage and family formation purposes" of the welfare law, so they kept the rule as it was proposed, in line with their IC ideology.
TIME concluded its report by asking a question and (sort of) answering it, in these words: "Can the government really help create lasting marriages? No one knows. The few studies that have been done are promising but utterly inconclusive, which is OK by Horn." OK, indeed. Leave aside for a moment the process by which TIME reporter Matthew Cooper decided that studies could be "promising" and at the same time "utterly inconclusive"(!) Listen to what Horn says: "Government ought not to be paralyzed by a lack of perfect knowledge." Yes, who needs to know anything? As TIME tells us, Horn "believes" that "sustaining marriages is moral and cost efficient" and, in the World of Bush, there is no better combination than that!
[For an extensive and entertaining rebuttal of almost everything Mr. Horn has ever written (I'm exaggerating, but not by much!) check out a website called The Liz Library at http://www.gate.net/~liz/. I don't know who this "Liz" person is, but her sources are good, and she argues her points well.]