Tuesday, January 14, 2003

In my weekend reading, I was struck by Ethel Roosevelt's notes on a 1917 fireside chat with her father, Theodore. Speaking as a man who knew that there was very much an upper class in this country, and that he was of it, he opined:

After declaring that all men are equal we cannot expect that permanently the 3% will own the property and have the power; the 97% will become restless, are restless. And perhaps the best way to meet it is that the 3% recognize the claim of all the others --- and give them sickness insurance and old age pensions and a share in the stock and profits etc. Then of course comes the grave danger of too much paternalism...

Things have changed somewhat in the Republican party. On the issue of economic equality, of grave concern to Roosevelt (who was predicting great things for socialist Robert La Follette), the modern upper class has perhaps found a cheaper alternative than giving the lower class a meaningful share of the pie: make them think they have one, when by any objective measure, they don't:

The most telling polling result from the 2000 election was from a Time magazine survey that asked people if they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday.

As to the rest, though, Dubya's initiatives in many spheres are nothing if not paternalistic; and not a new-age dad who wants to empower his kids, but the old-style kind, who wants control of the wimmenfolk. As Sunday's Times editorial, "The War against Women" points out, the administration has been unrelenting in attempting to take back control of the bodies of its female citizens:

The lengthening string of anti-choice executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative maneuvers and key appointments emanating from his administration suggests that undermining the reproductive freedom essential to women's health, privacy and equality is a major preoccupation of his administration --- second only, perhaps, to the war on terrorism. ...

President Bush's assault on reproductive rights is part of a larger ongoing cultural battle. If abortion were the only target, the administration would not be attempting to block women's access to contraceptives, which drive down the number of abortions. His administration would not be declaring war on any sex education that discusses ways, beyond abstinence, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and abortion would not have begun disappearing from federal government Web sites.

Which he's extending further, with even more drastic effects, to the women of the third world, via restrictions on aid, but that's yet another rant...

TR quote source: a letter quoted on p. 493 of Kathleen Dalton's biography.


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