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The Bush budget proposal, with tax cuts vastly favorable to the wealthy, reveals that the president is a man with a talent for playing to the tragic aristocrat who either clawed his way to the top and means to stay there -- or who depends on inherited money and opportunities. Dynasty, for the Bush family, must stamp out progressive Yankee meritocracy. Bush evokes the last gasp of a lost Southern nobility that carved its red clay fiefdom paradise, which resonates with the Margaret Mitchell crowd (conservative women) and the Ayn Rand crowd (conservative men). Look at all the McMansions built up in the raw farmland. The myth has legs. Here's why I say so: The Bush budget cuts child welfare funds. And why not? Those pesky devils can't vote. But decreasing federal funds to the states for these programs will cause sweeping national changes. Child Abuse Prevention Program federal funding to the states will be slashed. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, that amounts to an 18 percent cut. In Pennsylvania, 5,691 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 1997. In New Jersey, 10,982 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 1997. In New York, there were 72,000 victims of abuse or neglect in 1997. But that year is the most recent for which data is available, and that should tell you something about the budgeting increases needed to cope with crimes committed against children by their caretakers. Sadly, it's not strangers who perpetrate this epidemic of violence and outrage upon children in America. Conservatives, lately, have a high tolerance for the ugliest aspects of the state of the nation. They pine for the world of good old Dickens. They just never read Dickens. Ah, the child poverty, the suffering, the Victorian despair -- heavy as the plumes of high sulfur coal smoke rising from the Trigen plant across the Schuylkill from the University. All the Bush administration has seen of poor children comes from Oliver -- so cute when they dance and sing! Bush does seem to be living a fancy dress theatrical meant to deny a brutal, retarded system, which is how Claudia Roth Pierpont explained Gone With the Wind, one political model for the Bush appeal. Our Bush/Butler character is a bad boy, and we sort of like it. He knows how to rise to the top of the new, still-smoking Atlanta. (So what if you cheat? Just wink when you do.) What America wants is reductionism, and Bush is the man to give it to us; just as Mitchell gave us our last great enduring political myth. For example, the Bush budget will cut $200 million from federal child care funding to the states. Childcare and Development Funds benefited 82,750 children in Pennsylvania in 1999 who needed day care and other programs. In 1999, Pennsylvania received $32 million from the fund. In 1999, 34,000 children benefited in New Jersey from the fund, which could only accommodate 10 percent of children who were eligible. In 1999, New Jersey received nearly $19 million from the fund for day care and similar programs and New York received $59 million from the fund, benefiting over 164,000 New York kids, according to The New York Times. To these children, the Bush budget declares, "You are the weakest link, b'bye!" Now we begin to see how the average tax rebate to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans is $39,000. Meanwhile, our George/Rhett character has taken to giving members of the media nicknames while he slashes the funding of these important programs. "Seen my kingdom anywhere around here, Stretch?" Bush proverbially asks, always the jocular Richard II. He is fresh from a Eudora Welty novel. Her Southern gentlemen also brandish a sneer under the smile. Bush is the son who inherits his role and gets to rewrite all the rules to benefit his family favorites. These things are expected of the fountainhead, or the gracious Southern gentleman who once came home smelling of gasoline and matches. Bush caters to the Rand narcissist -- "Protecting myself benefits society, because I am the only society worth protecting." Should we let him in on the secret? The response in four years will be a Thermidorian rout.

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