Column by Kyler Barton
The upcoming presidential election is the first time I have closely followed the Republican candidates who are vying for their party’s nomination. It has been interesting to observe the candidates debating issues mostly because their views indicate a dramatic shift in the GOP.
In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, wrote the following in a letter to his brother: “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”
But this is exactly what the modern GOP is doing. The general attitudes and values of the Republican presidential hopefuls reflect those of their party today.
The grotesque metamorphosis of the Republican Party is both bewildering and frightening to me. It is easy to forget, what with all the redistricting, attack ads and volumes of money pumped into campaigns by special interest groups, that those who hold elected positions are there to serve the U.S.
As the heat subsided from the debt ceiling debate last summer, Mike Lofgren published an article on the Truthout website. Lofgren worked as a staff member for the Republicans in the House and Senate for 16 years. He decided to quit due to the extreme behavior of the GOP, a party he described as becoming less political in nature and more like an apocalyptic cult.
The accusation may seem extreme; after all, Republicans are supposed to be conservative. In 2009, Rep. Eric Cantor described the GOP political strategy as “just saying no.” Rejecting big government is common practice for Republicans, but blocking anything but their own agenda further characterizes the GOP as an obstructionist party.
Lofgren points out that Congress used to be an efficient machine, producing and passing key legislation like the Medicare Act. Now Republican filibusters snarl even the most trivial and routine procedures. Democrats used this tactic when President George W. Bush was in office, but not nearly as often as the Republicans do now.
The Senate is an especially fragile body; its procedural rules are so complex, the Senate functions best only when members approach legislation and each other in good faith, Lofgren said. No wonder it has been so easily hijacked by the GOP.
A Republican staff member explained the method of interference to Lofgren. By constricting Congressional action, the GOP, forever against large and cumbersome government, would appear more rational and dynamic. By refusing to cooperate, Republicans could point at the failures of Congress and scream that the system was too bureaucratic and broken. Never mind the GOP is intentionally working to promote congressional inaction.
The sad part is it seems to be working. Last year, a Gallup poll issued Congress the lowest job approval rating in 40 years, with just 10 percent of those surveyed supporting the legislature.
Obstructing government action may seem like an obvious and transparent political stunt. If Republicans want to be the “party of no” and threaten to block all Democratic progress, it’s easy to do. Worse still, Lofgren notes how this tactic manipulates low-information voters and furthers cynicism toward the government.
Low-information voters just aren’t engaged in government activity that, whether they know it or not, affects them. The American public’s loss of interest and trust in domestic politics is something the GOP has managed to capitalize on. In some cases they encouraged it, Lofgren wrote. For example, in 1980 Ronald Reagan famously announced, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
TV host and political commentator Bill Maher discussed an intriguing phenomenon about public support for the modern GOP on his show “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
In July 2011, he mentioned how in every election, typically half of the nation’s population votes for Republicans.
“Now I understand why the Republicans get 1 percent of the vote—the richest 1 percent,” Maher said. “That other 49 percent, someone will have to explain to me.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkjbJOSwq3A
It seems to me like many of the people who vote Republican are voting against their own interests. While many members of the GOP claim to love America, both Lofgren and Maher question why modern Republicans have a habit of attacking laws and services that actually help Americans.
Maher lists some examples of GOP targets: environmental protection, health care, higher education and infrastructure. Lofgren points out Republicans even sabotage more significant programs, such as Social Security, by asserting such programs can’t be funded because of the deficit.
Before he departed from Capitol Hill, Lofgren identified the three key principles that guide the modern GOP: protecting the rich, romanticizing war and promoting religion.
On Sept. 16, 2010, House Speaker John Boehner said raising taxes on anyone, especially small businesses, is the wrong thing to do in a struggling economy. The problem this typical right-wing rhetoric ignores is the yawning disparity of wealth in this country. Boehner’s words may be a relief to small businesses and members of the middle and lower classes, but the upper class and rich corporations continue to accrue wealth, confident their earnings won’t be diminished by “excessive” taxes.
The shockingly high tax rate is another myth Republicans like to keep in their political discourse. Compared to a number of other countries, especially those that enjoy such benefits as socialized medicine, taxes in the U.S. are quite low. In addition, the tax code offers a number of loopholes and corporations have ways of dodging payments. Lofgren mentioned General Electric paid no taxes on its $14 billion profit in 2010.
