And so the GOP braces for the loss of another major player at the end of 2002. Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, and now Dick Armey. Apparently they tire of fighting the ever-growing bloated beast known as the Federal Government, which gorges itself daily on our hard-earned wages and pays little or no attention to the worst fears of the Founding Fathers. Fears which they so clearly delineated in Amendment X of their precious Constitution of the United States of America.
Armey was reeling in bass in a Texas fishing pond while then-President Bill Clinton was giving a speech to the White House Correspondents' Dinner one day not so long ago. Clinton was reciting his lines to the fawning crowd and could not resist taking a special poke at one of his archest of enemies. He said, "I met with Sen. John Glenn recently to decide who should be the next distinguished member of Congress hurled into the far reaches of the universe. And we have our man." He paused for dramatic effect and said, "Godspeed, Dick Armey." Hilarity ensued. Armey caught 18 good-size fish for dinner that day.
The liberals in America absolutely detest anyone whose prime directive is to reduce the size of their mother ship of government. Anyone who attacks any portion of the Cube will be dealt with harshly by the DemoBorg. And Armey has been as fierce as any renegade Constitutionalist the GOP has had in recent memory.
He was born July 7, 1940, in Cando, North Dakota. And, yes, that is pronounced "Can Do!" After high school, he worked as a lineman for the local electric company. The hard work and cold weather convinced him to try college. He gravitated towards economics and wound up with a PhD at the University of Oklahoma. The legend is that he got interested in politics from watching C-SPAN. Regardless of the how, the what is that he was first elected in 1984 and has been there since that time.
One of the first items that brought him any public attention was the military base closings which he worked on during his second term. One of the sorriest little secrets about our political system is that, no matter how much a representative of the people says they want to reduce federal spending, they cannot get reelected if they reduce the part of the spending which comes back to the folks who vote for them. This is why the size of the federal government is not their fault, really: It's our fault for being so damn selfish. "Take that base out of San Diego, but BY GOD we NEED this base in El Paso! Think of the jobs we'll lose if it closes!" Or, as Armey himself once said, "You can be so ideologically hidebound that you can cut yourself out of the process." This is why the cowards used a makeshift "bipartisan committee" made up of folks who did not have to stand for reelection when they made the decision of which bases to close. The brave men who carved this nation out of a handful of basic ideas must be looking down upon us with shame and scorn when they see that's it's come down to bullshit like this. But, nevertheless, Armey did manage to put together a disparate group of colleagues (such as the might-as-well-be Communist, Ron "Red" Dellums, former Congressional Representative from Northern California, Ninth District) in order to begin the process of streamlining the military.
In the next few years, Armey worked for the passage of NAFTA and the defeat of several tax increases proposed and supported by even his own President, George Bush. But his real time in the spotlight was around 1994 when the GOP came up with the idea of a Contract With America. This was really a first in Congressional politics, and Armey was the main author of the idea and the items presented within the idea. The idea was to nationalize local Congressional races. Until then, the axiom that "all politics are local" had never really been challenged. Sure, the folks back home cared a little bit whether you were a liberal or a conservative, but they cared a whole lot more about how many highways you could get built from their house to the nearest Wal-Mart. Armey and Gingrich and a few others managed to get on enough Sabbath gasbag TV shows and run enough ads to force a new concept down the voters' throats. The concept was, "This is your country and these folks you elect make Big Decisions about your country and its future. You might want to consider how they vote on the Big Issues and how that will affect your kids and grandkids." The Contract was a collection of ten bills that the Republicans said they would bring up for a vote during the first 100 days, if they could control Congress. And the caveat was, "If we don't keep our word, throw us out." It worked, as you know, and the GOP took control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Armey became the Majority Leader, unopposed, of the 104th Congress. And this was a Congress which managed to get a Democratic President to sign a Welfare Reform Bill. Lyndon Johnson must have been rolling over in his grave and cussing like a man who hadn't taken a good shit in a week.
Armey had always been a church-going man, but in 1995 he had a sort of religious epiphany about how God invests mere mortals with a faith in their fellow man. At that time he said, "I didn't understand faith because all along I had been counting on my own intellect to help me understand things. I had to get over myself." Since then, he's prayed every morning with his wife and refers to the scriptures more often in regular conversations as well as his political speeches. The fact that it's a personal conviction and not a political calculation makes him very appealing to atheists such as myself.
His main agenda since then has been a flat tax to replace the biggest problem conservatives and libertarians have with the entire system: The Federal Income Tax. As a side note, if we could just get rid of the concept of withholding and force everyone in the country to actually write a check to the government every month or every quarter for their enormous tax bills, this could be passed tomorrow. Did you hear the story about the employer who paid his employees their gross pay out of one window and then set up a second window where they had to pay their taxes out of their gross pay? In other words, he would hand an employee $1000 and then they had to go to the second window and take $300 (figures here are just hypothetical examples) and hand it over for Federal and State income taxes. Guess what happened? The IRS came down on this employer like a swarm of buzzards and said, "YOU CANNOT DO THAT. IT IS ILLEGAL." And that was the end of that little experiment. This was not before most of those employees had become libertarians.
Armey has also been at the forefront of the attempt to defuse the playing of the race card in American politics. Early in 2001, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume sent a letter to Dick Armey and other top Republicans saying that he wanted to open a dialogue about "education, economics, hate crimes, and racial profiling," as well as "a lack of access to capital and credit in poor communities across the nation." Armey responded by saying, "Great. Let's meet." But let's also discuss "parental choice in education" (an issue which seems to have more black support among the working man than it does in the liberal establishment), and then Armey's letter got right to the meat of the problem. He said, "I believe there is a phenomenon in American politics today that could justly be called 'racial McCarthyism' or 'reverse race-baiting.' In my opinion, it has become all too common practice to spread unfounded, racially charged falsehoods against Republicans for political advantage."
Armey then gave some pungent examples: The suggestion a few years ago that Republicans were somehow associated with church burnings; the NAACP's television ad accusing George W. Bush of callous indifference to the slaying of James Byrd; the likening of post-election Florida to Selma; and then a direct quote from NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, that the new administration "selected nominees from the Taleban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and chose Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." How refreshing that was for someone like me who was sick to death of being called a racist just because he had a difference of opinion with the so-called leaders of Black America. And it was such a well-written letter than Mr. Mfume had to agree that it was time to tone down the rhetoric. Julian Bond and others in leadership positions were not so kind about the concept, but it did at least bring the issue out from under the bushes. ("Stay out d' Bushes!" Who said that?)
So, I suppose Dick Armey will get to do more fishing in the next few years. He claims that fishing is a restorative venture. I've never really enjoyed fishing myself, but I'll take his word for it. He may well write more books on economics. He has written three, so far: Price Theory: A Policy-Welfare Approach (1977), The Freedom Revolution (1995) and The Flat Tax (1996).
He is going to take a teaching position at George Mason University in Virginia, where one of my favorite black conservatives holds forth on liberty and economics, Walter Williams. I wish him the best in his new career and hope that the GOP can find someone from Texas who can fill at least one of his very large shoes.