MediaWatch: April 1995

Vol. Nine No. 4

Old Programs Never Die

After a series of reports bemoaning House Republicans' $17 billion in spending cuts, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff on March 20 found a glistening bucket of government fat neither party is willing to cut, the Department of Veterans Affairs: "Paying benefits to America's former servicemen and women -- including to people...whose ailments aren't war-related -- now costs $38 billion a year. That's a big ticket item, even for the Feds. But at a time when Washington is desperately seeking spending cuts, the mere suggestion that taxpayers can't afford such a high Veteran's tab summons one of the country's most effective lobbies into action."

Isikoff found "the VA has spent nearly $2.8 billion since 1990 on new hospitals, clinics and nursing homes to expand a system that's actually underused," as the number of veterans declines, from 28 million in 1980 to 23 million this year. Isikoff focused on the VA hospital in Beckley, West Virginia, "a $29 million-a-year, full-service medical center." Though admissions have fallen by a third since 1990, and three other VA hospitals serve the state, Isikoff noted, "VA facilities are among the government goodies hardest to take away -- Congress hasn't shut one down since the Johnson administration."

Values and Victims

U.S. News & World Report writer Wray Herbert took a sobering look March 6 at what social critics are saying about the breakdown of national identity. Herbert found that "a wide array of cultural critics believe this public uneasiness reflects some gut-level sense that the right relationship between citizen, state and civil society has been distorted or perhaps even lost."

Citing liberal critic Christopher Lasch, Herbert wrote, "the new elitists are often those who feel most free to espouse traditional liberal values -- integrated schools, wealth redistribution, preferential hiring policies -- even though those politics don't affect their own daily lives. They then stand above the fray as different groups of less privileged citizens fight over the very real consequences of those policies, often dividing across racial lines."

Herbert got specific: "Schools, for example, have become social-service agencies and self-esteem clinics and are so overburdened with therapeutic tasks that they can't perform their primary function -- teaching -- very well....Similarly, the institutions of government spend less time governing and more time attending to the bruised feelings of various classes of victims."