If you accept just one given about today's Republican Party then I can explain why they seem bent on dismantling the U.S. government, unions (in places like Wisconsin) and defunding everything from high speed rail and NPR to Planned Parenthood.
Here's the "given":
The most powerful block in the base of the Republican Party are religious conservatives -- mostly Evangelicals.
So when you want to know why the Republicans are willing to destroy American jobs, the economy and the environment, all in the name of "small government" look no farther for "motivation" than the preoccupations of the Evangelicals that have been growing more and more irrational ever since the 1970s. Back then I was sidekick to my Evangelical leader father (Francis Schaeffer) and then became a "leader" in my own right in the antiabortion movement, until I changed my mind and got out.
And yes, much talked about "corporate interests" dominate the Republican Party agenda, but the question is-- why do the foot soldiers who are most of the Republican voters go along with the billionaire's agenda?
In my new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway (in stores May 7) I describe what happened to religion in America due to sexual politics, hypocritical double standards and finally... insanity. But here's a thumbnail sketch for now:
What's so curious is that in this religion-inflicted country of ours, the same Evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics, and others who have been running around insisting that America had a "Christian foundation" and demanding a "return to our heritage" and/or more recently trashing health care reform as "communist" have ignored the fact that one great contribution of historic Christianity was a commitment to strong central government. For instance, as early as the fourth century, this included church support for state-funded, or state-church-funded, charities, including hospitals.
Government was seen as part of "God's plan" for creating social justice and defending the common good. Christians were once culture-forming and culture-embracing people. Even the humanism preached by the supposedly "anti-Christian" Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century was, in fact, a Deist/Christian "heresy," with a value system espousing human dignity borrowed wholesale from a once religious/biblical ethical system.
In the scorched-earth era of the "health care reform debates" of 2009 and beyond, Evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren't the evil government.
The Right even decided that it was "normal" for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies -- even for military operations ("contractors"), prisons, health care, public transport, and all the rest.
The Religious Right/Far Right et al. favored private "facts," too. They claimed that global warming wasn't real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too!
"Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!"
"Amtrak must make a profit!"
Even the word "infrastructure" lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges, and trains.
In denial of the West's civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, Evangelicals (and the rest of the Right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God's creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals.
The price for the Religious Right's wholesale idolatry of private everything is that in today's America Christ's reputation is now tied to a cynical political party "owned" by billionaires.
It only remained for a Far Right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns -- anonymously -- in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the superwealthy, who were now the only entities served by the Republican Party. So on January 21, 2010, a decades-old system of rules that governed the financing of the nation's elections was overturned in the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. The Supreme Court decision on corporate spending in political races thereby allowed the big corporations to call the shots on these elections (anonymously!).
To the old-fashioned conservative mantra "Big government doesn't work," the radicalized Evangelicals (and their Roman Catholic co-belligerents) have added "The U.S. government is evil!"
And the very same community -- Protestant American Evangelicals -- who once were the bedrock supporters of public education, and voted for such moderate and reasonable union-friendly leaders such as President Dwight Eisenhower, became the enemies of not only the public schools but also of anything in the (nonmilitary) public sphere "run by the government."
As they opened new institutions (proudly outside the mainstream), the Evangelicals doing this "reclaiming" cast themselves in the role of persecuted exiles. (As I describe in my new book Sex, Mom and God I was part of this uprising in the 1970s and 80s).
What they never admitted was that they -- we -- were self-banished from mainstream institutions, not only because the Evangelicals' political views on social issues conflicted with most people's views, but also because Evangelicals (and other conservative religionists) found themselves holding the short end of the intellectual stick.
Science marched forth, demolishing fundamentalist "facts" with dispassionate argument. So science also became an enemy. Rather than rethink their beliefs, conservative religionists decided to renounce secular higher education and denounce it as "elitist."
Thus, to be uninformed, even willfully and proudly ignorant (Palin), came to be considered a Godly virtue. And since misery loves company, the Evangelicals' quest, for instance when Evangelicals dominated the Texas textbook committees, was to strive to "balance" the teaching of evolution with creationism and damn the facts.
In the minds of Evangelicals, they were recreating the Puritan's self-exile from England by looking for a purer and better place, this time not a geographical "place" but a sanctuary within their minds (and in inward-looking schools and churches) undisturbed by facts.
Like the Puritans, the post-1970s Evangelicals (and many other conservative Christians) withdrew from the mainstream (homeschool movement etc.,) not because they were forced to but because the society around them was, in their view, fatally sinful and, worse, addicted to facts rather than to faith.
And yet having "dropped out" (to use a 1960s phrase), the Evangelicals nevertheless kept on demanding that regarding "moral" and "family" matters the society they'd renounced nonetheless had to conform to their beliefs.
The Evangelical foot soldiers never realized that the logic of their "stand" against government -- often motivated by so-called pro-life issues -- has played into the hands of people who never cared about human lives beyond the fact that people could be sold products. By the twenty first century, Ma and Pa No-Name were still out in the rain holding an "Abortion is Murder!" sign in Peoria and/or standing in line all night in some godforsaken mall in Kansas City to buy a book by Sarah Palin and have it signed. But it was the denizens of the corner offices at Goldman Sachs, the News Corporation, Koch Industries, Exxon, and Halliburton who were laughing.
...And that is "why" the Republicans are lashing out at unions, government, and at anything "collective" in fact at anything that diminishes the fact-free go-it-alone "ethos" of todays embittered Evangelicals. Their real war is with modernity, facts, science and progress. But since religious conservatives choose to live in an imaginary and magical "universe" and can't turn back the clock to a time when everyone else did to -- say the thirteenth century -- they'd rather see the whole fabric of our civil society shredded rather than reconsider their most cherished beliefs.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway