Most people know the Borsht-Belt definition of the word chutzpah: "A person murdering his/her parents and then pleading for mercy on the basis of being an orphan." A more concise -- though less entertaining -- definition can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary: "shameless audacity; impudence." Examples of "shameless audacity," "impudence" or chutzpah can be found in oh so many places these days. Not that people are murdering their parents and then begging for mercy because they're parentless . . . although this morning's paper did carry a story about a fellow named Stephen Coffeen, who admitted to killing his father but claimed that his over-indulgence in "Red Bull" (a highly caffeinated energy drink) led to temporary insanity! Unbelievably, the judge bought the defense, and instead of going before a jury, Coffeen will be sent to a mental hospital; he could go free in six months if found mentally healthy.
Over the past six or seven months, Republicans from Covina to Caribou have presented us with yet another descriptive definition of chutzpah. It consists of precisely nine words: "That's what the American people elected us to do." We see this definition -- rationalization really -- being employed every time the Republicans use their newfound majorities and super majorities to enact legislation that has virtually nothing whatsoever to with the platform of "jobs, jobs, jobs" they ran on last November.
Although those of us of a more-or-less progressive bent were not at all happy with the outcome of last November's election, we can live with the fact that we were beaten (mostly) fair and square. High unemployment, coupled with massive deficits, a nationwide "throw the bums out" attitude, the successful vilification of people like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and hundreds of millions of corporate dollars being spent on convincing the average voter that the GOP was all that stands between America and a Marxist state, proved to be simply too alluring. Overnight, Republicans and Tea Partiers moved en masse from the back bench to the front row. And with their victories -- on both Capitol Hill and the various state legislatures and governor's mansions -- came the birth of their newfangled nine-word definition of chutzpah:
"That's what the American people elected us to do."
So far as I can tell, that segment of "the American people" which cast votes for this major shakeup in the House and various state legislatures were doing so in the belief -- or hope -- that in so doing, the new kids on the block would get us out of our economic doldrums, create millions and millions of new jobs, corral the deficit and keep taxes low. (Parenthetically, this latter issue, quite simply, amazes me; the United States has one of the very lowest taxation rates in the industrialized world. Moreover, our average tax rate is the lowest its been in the past two generations.) What "the American people" got in exchange for their votes was an anti-woman, anti-labor, anti-social network agenda that has nothing -- virtually nothing -- to do with the promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs." In short, the Republicans campaigned heavily on issues which, once elected, they quickly placed on the back burner, and rarely if ever brought up the issues which were closest to their hearts. And yet, despite this gross anomaly, the expression "That's what the American people elected us to do" rings through loud and clear.
Consider the following:
- In the first three months of 2011, legislators in 49 states introduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues, according to the Guttmacher Institute. More than half of the measures -- 56% -- seek to restrict abortion access. In Florida, the legislature passed -- and Governor Scott signed -- a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound (which they pay for themselves) while having a "counselor" explain to them what they are seeing. In March, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed legislation requiring women seeking an abortion to first visit an anti-abortion counseling center, and then wait a minimum of three days before undergoing the abortion. In a state that has but one physician who performs abortions -- and only one day a week at that -- this means that women would have to plan on spending a minimum of one week away from home at a time of particular trauma. In Nebraska, the legislature passed a law outlawing abortion after20 weeks of gestation. They based this law -- since passed by five other states -- on the disputed assertion that a fetus can feel pain after that time. Question: what do all these measures have to do with creating jobs or fixing the economy? Answer: "This is what the American people elected us to do."
- In Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida legislatures have enacted legislation meant to effectively curtail -- if not eliminate -- the right of collective bargaining for all public service unions. In Florida, the legislature passed a measure which in effect eliminates all teacher tenure and bases their future salary increases to how well students do on an as yet unrealized standardized test. On Capitol Hill, Florida Republican John Mica -- a major recipient of campaign contributions from the airline industry (1t least $620,000 in his career) sponsored legislation that in effect would make "non-votes" null in all National Mediation Board-supervised disputes. Such a policy puts an extra burden on union organizers to round up all voters, rather than a simple majority, in order to get a union's take on any and all proposed dispute resolution made by the NMB. Question: what in the world does all this anti-union legislation have to do with creating jobs and fixing the economy? Answer: "This is what the American people elected us to do."
- Florida now has a new law requiring anyone seeking state welfare assistance to first submit to -- and pay for -- a drug test, with the costs (as yet to be determined) reimbursed if the applicant passes the test. In another move, Governor Scott has unilaterally ordered that all people working in the state's executive division offices be drug tested four times a year. These two measures are nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. In 1998, Florida researched the issue of substance abuse among those receiving state assistance, and found no connection between financial need and drug use. It would appear that both the legislature and Governor Scott believe that being poor is somehow synonymous with lawlessness and moral weakness. "They're poor," so this argument seems to go, "thereby they must be out boozing and drugging." In yet a third measure, the legislature has severely restricted the ability for voters to make sure their votes actually count -- especially in the state's most liberal political pockets. All three of these issues are going to be challenged in court. And, earlier this year, Governor Scott refused a $2+ billion federal high speed rail grant which would have created some 26,000 jobs in the Sunshine State. Question: what do all these measures have to do with the creation of jobs or fixing the economy? Answer: "That's what the American people elected us to do."
- Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan submitted a budget proposal for FY 2012 which would transform Medicare from a direct-payment to a voucher system. Far from lowering the deficit, this proposal would, in effect, force seniors to spend far, far more out of pocket for basic medical coverage. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, bowing to the most conservative voices in their caucus, have stated that unless Congress can agree to budget cuts which will equal the raise in the federal debt ceiling, they will urge their members to vote "no." This would, according to most every economist in the known world, result in a massive, catastrophic upheaval in the world's financial markets . . . the first time in our history when the words "Full Faith and Credit" were devoid of meaning. Question: what has all this to do with creating jobs or fixing the economy? Answer: "This is what the American people elected us to do."
No, enacting anti-abortion, ant-union, anti-education, anti-senior, anti-poor people, anti-democracy legislation is not "what the American people elected us to do." This is a case of chutzpah, plain and simple. You are not repairing the economy; you are raping the people. Then again, if there is a definition of chutzpah involving murder, why not one dealing with rape? I guess it would go something like this:
A man rapes a woman. His justification? "Well, she did smile at me."
Yes, a majority of those who came out to vote last November did smile at you. But that is no justification for what you've been doing ever since.
-2011 Kurt F. Stone