For Richer or For Poorer

The Gospel of the Rich in Austin

You’ve got to agree: it’s a kick watching two rich guys fight over which of them will be meanest to the poor. George Bush missed the Republican candidates’ debate in New Hampshire because he has raised almost $70 million and thinks he has the nomination in his pocket. Steve Forbes, who has put so much of his own money into his campaign that he no longer holds a majority interest in his own family enterprises, accused Bush of trying to buy the nomination — and of being a profligate spender of public funds in Texas. And Bush fired back. Or his campaign did.

You want the facts about Governor Bush’s record on spending and taxes, “Bush for President Spokesman Mindy Tucker” wrote in a press release after Forbes attacked her boss. Here they are:

Governor Bush cut the growth in state spending to its lowest level in forty years.Despite Texas being the second most populous state and a fast-growing state, the three budgets adopted under Governor Bush cut the growth in per capita state spending to 2.7 percent, compared to a 31 percent growth in the past three budgets.During Governor Bush’s term, the state’s government is taking less out of Texans’ paychecks. State spending as a percent of personal income will decline from 9.5 percent to 8.5 percent as Texas personal income will grow 49 percent.li>Under Governor Bush, Texas ranks fiftieth in per capita state spending of tax dollars. State budget surpluses increased almost tenfold — from $333 million to $3.1 billion.

Here is the Governor of a state that invests less in its citizens than does any of the other forty-nine states — or Guam and American Samoa — bragging about how he managed to cut spending. The Bush campaign’s rhetorical war on the poor calls to mind an essay written by an American journalist 120 years ago.

I admit also that I am not a friend of the poor man. I regard the poor man, in his present condition, as so much wasted raw material. Cut up and properly canned, he might be made to fatten the natives of the cannibal islands and to improve our export trade with that region. I shall recommend legislation upon the subject in my first message. My campaign cry will be: “Desiccate the poor workingman; stuff him into sausages.”

That sort of satire won’t fly today; cannibalism has passed from fashion, and our modern journalistic sensibilities discourage making light of those living in the few redoubts where it is still practiced. But toned down and written as a one-pager, Mark Twain’s “A Presidential Candidate” would make a perfect Bush campaign memo.

In the short essay on his own possible presidential candidacy, Twain even addresses another issue that might “resonate” in the Bush campaign office: “I candidly acknowledge that I ran away at the battle of Gettysburg…. I wanted my country saved, but I preferred to have somebody else save it. I entertain that privilege yet.” (Note from Karl Rove to GWB: “Let’s get the Vietnam/National Guard issue out and behind us with an early, candid admission of avoiding the draft.”)

It’s unlikely that any campaign press flack will ever write quite as well as Mark Twain. But if its register were raised a level or two, Mindy Tucker’s October 26 campaign press release might be read as satire. Twain’s Letters from the Earth, of course, this is not. Nor does Spokesman Tucker advocate eating the poor. But it would be hard to make this stuff up.

The Gospel of the Poor in San Antonio

The nationwide movement that began almost ten years ago — when Maryknoll Priest Roy Bourgeois climbed down from a pine tree at Fort Benning, Georgia, to face arrest and imprisonment — has not yet closed the Army’s School of the Americas. But it will. That was the central message in the late-October homily Bourgeois delivered at Incarnate Word University in San Antonio, where he urged students to join him again at the annual protest at the gates of the fort in Columbus, Georgia.

Bourgeois, who became interested in American foreign policy when he was a naval officer in Vietnam, is known for one of the more innovative acts of civil disobedience of the decade. To protest the U.S. School of the Americas’ training of foreign soldiers who went on to commit acts of terrorism in their own countries, in November 1990 Bourgeois and two collaborators purchased three uniforms and slipped onto the Georgia base. He told the audience at Incarnate Word that the three men were acting in memory of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

I couldn’t believe that 425 Salvadoran soldiers were arriving at Fort Benning to begin training there. The three of us bought army uniforms and dressed as high-ranking army officers. We also had a boom box that contained the [taped] sermon of Oscar Romero, the sermon he gave in the cathedral the day before he was assassinated. When he made the special plea to the men in the military, saying: “Stop the killing. Lay down your arms. Obey a higher law — the law of God that says thou shalt not kill.” We went onto Fort Benning with those words in that boom box. We got saluted. We were scared. We climbed a tall pine tree and waited until after ten when the lights went out. Then we said, “Bishop Romero, this is for you, brother.” His voice boomed into the barracks, in one of those sacred moments of the struggle.

They came out with their guns, threatening to shoot us down. We came down. They handcuffed us. Took us to the county jail. And then to trial, with Judge Robert Elliot, whom we have come to know quite well over the years. [Bourgeois has served three prison terms for protests at Fort Benning.]

Since 1990, the School of the Americas Watch has uncovered substantial proof of the S.O.A.’s role in state terror in several Latin American countries. Most compelling, Bourgeois told the San Antonio audience, is evidence released by the United Nations Truth Commission on El Salvador. “Seventy-three of the soldiers cited [in the report]” Bourgeois said, “graduated from this school”:

In the case of Archbishop Romero, of the three responsible, two of them were graduates of the school. In the murder of the [American Maryknoll] churchwomen, of the five responsible, three were graduates. In the murder of the six Jesuits and the two women, of the twenty-six responsible, nineteen were graduates. At El Mozote, where 900 civilians including over 100 children in this remote area of El Salvador were killed by the military, of the twelve [officers], ten were trained at this school. How can people not respond to so much suffering and death?

The S.O.A. campaign started by Bourgeois is more than a quixotic effort. In 1993, Congressman Joseph Kennedy introduced a bill to close the school. It lost in the House by a 175-256 vote. This past July, a House measure to cut the school’s funding passed 230-197. “Congressmen [Charlie] Gonz?lez and [Ciro] Rodr’guez voted to cut it off,” Bourgeois said of the local congressional delegation. “[Henry] Bonilla and [Lamar] Smith voted to keep it open. We’ve got to work on them.” The funding was later reinstated by a one-vote margin in the Senate.

“We are not discouraged by losing the vote by one,” Bourgeois said. “It brought new life into this movement. We’re getting there. Every November we go to the main gate of Fort Benning to call for the closing of this school, to keep the memory alive of so many of our sisters and brothers in Latin America, to speak for them.”

For more information, see the S.O.A. Watch Website at www.soaw.org.

Lou Dubose was editor of The Texas Observer from 1987-1999. He’s authored five books, including the best-seller Shrub with Molly Ivins. He currently edits The Washington Spectator.

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