The Republicans have done an excellent job covering up this fact. Lofgren explained even when a bill included a provision that would require CEOs to reveal their earnings, including bonuses, Republicans rose up in vehement opposition. The provision would not impact the CEO earnings at all, it would just make it easier for the public to see the figures. Such transparency could destroy, or at least threaten, the GOP story about the economy.
The Republicans have devised other stories, too. Remember the one about weapons of mass destruction? The most destructive weapon of all (and the only one discovered during the Afghanistan and Iraq adventures) was the lie Bush told that garnered support to initiate those conflicts. John McCain wanted to send the U.S. military to participate in the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia. Lindsey Graham has advocated invading Iran as well as seeing what our Marines can do about settling the violence in Syria. Lofgren points out neither McCain nor Graham are satellite members of the GOP; they’re both senators.
Republican fascination with war is somewhat perplexing when compared to their fierce anti-spending, anti-tax position. Military action is expensive. Lofgren postulates this drive is psychologically based.
“This undoubtedly arises from a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness and dovetails perfectly with the belligerent tough-guy pose one constantly hears on right-wing talk radio,” Lofgren wrote. “Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.”
Some opponents don’t need to actually exist in physical form for the GOP to use them to gain support and votes. For example, in 2008 Rick Santorum, a current contender for the Republican presidential nomination, insisted the U.S. would suffer the devil’s wrath.
In the speech Santorum said the following: “If you were Satan, who would you attack? There’s no one else to go after other than the United States, and that’s been the case for, now, almost 200 years.”
Republicans cater to fundamentalists, who have reciprocated by voting GOP members into office based on common faith. Former Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann had a bizarre association with slavery and religion. Back in August, NPR aired one of the first stories I heard about Bachmann. Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for the New Yorker, discussed a recommended list of books, selected by Bachmann, that was posted on her website.
On “Michele’s must-read list,” Lizza saw a biography about Robert E. Lee written by J. Steven Wilkins. After doing some research, Lizza was shocked to discover the ideas the author promoted.
Wilkins characterized the Civil War as a war against the pure Christian nation of the South by the nonbelievers of the North. This perspective, known as the theological war thesis, viewed the blow to the Christian stronghold in the South as a major loss of the Civil War.
One of the more shocking passages from the book describes what slavery was like in the Old South. Wilkins denies racial tensions existed between slaves and their masters and claimed that such a relationship eventually became based on mutual respect. The power of the Christian faith provided the foundation for this miraculous harmony. Wilkins concludes: “The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South, prior to the war, was the fruit of a common faith.”
Lizza found these ideas have been implemented in modern Christian homeschooling curriculums and Wilkins supported such efforts. Lizza wasn’t sure why Bachmann included the book on her list.
“She recommended this book on her website for a number of years,” he said. “It is an objectively pro-slavery book and one of the most startling things I learned about her.”
While Bachmann’s alarming endorsement of this branch of Christian faith wasn’t widely reported, one of her opponents in the race, Rick Perry, ran campaign ads specifically expressing his devotion to his faith. One of the ads showed Perry condemning the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, followed by him lamenting children aren’t allowed to pray in school.
According to an article by Amy Sullivan on Time’s website, Perry’s assertion is completely false. Children pray in school all the time. Public school teachers are only prohibited from requiring students to participate in any religious rituals or celebrations.
Toward the end of the ad, Perry references “Obama’s war on religion.” He doesn’t care to explain what that means, though I didn’t miss the military reference. More recently, in the wake of Bachmann and Perry both bowing out of the race, Santorum gained support and near the end of February, he targeted Obama’s religious values. He explained the president is following, “some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible.”
Apparently, Santorum missed last year’s Easter Prayer Breakfast where Obama’s speech expressed some of the most overt Christian values ever spoken at the event. The president even quoted scripture.
Lofgren wrote the success of the Republican Party might be based on their incorporation, and ceaseless devotion, to religious fundamentalism. Ignoring the constitutional idea of a separation of church and state has paid off and seems to answer a large part of Maher’s question about the source of the other 49 percent of the GOP votes.
The message from the religious right has consistently put forth the notion that the rich are rich because it’s God’s will. The poor must be poor for the same reason, but they shouldn’t turn away from the Lord just because of that.
“This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires,” Lofgren wrote.
