It's scoundrel time. Americans in large numbers are looking for change. Those in power are feeling threatened. So the leaders of Congress line up to appeal not to our better angels but to our most foul demons.
Consider what the right-wing majority that controls the Congress has done in the last week.
First, they took care of themselves and tossed out the most vulnerable. They approved a pay raise for themselves even as the leaders of the House of Representatives refused to allow a vote on raising the minimum wage for America's poorest workers.
The minimum wage hasn't been raised in nine years. A full-time worker cannot lift a family of three out of poverty. The same majority that abolished welfare and required poor, single mothers to go to work now ensures that the pay they receive will condemn them to remain in poverty. They are full of pious righteousness, but they are deaf to the basic teachings of Jesus Christ.
It's scoundrel time.
And even as they were condemning minimum wage workers to poverty, they were pushing to give the wealthiest handful of families a $1 trillion tax break. The House passed and the Senate is now considering a bill that would essentially gut the estate tax, a tax that applies to only the wealthiest 1 percent of families whose estates are worth millions. To protect this Paris Hilton tax break, and balance the budget, they have to raise taxes and cut services to poor, working- and middle-class Americans.
"Only the little people pay taxes," hotel heiress Leona Helmsley once said. And now the Republican Congress is trying to turn her disdain into law. Scoundrel time.
Then they shafted those left in the shadows. The extreme right in the House refused a compromise adopted by the Senate and endorsed by President Bush on immigration. The Senate plan would increase enforcement at the border and on employers but give law-abiding immigrants without legal papers a path for citizenship. That would help an estimated 12 million people not only gain dignity but also empower them to resist the employers that exploit them.
Instead, Republicans decided to have show hearings across the nation this summer — hoping to stoke sufficient anti-immigrant fury to gain votes in the fall. And then, in the lame duck session already scheduled for AFTER the elections — mark my word — if the president stands firm, they will pass the same comprehensive compromise they refused last week. Scoundrel time.
But that wasn't enough. The same desperados then blocked renewal of the Voting Rights Act. They objected to provisions suggesting that ballots be printed in languages spoken by significant minorities in a district. Eager to posture about "English-only," they blocked renewal of the basic law protecting voting rights in districts with long histories of discrimination.
This is simple-mindlessness. Legislators should be encouraging Americans to learn languages, not posturing about an English-only country. And as ever, they are fulminating about a nonexistent threat. The reality is that the current immigrants are no different than previous generations. They are intent on their children gaining the opportunities offered by this society — and eager for them to learn English. Our worry should be those Americans who only speak English, not the next generation of immigrants, many of whom will speak two or three languages, including English.
A renegade neo-confederate fringe balked at federal government oversight of voting changes embodied in Section V of the Voting Rights Act. All these Southern states have to do to earn exemption from the act is to stop the continuing discrimination in voting that we saw in Florida in 2000, in Ohio in 2004 and in Georgia today.
But none of this has been sufficient to calm the nightmares of the conservative majority that fears Americans may be catching onto their act.
So, Sen. Bill Frist — the multi-millionaire leader of Republicans in the Senate who has voted regularly to benefit the stocks he holds in what he falsely claimed was a blind trust — decided last week that the Senate should focus on an amendment to ban flag-burning. Why? No good reason other than to allow Republicans to show they are willing to trample the First Amendment in order to pontificate patriotically. Scoundrel time.
American soldiers are mired in a bloody occupation of Iraq amid a civil war of growing violence. The newly elected prime minister of that country proposes an amnesty that would forgive those who participated in the "national resistance" against American soldiers. Our soldiers are putting their lives at risk to protect a government that would pardon those who are shooting at them.
And the DeLay-Frist Congress is committed to sustaining the occupation, fighting it with other people's children and the next generation's money, while blocking renewal of the Voting Rights Act, denying an increase in the minimum wage, locking law-abiding immigrants into second-class status, posturing about flag burning and marriage. Shame on them to go down in defeat this shabbily. And shame on us if by some chance these scoundrels can stoke enough hatred to save themselves from getting the boot in November.
The Rev Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.