With the midterms just over two months away, we are inundated with daily media reports on the election, most of them predicting doom for the Democrats. But what jumps out at me is how telling so many of the proposals and actions from Republican officeholders and candidates are, since they reveal that they are acting on behalf of a small group of right-wing extremists, not in the best interests of the American people.
To be clear, I'm all for political debate. I think for democracy to work, there has to be a free exchange of ideas, with the best solution to a problem winning the day. But in the current American political environment, we are missing two key elements necessary for our democracy to work. First, thanks to the dissolution of the mass media and the rise of a right-wing propaganda machine (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.), there is no longer an accepted common set of facts on which to base a debate. Instead, the right wing has decided to use lies and fear-mongering (everything from inventing death panels to questioning the ideological and religious beliefs of the president, including where he was born, to stoking fear of Islam) as a strategic method to win elections. As a result, we have a situation where, according to a recent Newsweek poll, 52 percent of Republicans think President Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world," and nearly a quarter think he is, in fact, a Muslim. Second, regarding the tea party-dominated Republican Party, in most cases, their proposals and tactics are not chosen with the best interests of the majority of Americans in mind, but are instead cynical attempts to win elections.
Today, Media Matters revealed how several right-wing media sources took a report from the InterAcademy Council on global warming and trumpeted it as proof that the threat from climate change was exaggerated, even though it said no such thing.
Again, policy debates are a good thing. And if someone thinks that we have no responsibility to act to beat back the debilitating effects of climate change, that person has every right to do so, and to make his/her best argument for that point of view.
But what is not useful for democracy is for partisans to knowingly lie about the facts in play to make an argument that plays to their rigid ideological position. The scientific community is not in a 50-50 split about the causes and effects of global warming. The IAC report (the one the right-wing propaganda machine insists debunks the global warming "myth") says: "Climate change is a long-term challenge that will require every nation to make decisions about how to respond."
I think a majority of Republican officeholders know that scientists are almost universally in agreement that global warming is a real issue, but they are choosing to allow the right-wing media to use lies to keep Americans doubtful, all for political gain. If the effects of global warming are real, these Republicans are not just failing to look out for what is best for Americans, they are actively preventing solutions from being discovered and implemented.
Global warming is just one example. On the myriad of problems we have to face as a nation, solutions are hard to come by because the tea party-controlled Republican Party has put political gain ahead of helping the American people.
Who are Republicans looking out for when they insist on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, even if they add to the deficit? By definition, the tax cuts would be a windfall for a tiny portion of the population (those making more than $250,000 a year) at the expense of the vast majority of Americans, both individually and collectively (higher deficits, fewer services and benefits). So to defend this gift to the wealthy, Republicans have to resort to fudging the facts. They argue that somehow the tax cuts help job growth by helping small business owners. But as numerous writers have laid out (a good example comes from Ezra Klein in the Washington Post), that argument has no basis in fact, as only a tiny percentage of small business owners are directly affected. (In fact, this paper from the Tax Policy Center of the of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution argues that "a majority of households that report small business income will end up worse off than they would have been without the tax cuts.")
When Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty issues an executive order forbidding his state from applying for federal health care aid, is he looking out for his state's citizens or his presidential aspirations? Clearly it's the latter, as he is blocking potential help to individuals in the name of his ideology. But such an action is not surprising given the Republican positions in the health care reform debate. Rather than engage in a productive discussion over how to handle the real problems facing the American health care system (as I've written many times before, while I support health care reform, I can easily make a thoughtful, compelling argument against it, even though no Republicans chose to do so), Republicans instead turned to fear-mongering and lies. (Death panels! Socialism!) Pawlenty is protecting his true constituency (corporations over individuals) and his own political ambitions, not the best interests of most of the people in Minnesota.
Similarly, with our education system falling behind many other countries of the world, and with the South's schools doing worse than the rest of the country, who is Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal helping when he said he would reject federal education aid if elected? Certainly not the children of his state. And when Nevada Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle says she would have voted against federal aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina (something, by the way, not a single senator actually did at the time), she clearly isn't looking out for the well-being of the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And the list goes on and on.
That's actually the heart of the problem here. You can disagree with the approach the president and the Democratic-controlled Congress took in addressing the massive problems left by the inept Bush administration. Again, debating solutions to problems is what underpins the people's faith in our democracy. But the Republicans never engaged in such a debate. They instead spoke and acted as if the Obama presidency was somehow illegitimate, even though he won a convincing majority of the American people. Rather than debate the benefits of a stimulus bill (and reveal that they were protecting their constituency: the wealthy and corporations), Republicans called Obama a socialist. Rather than debate foreign policy, politicians and candidates gave a wink and a nod as right wingers questioned his religion and his place of birth.
In the end, with the country facing massive problems, the Republicans decided not to act in the best interests of the American people and try and find solutions. The vast majority of Republicans holding office know that the president was born in Hawaii and is not a socialist. They know he advocated for health care reform out of a desire to help Americans, not as part of a plan to seize control of private corporations. They know that his economic proposals were his honest attempt to boost a recession-addled economy and restore a near-collapsed financial system, not an attempt to redistribute wealth. They know that his foreign policy actions were his honest best judgment meant to protect and promote the interests of the United States, not a secret plan to help radical Muslims. And they know that as president, he is doing what he thinks is right to help the American people, not to bring down the United States.
They know these things even as they stridently disagree with his policies. But rather than make that clear, these Republicans chose, instead, to allow the demonization to occur, knowing full well that many Americans would start to believe the lies. (We saw in the March Harris poll that revealed that 57 percent of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim, and 45 percent think he wasn't born in the United States.) Clearly, allowing these lies to take root is not in the best interest of the American people.
(It is interesting that Republicans accused Obama of intervening on behalf of the failing auto industry and proposing federal stimulus as part of an ideological attempt to assert government power over private industry. But these same Republicans have been completely silent over the fact that the American auto industry has not only rebounded since the federal government intervened, but the government will soon be selling off its shares in General Motors to private owners, as well as the report from Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi finding that the stimulus legislation was successful in saving and creating millions of jobs.)
As I wrote in July, I understand that Americans are angry. They have a right to be. But if they take that anger out by voting for Republicans in November, they will only be making a bad situation worse. In addition to playing into the GOP strategy of obstruction and dishonesty, they would be making it harder for the country to address the real and massive problems facing the country.
The GOP is looking out for a select group of constituents, but unless you are an extreme right-wing ideologue or in the top one percent of American earners, Republicans probably aren't trying to help you.