How Republicans Can Make Us Like Them

A Gallup poll released last month put the public’s approval rating of congress at 37%. Although this was the lowest approval rating for congress in some time, I was honestly surprised it was this high. But there are numerous segments of society that actually "approve" of how congress conducts itself. And others who approve as long as congress kowtows to their demands.

For example, there are various groups that have become, in essence, "wards of the state." There is no longer any stigma attached to receiving government assistance, either in the form of money or preferences. To the contrary, these receiving segments of society adamantly insist on their "entitlement" to special treatment. And they will approve of a congress that will not remove or reduce their governmental bounty.

In addition, there are other groups who endorse the concept of a strong, activist central government from a purely philosophical standpoint. Many of these types can be found in government agencies; academia, public education, the entertainment field, and the mainstream media. They also approve of a congress that enacts and expands government programs that they think alleviate inequities in social and economic status.

However, there is a larger segment of society that does not approve of the way congress conducts itself. If congress wants to boost its approval rating with this group, it must change the perception they have of congress. They view congress as a body that foolishly wastes tax dollars. To change that perception, congress must take actions to indicate that in addition to spending it also makes occasional cuts in spending. These cuts do not necessarily have to be large cuts, even symbolic ones might work. So I am going to propose two spending cuts that ought to grab the public’s attention. But first, let me illustrate my point with a personal experience.

Years ago, I took the migration to the suburbs trend a step further. My family, along with others, moved beyond the suburbs into a sparsely settled area, rural and unincorporated. We and our neighbors loved our retreat from society but soon realized that our homes were not served by a fire department. So we created a volunteer fire department and each family was assessed an annual fee to maintain it. As the years went by, the suburbs finally caught up with us and we were annexed into an incorporated area with its own fire department. Because we no longer needed our volunteer fire department, we eliminated it along with the annual maintenance fee assessed to residents.

My example of eliminating a superfluous fire department is the exact opposite action of what we have come to expect from Washington. We read all the time about a new law congress has passed, but we rarely if ever read about a law that has been repealed. And there are innumerable laws on the books that either should not have been enacted to begin with or no longer serve a useful function. Likewise, there are also numerous agencies and services funded by government that no longer serve an essential function. Again, we never read about a non-essential agency being eliminated and we find few if any examples of congress cutting or canceling funding for unnecessary services. In the same shameless, cavalier manner that congress votes annual pay raises for itself, it casually approves funding for agencies and services.

Right now congress has an opportunity to symbolically demonstrate that it has acquired at least an ounce of integrity. It can accomplish this by taking two actions: 1. ending government funding for public broadcasting, and 2. eliminating the Civil Rights Commission. I mention these two actions because I recently came across some old letters I wrote to newspapers in the late 1980s and early 1990s – along with my letters were newspaper clippings from the same period. I saw that even in the 1980s, journalists and others were clamoring for these same two actions by congress. Simply stated, they insisted that congress stop wasting tax dollars on public broadcasting and the CRC; functions that were no longer necessary.

There is no valid reason why the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio should continue to receive government funding. The original justification for funding was that PBS and NPR offered programming not available elsewhere; what was called "arts and culture" programming. Now the same shows carried by PBS can be found on many of the other hundreds of channels. Also, it is difficult to justify government funding to PBS now that it is allowed commercial sponsors. PBS deceptively calls the commercial spots, "underwriters’ messages" but that is like government referring to a new tax as a service fee.

A few years ago PBS got caught swapping donor lists with the Democratic National Committee, an illegal act. At that time, congress made a lot of noise about canceling PBS’s funding. But that was just show business, and funding continued at the same level. Recently, PBS received a spate of complaints for using one of its children’s programs to showcase a lesbian couple. Congress is once again engaged in posturing and grumbling about ending PBS’s funding. But, based on its past actions, its doubtful that it will actually do so.

NPR eliminated its "arts and culture" programming years ago and now its format is no different from commercial radio stations. NPR, like PBS, pursues a political agenda that many do not agree with. Certainly, it should not receive taxpayer dollars if it is only going to present one side of the story. But NPR wisely constructed its funding structure so that government money goes only to local public radio stations. It was felt that members of congress would be reluctant to cancel funding for public radio stations in their own communities. But government funding for these local stations is laundered straight back to NPR in the form of membership dues and program fees.

Government funding for PBS and NPR is roughly 12% to 15% of their budgets so its elimination shouldn’t be a fatal blow. Every year private companies stay afloat after much more severe reductions in revenue.

By the late 1980s, the functions once performed by the Commission on Civil Rights had been assumed by newly created agencies in the Departments of Education; Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. The government also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And there were thousands of government employees at federal, state and local government levels monitoring and enforcing civil rights laws. But the redundant CRC continued to receive government funding.

In 1991, congress, after considerable debate, voted to extend the life of the CRC for three years with the requirement that the agency must submit at least one report each year detailing its activities. The funding was hotly debated because of the CRC’s mismanagement; inability to account for money spent, sloppy records, and refusal to make reports to congress as required. After the vote, one angry Representative stated: "They are on probation!" That "probationary" period has lasted a long time during which conditions at the CRC have worsened. The organization still cannot adequately account for how its funding is spent; its records are still a disaster, it is rife with internecine squabbling, and the CRC has even had discrimination charges filed against it by its own employees. The CRC has been correctly called a "national embarrassment." It is a classic example of a government agency that should be eliminated.