One of the most brilliantly salient moments from The West Wing occurred in the episode titled “Game On” in which President Bartlet debates the governor of Florida and Republican presidential nominee Robert Ritchie. In case you haven’t seen it, consider this your spoiler warning.
In the opening remarks of the debate, Ritchie, played by James Brolin, makes a case against both federal spending and interference in state issues such as education and healthcare. He hamfistedly excoriates the Department of Education for forcing students “to learn Eskimo poetry” and mocks the idea of an “unfunded mandate” — suggesting it’s “a big word.”
President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, rebuts, “Well, first of all, let’s clear up a couple of things. ‘Unfunded mandate’ is two words, not one big word. There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs. And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights. You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year — from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry. 12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion. I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is: Can we have it back, please?”
Can we have it back, please? I can’t help but to return to this totally ass-kicking Sorkin interrogative whenever I hear Republicans, especially Republican governors, resurrecting the zombie corpse of Joe McCarthy and going full Red Scare against “socialist” liberals and “big government” federal spending programs.
They screech against “wealth redistribution” — “spreading the wealth around” as John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber used to say — and they tell us that rich people, who never pay the full marginal tax rate anyway, shouldn’t have to be punished with a three-percent tax increase, a laughably small hike in the top bracket, as a means of contributing to the common welfare, be it in the form of universal healthcare, education, infrastructure or unemployment insurance for middle and working-class Americans.
They suffer from outrageously selective amnesia by ignoring the unparalleled bloodshed of the Civil War and suggest that states could potentially secede from the Union and somehow continue to thrive without tax dollars from citizens in other states — dollars that are collected and redistributed by the federal government and provided to the states to pay for crucial programs. Or in the case of Rick Perry, your tax dollars and my tax dollars were spread around to Texas where they helped to balance the budget there, even though Rick Perry would probably call me a socialist for supporting similar $6.4 billion endeavors. As I wrote last time, Perry asked for federal money that was redistributed from taxpayers in other states to ameliorate his $6.9 billion budget crisis. I can’t help but to wonder how Rick Perry would have attained that massive bailout, funded by the president’s evil stimulus bill, had he acted upon his threat to secede.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, Hurricane Irene bashed into the east coast and wreaked all varieties of destruction from North Carolina to Vermont. And, naturally, there were several states devastated by Irene that happen to be run by Republican governors, not unlike The West Wing’s Rob Ritchie, who have all made names for themselves as tea party favorites due to their anti-federal government, anti-socialism, anti-tax demagoguery. “Don’t Tread On Me” and the like.
Yet there they were, firing off letters to their arch-nemesis, the president, begging for federal emergency management assistance to relieve the disaster wrought by Irene. Emergency management dollars, by the way, that would not exist without a socialized system of wealth redistribution — without tax revenue from working and middle class (and, yes, wealthy) Americans in other states.
Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, both of whom launched into office during the anti-Obama anti-stimulus tea party wave of the last couple of years, asked for and received FEMA aid from their president. Again, it wasn’t automatically gifted to them. They had to literally write to the president and ask for it. Assistance paid for by the federal government. Your money. Money that would not have been there had it not been collected from millions of taxpayers across the nation. It’s important to note that a considerable number of those taxpayers are low-income, working-class Americans who are too often told they shouldn’t take handouts from the government and ought to instead fend for themselves — no federal help for healthcare or education or unemployment or COBRA subsidies — self-hoisted bootstraps, etc… They’re told this line of hooey by the same tea party Republican governors who are currently demanding help from the rest of us.
Arguably the most vocal and visible of the east coast Republican governors is New Jersey governor Chris Christie. He’s another of these newfangled tea party Republicans who have a predilection for demonizing socialism while simultaneously engaging in socialism: big government handouts for corporations and the super-rich, but, you know, screw everyone else.
And there he was on television this week, demanding redistributed tax dollars from other states in order to augment New Jersey’s disaster relief effort. As reported in The Huffington Post, Christie made a passionate case for federal relief:
“Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And they (Congress) can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later,” the Republican governor told a crowd in the flood-ravaged town of Lincoln Park.
Once again, if this kind of socialism is acceptable to Chris Christie and Tom Corbett — if it’s okay to take money from the federal government and give it to New Jersey to heal its wounds and mitigate its “suffering now,” why can’t you and I have money from the federal government to heal our personal wounds? Why won’t Chris Christie and Tom Corbett support free and universal healthcare?
You simply can’t have it both ways. You can’t fling your tri-cornered hat into the air, slam your pudgy fist onto a podium and rally your people against one kind of wicked socialism, while concurrently requesting and accepting an equivalent form of socialism, without being utterly dishonest, hypocritical and contradictory, not to mention completely unfair. Speaking of tri-cornered hats, where in the Constitution does it include anything about FEMA and government disaster relief? If you’re a strict constitutional constructionist, as Chris Christie, Tom Corbett and other far-right Republicans claim to be in some form or another, you can’t possibly support the existence of FEMA. If you’re a so-called Tenther, you’re technically on your own.
So while disaster relief is now and always a critical function of the federal government, I can’t help but to ask Chris Christie and the others that famous Bartlet question: If you’re seriously opposed to socialism and government interference in state matters, can we have it back, please?
Uh-huh. I didn’t think so.