Watch Out, Conservatives, Here I Come

Here’s the fellow I’d like to meet in a dark alley-me all armed to the teeth and him woozy from drink, weak at the knees and ready to plead for his life. He is the legislator from Arizona who said, “Friends of Liberty, we have to stop this damned federal plan to assure that poor kids get medical insurance, vaccinations, eye exams, can go to the doctor if their stomachs ache or their fevers rise. We gotta foil this government plot to enter into our lives and interfere with our state’s inalienable right to have poor children go belly-up in the emergency room. We gotta keep the feds out of our schools. We gotta make a rule that says they can’t enroll any kids in that softy fed program on school grounds or distribute any vaccination information. We’ll pass a law that’ll give them athlete’s foot right in their federal stomping-on-my-rights jack boots.”

It’s hard to believe that someone could be so hard-hearted, so dedicated to keeping government funds away from poor children that he would tear down the pamphlets on the walls announcing the program and cover maternal ears so they can’t learn the right place to apply. This is political evil. This is mean, and this guy (nameless in The New York Times ) deserves the title “Dr. Death” far more than sad-eyed Jack Kevorkian. Dr. Kevorkian’s aim is to end suffering, while this Arizona legislator continues his endeavors to make sure the right to be ill is protected for the smallest and most defenseless of citizens.

This legislator does not deserve our respect, our calm consideration of his point of view. He ought to be left to the rattlesnakes and the coyotes and the red ants and the prickers and the stingers of the desert mesas. I’m not really filled with human compassion when it comes to this guy. If I did meet him in the alley, I’d make him yell “Uncle”-Uncle Sam, that is.

In my best dreams, I see a West Side Liberal Woman (WSLW) in a cape made special by Ann Taylor, a T-shirt from the Gap, a Banana Republic skirt, swoop like vengeance itself from the top floor of the Sony 68th Street or down the steps of the No. 1, 2 or 3 subway and strike a blow for justice. As it is, I can only mutter, “Won’t somebody please stop that guy running away with the health and happiness of thousands of children?” (No, not ” innocent children”-I don’t actually believe children are innocent-but certainly they are no less deserving than the rest of us of a good checkup.)

This Arizona legislator, who has plenty of company (and is, unfortunately, not a mythological being), is undoubtedly a Republican, and just as undoubtedly he has screamed about the sins of William Clinton, exclaimed his horror of the hated Hillary, sent his thousand dollars to Mr. Lazio, expressed his scorn for Whitewater-dealing Democrats all over his state, proclaimed his outrage at the Foster killing. (Who, indeed, will be the Duo from Arkansas’ next victim?)

George W. Bush is not this legislator-at least not as far as you can tell-but he is backed, supported, rooted for by a thunderous herd of guys like that. Mr. Bush has kept them out of sight, behind the proscenium-but doubt not that they are waiting for their cue and, given a victory of the Compassionate Conservative, they’ll come out and, like black crows in the treetops, make a lot of noise and drop their droppings on our heads. That adjective “compassionate” will disappear like the words in skywriting, blown off in the prevailing winds.

The Democrats have so far not been able to unmask Dubya or to taint him with the sins of his supporters, but they had better find a way to let Americans know that the issue isn’t whose tax plan you like the best or who you think sweats under the klieg lights the least. These are mere window-dressing on far more fundamental and fateful splits-where do you stand in the culture wars of America, and where do you think government should be when it comes to human troubles like old age, like illness, like poverty or physical limitations?

The supporters of George W. Bush believe that government belongs right there inside your womb. They believe government should not tie knots in the safety net or place mattresses under our most dangerous stunts: aging, studying or living in families. The supporters of Mr. Bush believe we need a stronger army even if we don’t, and they believe we should never send that army to prevent genocide or aid any other besieged peoples. Many of these Bush supporters think we should pull out of the United Nations. Behind the mask, George W. Bush is a front for America the Self-Righteous, which as we know is not the same as America the Righteous. What we really need is a candidate who campaigns on the slogans “a laptop in every backpack,” “a stock option in every pay check” and “an I.R.S. audit for every Hampton home owner.”

Now it is true that WSLW once believed that government could and should do more than it actually can. Mea culpa : I once had high hopes for a society that ran on concern, not on investments. I was wrong. We do need investments, a strong economy, an Internet that zings across the globe but brings cash into the home treasury. We do need to push people towards fiscal independence; we do need to be hard on crime and soft on oil producers. WSLW is not the dreamy woman she once was. Now she’s an older New Democrat and worries about her Keogh plan and feels sympathy for those whose estate taxes might crimp their offspring’s style. She no longer believes that government can solve the most intractable problems, and she knows that despite all the rhetoric-hers included-public schools will remain vastly inferior to private ones until the Messiah runs His own reading-readiness program.

But there is such a thing as real evil out there (not to be confused with political disagreement), and those guys not only want Uzis to be sold over the counter, but they are playing a game of survival-of-the-fittest that has turned their hearts to stone. George W. Bush may be pretending he isn’t one of them, not a Newt Gingrich clone, but he is. A faux kindness spreads across his gray face but, like Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, he has such big teeth to eat us with. So why has Mr. Bush been allowed by the media to fudge his real beliefs, to talk endlessly about things that are not crucial to his political landscape and avoid the hard, crushing facts of Pat Robertson’s and Trent Lott’s support? Is there something that WSLW could do? Tune in next week.