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YVONNE ABRAHAM

Lessons that a 7-year-old girl can teach today’s Republicans

For today’s GOP, a compassionate, competent federal government is an existential threat

Liza Scott, a 7-year-old from Homewood, Ala., sold lemonade to help pay for her upcoming brain surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital.Jay Reeves/Associated Press

Divided as we are, can we at least agree that a 7-year-old should not have to start a lemonade stand to help pay for her own brain surgery?

On Monday, the adorable child in question — Liza Scott from Homewood, Ala. — is set to enter Boston Children’s Hospital for surgery to stop her massive seizures. Her family’s health insurance won’t cover some of the enormous expenses involved, so Liza got to work, selling lemonade at her mother’s bakery.

“It’s better than just begging,” she told the Associated Press.

Because her heartwarming, enraging story went viral, folks have donated $300,000 to date. That’s spectacular, but it’s no way to run a decent society. Charity is no substitute for compassionate government policy.

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Take it from the CEO of GoFundMe, who sounded the alarm last month after seeing appeals explode on the fund-raising platform as tens of thousands of Americans, their finances broken by the pandemic, sought donations for rent and food.

“Our platform was never meant to be a source of support for basic needs,” wrote Tim Cadogan in USA Today. “And it can never be a replacement for robust federal COVID-19 relief.”

Robust relief passed in the US Senate Saturday, where Republicans did everything they could to weaken it and slow its passage, and not one of them voted for it. This, even though there is overwhelming public support for the $1.9 trillion package — including from 59 percent of their own Republican voters, according to one poll.

Their constituents, millions desperate for relief, clearly believe government has a vital role to play here. But too many Republicans in Congress refuse to acknowledge that. Many of them would rather deny their own voters relief than give ground to Democrats. You’d think that would cost them in elections, but Republicans are clearly banking on voter suppression to protect them, and phony outrage over Dr. Seuss to distract voters who might otherwise be turned off. They may be right.

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But there are more than electoral considerations at work here. At stake are decades of GOP orthodoxy.

President Joe Biden was elected on promises to make government work for all Americans. So far, his administration’s efficient efforts to distribute COVID vaccines have lived up to those promises. Meaningful COVID relief only reinforces the notion that a competent government can be a vital force for good.

If you admit government is necessary, and useful, then you have to fund it adequately, and today’s GOP can’t have that. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan persuaded Americans that government was useless, or worse. That allowed the patron saint of the modern GOP (and his successors) to rationalize massive tax cuts for the rich.

In addition to pushing the notion that taxes are theft, Republicans have justified these upward transfers of wealth by claiming the benefits accrued to the rich would trickle down to the plebs, a claim that analyses have repeatedly found to be rubbish. Sure, some of the obscenely wealthy — your Bill Gateses and MacKenzie Scotts — have shared some of their loot with the less fortunate. But just as GoFundMe is no substitute for a compassionate government, the philanthropy of billionaires is no substitute for an adequately-funded one.

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Enter the wealth tax. Last week, US Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would levy an added tax of 2 percent on fortunes above $50 million, and 3 percent on households with a net worth above $1 billion. The Massachusetts Senator says the tax, which would target the 100,000 wealthiest households in America, would raise $3 trillion over 10 years for child care, education, and infrastructure. The proposal was enormously popular with voters when Warren was a presidential candidate.

But as we saw on Saturday, merely overwhelming public support won’t budge Republicans, or some Democrats, whose main allegiance is to the rich who keep them in power. Still, as she so often does, Warren is shifting the terms of debate to the left in a way that makes more modest tax reform proposals — like those Biden supports — more palatable.

That brings us one step closer to what we should all want: an America where kids’ lives don’t depend on luck, and lemonade.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.