Jewish World Review Sept. 23, 2005 / 19 Elul, 5765

Mona Charen

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Who are these Republicans? | It's not possible, is it? Rep. Tom DeLay did not say that the Republican Congress had achieved a "victory" over wasteful spending? What a sense of humor! This, just as Congress is rushing to blanket the Gulf Coast in a thick quilt of taxpayer funds?

Who are these Republicans? A little over a month ago, when House members were departing for the August break, the Republican leadership circulated a flyer listing 12 "Ideas for August Recess Events." Among these were, according to The Washington Post, "stop by a military reserve center to highlight increased benefits," "visit a bridge or highway that will receive additional funding," or "talk up the new prescription drug benefit for seniors." That sound you hear (is it a ka-ching?) is the sound of Republican principle melting in the hot sun of Washington, D.C. Gone is the heady talk from the days of the Republican Revolution in 1994, when whole departments and agencies were to be eliminated. Today, the corpulent state gobbles up taxpayers' money, and it is Republicans who declare that no "offsets" can be found for the new spending natural disasters will require.

Nonmilitary and non-homeland security spending increased by $303 billion between 2001 and 2005, according to the American Conservative Union. Only eight members of the House of Representatives and 11 senators voted against the $286.5 billion transportation bill in August, the most lavish public works bill in U.S. history. The Washington Post reports that the mammoth bill contains 6,376 earmarked projects including "a $2.3 million grant for the beautification of the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California; $6 million for graffiti elimination in New York; nearly $4 million on the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.; $2.4 million on a Red River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Louisiana; and $1.2 million to install lighting and steps and to equip an interpretative facility at the Blue Ridge Music Center, to name a few."

And now President Bush, whose greatest sin in his first term was failure to wield the veto pen, has joined enthusiastically in the legalized looting of the taxpayer. No one has any idea how much the federal government will spend rebuilding the areas devastated by Katrina (and perhaps, though G-d-forbid, by Rita as well), so the $61 billion the Congress just passed can best be understood as a down payment. Most estimates of total spending on hurricane relief now hover in the $200 billion range. But nobody knows. And Rita adds another huge potential loss.

President Bush's Sept. 15 speech from New Orleans, while graceful and touching, contained no hint of humility about the reach of federal power or the capacity of government to get things done. "We'll not just rebuild," he declared, "we'll build higher and better."

This is not a conservative perspective. The people of the region need immediate help and comfort, but why must we rush headlong into a rebuilding program, particularly one funded and controlled from Washington? The president pronounced that "Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature, and we will not start now." That sort of hubris can get you into trouble. Governments don't know how to build cities. Besides, one might have thought that Katrina had just taught a bitter lesson about thumbing one's nose at nature. Would it really be unthinkable for Baton Rouge to take New Orleans' place as the most important city in Louisiana?

Finally, there is the Democrats' favorite topic — the perennial matter of race. Suddenly, Republicans seem to have suffered an attack of amnesia. The president attributes poverty in New Orleans to a history of racial discrimination and proposes, as Stephen Moore coined it in The Wall Street Journal, a "GOP New Deal."

In truth, as conservatives have patiently argued for 25 years, poverty in America today is primarily a matter of culture, not race. It is the result of family disintegration above all. Republicans have reduced poverty in America dramatically — especially that of black children — by welfare reform. There is more to be done on that front, but not by adopting the liberals' mantra about racism.

Republicans seem to be forgetting not just their principles but their own past successes — and that is an invitation to failure.

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