Republicans Gonna DEFUND ‘WOKE’! (Plus Your Social Security And Medicare)

National Politics
Album cover: 'Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine'

Russell Vought is the former director of the Office of Management and Budget, whom Joe Biden and his team accused of deliberately hindering his transition. Vought has moved on from enabling coups to advising congressional Republicans during the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations.

Rolling Stone reports that Vought is “sprinting around Washington, spreading the gospel of budgetary anti-wokeism." That doesn't make a lick of sense but who cares! Republicans have effectively demonized the term "woke" and its many variants. They haven’t even bothered to define it. "Woke" is whatever rightwingers don't understand or respect, which is almost everything.

During a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday, Vought proposed a debt ceiling strategy that involves framing discretionary cuts as “eliminating woke and weaponized bureaucracy.” Again, you might ask, "Huh?" and again, I say, "It doesn't matter." Nothing does anymore.


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Republicans want to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force drastic cuts to federal spending, but they'd prefer not tipping voters off regarding who exactly will bleed to death from those cuts. So, Vought argues that Republicans should frame the inevitable standoff with the Biden administration as a showdown over "wokeness" in the federal budget. Don't even mention Social Security and Medicare — you know, the popular entitlement programs that are in jeopardy.

Rep. Ralph Norman from South Carolina, who served on the House Budget Committee, said, “We need to cut wokeness out. [...] Our office is going to be looking at the dollars that go into wokeness — whether it’s in the military, whether it’s in discretionary money.”

Wow, now that’s some mighty fine gibberish. It’s also deliberately subjective. Stamp anything with the “woke” label and cut away. Maybe grandma’s medicine is “woke.”

At the heart of Vought and CRA’s push is a budget blueprint — “A Commitment to End Woke and Weaponized Government” — that has been circulating among influential Republican circles on Capitol Hill for months, sources say. It breaks down which line items in President Joe Biden’s budget are too “woke” — a word that appears 77 times across its 104 pages. Among the proposed cuts: gutting the National Institute of Health’s “offices that are infused with critical race theory and gender theory,” purging programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development that promote “health equity” or “social justice,” and defunding a quarter of the Department of Education’s budget to scrub the “equity” embedded “throughout the entirety of its operations.”

This is eerily similar to how Ronald Reagan slashed the social safety net during the 1980s. As a prelude to his eventual “revolution,” the so-called "great communicator” appeared as a guest on a 1975 episode of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," where he declared "government the problem" and suggested that clueless bureaucrats were wasting money left and ... well, mostly just the Left.

“You were talking earlier about some of the research programs,” Reagan said. "Well, there was a senator the other day, and he took up some pages of the Congressional Record ... He was listing these crazy research programs and how much they were costing and wound up his speech by introducing one of his own. He wants a study in the research of transcendental meditation.”


“There was a state senator in Michigan,” Reagan continued. “And he just found out the other day that they’ve got a $93,000 study on whether chitlins are bad for you.” The audience laughed, as Carson shook his head. “He said that as a fourth-generation chitlin eater, he figured he could tell you how for 93 cents you could find the answer to that.”

Of course, anecdotal evidence and personal experience aren’t the same as an actual peer-reviewed study into ... oh, wait, the government wasted money researching the longterm health impact of a food mostly eaten Black people. That money could’ve cut a rich person’s taxes.

Once Reagan entered the White House, he didn’t just cut funding for chitlin and yoga studies. He slashed the budget for public housing and sought to eliminate federal housing assistance to the poor altogether.

Peter Dreier wrote for Shelterforce:

Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit.

The current assault on “woke” diversity, equity, and inclusion also recalls the Reagan administration’s antipathy to racial progress.

The 1980s saw pervasive racial discrimination by banks, real estate agents and landlords, unmonitored by the Reagan administration. Community groups uncovered blatant redlining by banks using federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act information. But Reagan’s HUD and justice departments failed to prosecute or sanction banks that violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in lending. During that time, of the 40,000 applications from banks requesting permission to expand their operations, Reagan’s bank regulators denied only eight of them on grounds of violating CRA regulations.

And, yes, there was Reagan’s smearing of imaginary “welfare queens,” which traded in the same coded racism as the rightwing buzzword “woke.”

This worked once before when Reagan and his merry men robbed from the poor and gave to the rich, while stomping on minorities in all income brackets. Vought is hoping for an encore.

[Rolling Stone]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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