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May 29th, 2009
06:26 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnut' divides America

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (L) and Charmaine Yoest (R).

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (L) and Charmaine Yoest (R).

This week, Supreme Court battles and new spending promises are pre-occupying Washington, and giving us the Wingnuts of the Week.

Supreme Court nominations have become the Wingnut Olympics. Right-wing attacks were readied weeks ago against whomever President Obama named to the court. Left-wing hyper-partisans have done the same thing to Republican appointees in the past.

They try to demonize a nominee before they have their day in court – or in front of Congress, as the case may be. The idea of actually judging a judge fairly or suspending judgment until all the facts are in seems to be unheard of in DC these days. It’s a reflexive ideological attack, regardless of facts.

But of all the prefabricated attack-dog talking points circulated, one set rose to Wingnut of the Week status. Charmaine Yoest, President of Americans United For Life, released a statement saying that Judge Sonia Sotomayor "Will perpetuate the role of the Supreme Court as 'National Abortion Control Board'... [her] judicial philosophy undermines common ground. She is a radical pick that divides America."

There are legitimate ways to question and criticize a Supreme Court nominee – by quoting past statements and studying past opinions. But Yoest’s comments were ugly on a whole different level, treating Judge Sotomayor as a threat to the republic. That’s an absurd demonization and dehumanization.

Yoest is claiming that Judge Sotomayor divides Americans, but Yoest is the one trying to divide us. The fact is we don’t even know Judge Sotomayor’s position on abortion – she backed up the Bush administration’s right to deny federal funds to abortion rights organizations in one decision. Some liberal groups are expressing concern that she might not be liberal enough for their liking on this issue – but all that seems to be an inconvenient truth. And calling the Supreme Court the “National Abortion Control Board” – well that’s about as single-issue wingnut as you get. I’m pretty sure that’s not how Chief Justice John Roberts views his day job. Wingnuts use fear as a recruiting tool. For them, all’s fair in love, war and Supreme Court nomination battles.

With the trillions in bailout and stimulus spending flooding off the floor of Congress, it’s easy to lose track. But when a new government entitlement is proposed while we’re already deep into unprecedented debt, it’s time to take notice. Especially when the bill’s advocates promise us it won’t cost taxpayers a dime.

That’s what New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney did with a bill proposing four weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees. She said “it won’t cost any money.”

There’s no such thing as a free lunch and if someone offers it to you, watch your wallet. The Congressional Budget Office has looked at this proposal in the past and said it would cost taxpayers upwards of $850 million over the next five years alone. And government estimates are notoriously off – from Medicare to the Iraq War, new entitlements and obligations become financial quicksand for the already cash-strapped U.S. taxpayer.

We should not be adding four weeks of paid parental leave to the generous benefits given to the growing rolls of government workers. Former Comptroller General David Walker testifies that the total cost of outstanding government promises in terms of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare now costs $56 trillion dollars – more than the total $51 trillion of Americans’ household net worth. The costs of public pensions and benefits are already bringing states like California to the brink of bankruptcy. And the deficit is already twice the size of any since the end of World War II.

This unprecedented debt is essentially generational theft. At a time when private sector workers are worrying about losing their next paycheck, let alone benefits, this is not the time to ask them to subsidize a new level of government benefits. The fact that this bill was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee is not only a reflection of a committee that is not committed to reform, it‘s an illustration of why more Americans have declared themselves Independent over the past five months, as Democratic and Republican affiliation declines.

Polls show that Americans are willing to pay out of pocket to get out of a crisis in the near term; but in the long-term they want to return to a path of fiscal responsibility. America needs entitlement reform, not entitlement expansion. We need fiscal discipline, not false promises of a free lunch.

Representative Maloney’s office admits that she was incorrect when she said in the House Oversight and Government Reform committee that her paid family leave bill “won’t cost any money.”

They acknowledge that it will cost upwards of $190 million the first full year, in line with the CBO’s $850 million estimate for the first five years.

The issue is not just the cost – or the worthiness of the program – but whether we can afford it right now as a nation. And the answer is objectively no – we don’t have the money to add a new government entitlement. Not at a time when government rolls are growing and private sector workers – who don’t enjoy government’s job security – are getting laid off.

And a further point of clarification for those of you who enjoy viewing and reading this segment: sometimes reasonable people make silly statements, like the Congresswoman saying her bill wouldn’t cost any money. It’s this segment’s intention to call it out; in line with the time honored adage that sunlight is the best disinfectant. It’s not that Congresswoman Maloney is a career wingnut – far from it – it’s that her statement in committee resuscitates the oldest myth of the liberal left: that new entitlements and benefits don’t end up coming out of your pocket. They do. As the old Washington joke goes, a million here and a million there, soon enough it starts adding up to real money.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.


Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. rufus levine

    Yost, however, is not a Judge on the Supreme Court. Whatever she opines is a private opinion, with no lasting consequence to America.

    Not so with ANY Supreme Court Justice. Cannot compare their comments or prejudices.

    June 4, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  2. Michael K

    The writer makes an excellent point, now is not the time to expand these benefits. Are they a good idea? Yes. Are they necessary? Not at all. People have been making these accomodations (myself included) ever since.

    And, since someone attacked critics of Sotomayor:

    I believe her statements regarding the relative quality of decisions a Latina might make as opposed to a white male:

    A lot of this comes from personal pride. It is good that she feels good about her self. She chose a crass and insensitive way to express it that reasonable people could conclude is racist.

    The bulk of her record seems to put the lie to a charge of racism.

    People are right to question the remark. What if Trent Lott or Jimmy the Greek had made similar remarks?

    People are wrong to attack those who have called out the remark. But then again, those who object to the statement should be prepared to accept an innocent explanation.

    June 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  3. Jane N.

    I agree with Shane. Maloney's paid parental leave bill sets an important benchmark for paid parental leave for all workers. Especially in this economy, the birth of a child should NOT pull people into poverty!

    Working parents - men and women - should be able to take care of and bond with their newborns and newly-adopted children without having to worry about their paycheck. As more mothers have entered the paid labor force for their family’s economic well-being, access to paid parental leave has become a necessity for today’s working families.

    What happened to "family values"?!?!

    June 1, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
  4. Shane

    I'd just like to point out that currently, federal workers do not have any guarantee of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
    Some have accrued paid sick or vacation time that they may be able to use while on FMLA leave.
    Younger workers who haven’t accrued sick or vacation time, have no choice but to take unpaid leave or leave their infants alone at home. That's not very pro-family.
    In my view, enabling working mothers and fathers to care for and bond with newborns and newly-adopted children lays the foundation for healthy child development. Paid leave makes it possible for workers to take time off without having to worry about a paycheck. Everyone agrees that the months and years of a child's life are the most important indicators for how productive a citizen a person will turn out to be. I'd rather pay for parental leave now than pay for the care of an unproductive (or worse criminal) citizen later.

    June 1, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  5. Michelle Conant

    Offering paid parental leave will help the federal government recruit and retain dedicated and talented workers. In the coming years, federal agencies will be hiring many new workers–especially since nearly half of federal employees will be eligible to retire by the end of 2010.

    In order to compete with the private sector, and attract and retain the best workers, federal benefits must be competitive. Nearly all Fortune 100 firms offer working parents some paid time off when they have a new child.

    By introducing this bill, Rep. Maloney is not a wingnut - she is showing her commitment to our nation's working families. Passing this bill will help the federal government set a standard for all U.S. employers and provide a critical benchmark for achieving paid parental leave for all workers.

    June 1, 2009 at 10:57 am |
  6. Mason Green

    Oh and I forgot to mention that Marcus Epstein has been a featured guest on "The Political Cesspool" radio show, in addition to the aforementioned David Duke and Pat Buchanan themselves. For more on that show, read my post from a few weeks ago or look them up on Wikipedia. They're not nice people...

    May 30, 2009 at 8:15 am |
  7. Mason Green

    Suggestions for next week:

    G. Gordon Liddy (former Nixon "Plumber", now a conservative talk show host): He said that Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings "had better not be when she's menstruating". He also said that the Supreme Court "was not designed to be and should not be a representative body", in terms of gender or ethnicity. A few months ago, he said that Barack Obama was planning to build concentration camps for white people, which would serve "ham hocks and turnip greens". What a sexist, racist jerk!

    Tom Tancredo: Recently compared Sonia Sotomayor to a "Latino KKK" member, and complained that she had made a single racist comment back in 2001. This despite the fact that Tom Tancredo himself is known to have ties to white supremacists and eugenicists.

    Newt Gingrich: Remarks similar to Tancredo's: he called her a "Latina woman racist".

    Rush Limbaugh: I recognize he has been featured before, but his recent outburst in which he compared Sotomayor to David Duke is something I can't ignore.

    Marcus Epstein: Executive director of Tom Tancredo's PAC, "Team America", and Pat Buchanan's PAC, "The American Cause"; also a regular contributor to the anti-immigration website VDARE and reportedly a co-founder of the anti-minority "Youth for Western Civilization". Epstein will soon be sentenced for an incident in 2007 in which he, while drunk, karate-chopped a black woman in Washington, DC, referring to her as a "n-–". The woman's husband temporarily detained Epstein, but he escaped and was caught be two Secret Service agents and charged with the hate crime. And Epstein's good buddy Tom Tancredo is accusing Sonia Sotomayor of being a racist? Puh-leeze.

    Those are my suggestions for next week's wingnuts.

    May 30, 2009 at 8:13 am |