He continues, noting war has an interesting connection with religious fundamentalists who generally tend to admire the Old Testament, which is filled with violent imagery. In Lofgren’s view, this is the basis for the apocalyptic mindset shared by many members of the religious right that leads its followers to assume war is a divine mission.
Again, I must stress these are not a rabble of mindless fanatics huddling in caves in the present day who espouse these views. They are voters. In some cases they are people who hold public office and could potentially reach the highest office in the land.
During the debt ceiling crisis, it was Bachmann who insisted no crisis existed.
“What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults?—we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord,” Lofgren wrote.
Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential GOP candidate, said she believes the second coming of Jesus will occur in her lifetime. The attitudes expressed by both Palin and Bachmann foster an indifference to issues besides faith. Of course it’s acceptable for one to express their faith and values in the political realm, but when such beliefs are used to stall action or downplay a crisis, that’s a problem.
The rollercoaster ride of the popularity of the Republican candidates, one of whom will eventually be chosen to compete with Obama in November, has given me a new perspective on the modern GOP.
I am shocked at the support these candidates received all along the way and what that shows about this country. Mitt Romney, the consistent frontrunner (but he’s had a challenge finding support from his entire party), has said he enjoys firing people, he isn’t concerned about the poor and that corporations are people.
I am disturbed by the hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich, who had, as Jon Stewart mentioned on The Daily Show, “three somewhat overlapping marriages.” I thought conservatives typically promoted family values and the sanctity of marriage. As president, Gingrich has vowed to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. In an effort to curb rising gas prices, he wants to expand offshore drilling, but the Sierra Club noted Gingrich used to oppose such drilling.
More has been revealed about Santorum after his surge in the polls. He carries an air of hypocrisy of his own; he fiercely opposes abortion even though his wife had one.
He believes states should be able to ban birth control. Santorum claimed Obama’s health care plan would diminish the importance of children with special needs, because the legislation valued “usefulness” instead of “dignity.” Never mind the plan actually makes it so insurance companies can’t deny coverage to patients based on preexisting medical conditions.
Santorum supported the modern GOP attitude toward intellectuals in a speech, where he called Obama “a snob” for wanting everyone to go to college. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkjbJOSwq3A The following applause (while not as galling as the ovation Perry received during an earlier debate regarding the record number of executions he’s ordered in as the governor of Texas) is certainly disturbing. Obama isn’t forcing people to go to college, but rather wants to make sure the opportunity is available for those who seek higher forms of education. Santorum’s comment completely ignores that fact.
“There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor,” he said.
The GOP promotes anti-intellectualism because it attracts the low-information voters Republicans rely on to win elections. Lofgren noted the religious right has played a major role in creating skepticism of science and academic intelligence.
While Santorum still believes allowing same-sex couples to wed is wrong, the last couple months have yielded victories for marriage equality. Proposition 8 in California was overturned by a judge. Maryland and Washington state have approved marriage equality bills. Though these advances all face stiff opposition in the months to come, they indicate a shift in the U.S. away from the kind of social discrimination maintained by Santorum and many other Republicans.
I don’t think all members of the GOP are taking this nation in the wrong direction. In fact, the bills for marriage equality would not have succeeded unless some Republicans supported them. Rep. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla expressed why she supported the bill in Washington to legalize marriage for same-sex couples in a YouTube clip, which went viral. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1
“Someone made the comment that [the bill] is not about equality,” she said. “Well, yes, it is about equality. And why in the world would we not allow those equal rights for individuals who truly were committed to one another in life to be able to show that by way of a marriage?”
In a Chicago Tribune article, Republican Delegate Wade Kach of Maryland, who used to believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman, explained why he supported the marriage equality bill in his state.
“I saw with so many of the gay couples, they were so devoted to another,” Kach said. “I saw so much love…I felt that I understood what same-sex couples were looking for.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Republicans are not so kind. Lofgren concluded his article noting it was best to be retired in the current economic and political climate, rather than be forced into it.
The GOP is on a mission to cut taxes until no other options exist but to begin scaling back benefits most people have worked for, like Social Security and Medicare. Rep. Paul Ryan has already targeted collective bargaining, labor unions and Pell grants. The modern Republican Party has stopped listening to reason and its roots. The GOP is not the party of Eisenhower anymore and, if nothing else, the views and values of the presidential candidates prove that.