First Do No Harm

by Phil Anderson

The dictum to “first do not harm” is attributed Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician. Today this simple ethical standard is still relevant for many professions including our political representatives. Unfortunately all the current Republicans, and many Democrats, fail to think about the real life consequences of their actions. Simply put their political philosophy and blind adherence to ideological dogma harms people and the planet. 

One sees examples of this all the time. Children are being incarcerated and dying onour southern border because of politically (and racist) motivated “zero tolerance” policies. Our support for senseless wars in Yemen and Syria are spreading famine, disease, death, and human suffering. We have reignited a nuclear arms race and placed the whole world in greater jeopardy of annihilation. The current administration has launch senseless trade wars with friends and rival trading partners. In Wisconsin the Republican controlled legislatures refuses to accept federal money to give 80,000 people access to healthcare. They have rejected Governor Ever’s efforts to address unsafe drinking water problems. 

There is a clear, consistent, historical pattern going back decades that includes many aspects of American life. I wrote in on this topic and March of 2017. It is still relevant today and needs repeating.
“They hurt people.” This was my friend’s comment a few years ago about reactionary  Republicans. My friend isn’t a liberal activist. Although he votes, he isn’t political or opinionated in any significant way. He is a small business owner, husband, and father busy supporting his family and being a good neighbor. But I was impressed with his simple, but accurate, summary of the impact of conservative ideology.

I am reminded of John McCutcheon’s song “The Kindergarten Wall.” This happy little song talks about what we all should have learned in kindergarten. Many Republicans could learn from it. The chorus says, 

Of all you learn here remember this the best:
Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess
Take a nap everyday, wash before you eat
Hold hands, stick together, look before you cross the street
And remember the seed in the little paper cup:
First the root goes down and then the plant grows up! 

Cutting support programs for the elderly, handicapped, and poor hurts people. Poverty and homelessness increases. People go hungry. Opposing the sensible reforms of the Affordable Care Act (or repealing it) hurts people. People die and go bankrupt. Failing to enforce equal rights, environmental protection, and necessary regulation of business hurt people. Disasters like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan or the 2008 financial meltdown result. Opposing minimum wage increases, unions, and enforcement of labor laws hurts people. Deporting immigrants divides families and hurts people. Cutting school funding and denigrating teachers hurts people. Promoting war, militarism, and easy access to guns hurts people.

I can think of very few instances where conservative Republicans supported ANYTHING good for ordinary people. Their agenda for decades has been to oppose, water down, or under fund EVERYTHING good for people. 

There has always been tension between conservatives and liberals as to what was good public policy. When conservatives were in power they opposed progressive policies that  limited the power of big business and elite privilege. But over our history there was slow progress toward a more inclusive, tolerant, fair, and democratic society. Once progress was established it usually became accepted. Today no one advocates returning to slavery or denying women the vote.

 For example, Richard Nixon took advantage of the southern racists abandoning the Democratic party after Lyndon Johnson passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But he did not repeal the equal rights legislation. Ronald Reagan energized anti-union efforts with his busting of the air traffic controllers union. But he did not repeal the existing labor laws. Republicans opposed the creation of Social Security, Medicare, and anti-poverty programs. But Nixon, Reagan and both Bush administrations didn’t repeal them. 

But now the wrecking crew of Republican reactionaries in charge of our nation plan a wholesale dismantling of ALL past social progress.  And this goes way beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act with no viable replacement. It includes equal rights, labor laws, social programs, separation of church and state, financial regulations, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, public broadcasting, consumer protection, woman’s health, our national parks, and much more. Nothing is safe anymore!

All this is harmful and unnecessary. Expenditures for all the good things government does are not the cause of budget deficits. The primary reasons we have budget problems and deficits are: 

1) Huge, excessive military spending which is also the epicenter of government waste,

2) Corporate welfare, tax breaks, subsidies, and “incentives” that reduce revenues but do little to promote job creation (corporate welfare is much larger than spending on welfare programs for the poor),

3) Tax cuts, loop holes, fraud, and other policies that fail to collect the necessary revenue to fund government. The last three large increases in deficit spending and the national debt were the under Republican administrations, largely created by tax cuts for the very wealthy. 

The Republicans want to blame Social Security. They claim “entitlement” spending is the problem. But Social Security is a trust fund that is paid for in advance by dedicated payroll taxes. Social Security has never contributed a dime to the Federal deficit! Cutting Social Security benefits will only HURT PEOPLE. It will not help with the deficit.

Which brings us back to John McCutcheon’s song (Google “Kindergarten Wall” to hear the song and brighten your day). His song concludes with:
 
But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget
So I’m sure we’d all be better off if we would just recall
That little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall 

We have too many “foolish grown-ups” in charge. They need to go back to kindergarten to learn some basic human decency from the poem on the wall.