In the name of the son, y'all

Feb 7, 2001 at 12:00 am

One of the more annoying myths the right has successfully sold is the notion that Bill Clinton is a “liberal,” a term now almost always used negatively. Our children grow up learning that “liberals” want to raise taxes to give our money to lazy people (meaning mostly blacks) who won’t work and to hire vast new armies of government bureaucrats.

Later, Rush Limbaugh will tell them liberals are also hot for drugs, immoral sex and abortion. That’s not what those who once called themselves liberals actually believed; the poor dears thought they were working for peace and justice.

What fools. Clinton, to his feeble credit, never labored under any illusion that he was a liberal in any sense. There aren’t any liberals left, he told his staff early on. “We’re the Eisenhower Republicans, and it is us against the Reagan Republicans,” he said.

Indeed, Clinton reigned and lived very much as a traditional conservative of the old school. He balanced the budget and avoided serious military adventures. He indulged in a few sleazy affairs, and left office having pardoned a relative, several criminals, all while toting $190,000 in gifts and being clearly determined to chase down any spare buck he could.

True, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford worked hard to set the standard for post-presidential greedheadery, but Mr. Bill, as in so many other things, seems determined to break all records. Monday, (Feb. 5) barely two weeks after leaving office with $190,000 in gifts, he made a short speech to a stockbrokers’ convention for $100,000. He’ll do another for pay Saturday, at a synagogue in Miami. No, he hasn’t agreed to pose naked yet.

But, hey — it’s still early. Everything indicates he’ll have many years yet to be in our face. The irony of it is that his policies were generally pretty good, and if he hadn’t been such an utter sleaze, there is no doubt that his successor would have been elected by a margin too large to steal. However, thanks to all of that, we now have extremists in power. George Bush is not a conservative, but a right-wing radical, who masks his essence under a cloud of folksy charm which, let me confess, I underestimated. What is especially worrisome is that so far he, or whoever is running him, has handled the media very well. Inviting a collection of Kennedys to the White House to watch the new movie Thirteen Days was a brilliant public relations stroke.

Not only did it provide a feel-good story on the same day as the bigot John Ashcroft became attorney general, it neutralized the obvious question: How would the Shrub handle such a crisis, with his generals hot to trot toward nuclear war?

You do have to tip your helmet to the Bushies; they got through an anti-environmental EPA head, Christine Whitman, and made the oil-drilling pin-up queen Gale Norton secretary of the interior, with barely a peep. Rejected by the voters, our own moon-faced buffoon, Spencer Abraham, was instantly confirmed as head of a department (energy) he had twice tried to abolish. Evidently, nobody except me thought this bizarre.

But none of that was nearly as shocking as the pseudopresident’s announcement that he was establishing something called the “White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.” The idea is to make it possible for religious institutions to get money from the government to perform social services.

That is about as anti-American a program as any president has ever tried to use to shatter the Constitution. Read the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” it begins. That’s what has kept religious freedom flourishing in this country for more than two centuries.

Well, what can be the harm in helping them do good? Plenty. How do you decide what’s a religion? What if I incorporate the People’s Church of Navel Worship in my basement, and ask for a grant to distribute pictures of Linda Tripp to the suffering?

Silly? Remember the ‘60s-era Universal Life Church, which would ordain you a minister for $5? Who’s to officially say what is or isn’t a church? According to the Constitution, nobody. Evidently, George Bush thinks he is. His prayer service at the inauguration was itself unconstitutional, as legal scholar Alan Dershowitz has shown.

Bush began by having an evangelical minister officially dedicate the inauguration to Jesus Christ, which was “as un-American as if a rabbi giving the official prayer had prayed for the arrival of the true Messiah.” Now one can understand why George Bush looks favorably on Protestant evangelicals; evidently, he had some kind of a conversion experience which caused him to abandon being nothing but a rich spoiled drunk.

Which was a good thing … I guess. Still. By the way, that sentence in the First Amendment goes on to say, “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founding fathers realized that if government does the first, it sooner or later, strongly risks leading to the second.

Even the current sorry, partisan Supreme Court ought to eventually set Bush straight here, though after the election, who knows. But it is clear it is going to be a rocky four or eight years as far as civil rights on all fronts are concerned; we are about to learn all about Ashcroft justice, of which African-Americans already have a pretty good idea.

What is becoming pretty clear, however, is that Baby George need not worry much about the press. Nah. Not as long as he doesn’t overtly start helping his friends steal money, and, especially, if he keeps his pecker in his pants. Sexual adventures are, after all, the proper investigative turf for reporters who cover government; proposed constitutional violations and misuse of power is, at best, incidental. Glad to help set you straight on that.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail[email protected]