With the primaries now complete (and Republican voters in Delaware giving the Democrats a huge gift by nominating the East Coast version of Sharron Angle over the popular -- and probably unbeatable -- Mike Castle), the races are set for the midterm elections in November. With many forecasters predicting success for the GOP, it raises the question: When you cast a vote for a Republican candidate in November, what are you voting for?
There was a time when a principled Republican could fairly and accurately reply that he or she was voting for smaller government and lower taxes as a way of improving the fortunes of the middle class. (I personally disagree with that policy position, but it is a fair argument to make.)
But in the current Tea Party- and Beck-Palin-Limbaugh-dominated GOP, such an assertion is completely untenable. Recent news has shined a clear spotlight on exactly what the GOP is actually supporting. As I pointed out last month, odds are, the Republicans are not looking out for you.
1) A vote for a GOP candidate is a vote for the interests of the wealthiest Americans, at the expense of everyone else, including the middle class. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put his cards on the table when he said that senate Republicans will not accept anything short of a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, presumably voting against maintaining the tax cuts for those making less than $200,000 if the rich are not also included. It is important to note that just a day earlier, House Minority Leader John Boehner took a more reasonable position, saying he would vote for the extension of the tax cuts for those making less than $200,000 if he had to. (Here is a basic hint for life: If you are putting politics ahead of the good of the nation even more than John Boehner, it is a sign you have gone horribly off the rails.)
Unemployment is pushing 10 percent, Americans are concerned about the economy, and Republicans in the Senate are making their stand to support the wealthiest Americans? There is no reasonable, non-fringe economic argument that tax cuts on the top earners fuel job growth, but we know that these tax cuts have exploded--and would continue to explode--deficits (something House and Senate Republicans have previously said is just fine, putting tax cuts for the rich in front of deficit reduction).
McConnell's stand makes explicit what has long been clear in the actions of Republican lawmakers: They view their obligation first and foremost as protecting the wealthiest handful of Americans, above and beyond what is best for the rest of the country.
2) A vote for a GOP candidate is a vote to give power to a small handful of wealthy fringe Republicans who are pouring millions upon millions of dollars into anti-Democrat advertising. A front-page article in today's New York Times detailed how Republicans have outspent Democrats in House and Senate races so far, but that a bulk of the money has not come from the party or the candidates themselves. Rather, ads are being funded by independent interest groups who can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations without any obligation to report the identity of the donors. That means that a few wealthy extremists (the article points to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth funder Harold Simmons, a Texas billionaire, and the infamous David Koch) have pumped millions of dollars into these campaigns. So no matter what any of these Republican candidates say, whether they are crazy, fringe-right Tea Partiers like Sharron Angle, Ken Buck or Joe Miller, or more mainstream Republicans, they will be at the beck and call of the Koches and Simmonses of the world. And we know whose interests they will be looking out for. (Hint: If you're not a millionaire, you just may be out of luck.)
Timothy Noah recently wrote a great piece for Slate.com on the concentration of wealth in the United States. He notes that in 1915, about 18 percent of the country's wealth sat in the hands of one percent of Americans. After World War II (a time economists have called the "Great Compression"), the income disparity between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else shrunk, bringing down the wealthiest one percent's ownership to less than 10 percent of income. Beginning in 1979, a period Paul Krugman has called the "Great Divergence" began, as the rate started climbing. And the disparity in income exploded during the Bush years, so that by 2007, not only had the gains of the middle class been completely erased, but the ownership of the top one percent had soared to 24 percent of the nation's income.
The moral of the story is that Bush extended a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy.
As I've said again and again, there is anger in this country, and it is justified, but it needs to be channeled in the right direction. A vote for the GOP in November is a vote to reinstate the same wealth redistribution policies that helped to destroy the American middle class. In short, it is a vote for the top one percent to continue to increase its hold on the nation's wealth.
3) A vote for the GOP is a vote for the politics of fear. Since President Obama was elected, the Republican opposition to his presidency has been built on fear. Rather than offering competing policies, the GOP chose to lie and obstruct with the end game being scaring Americans into believing that the president was a dangerous extremist. It's not just the deranged ravings of pundits like Limbaugh, Beck and Palin, either. Reliance on fear (and absence of positive policy proposals) has been a hallmark of the Republican minority in Congress.
The GOP policy of fear is most apparent in the recent fomenting of Islamophobia. With unemployment strangling the nation, Republican politicians thought it was important to demonize an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. Last month I discussed how Republicans are cynically using the Islamic community center for political gain. But the issue is really bigger than just this one building in Manhattan.
Despite the Obama administration's stellar record in catching and capturing al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, Newt Gingrich spews out nonsense like:
"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? ... That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."
It's a blatant use of baseless fear for political gain, seeking to scare Americans into believing that the president can't keep them safe (even though, so far, he has). That is the way of the modern Republican party.
But the Republican use of fear goes beyond foreign policy and terrorism. Fear is at the center of GOP domestic policy as well.
Rather than debate the president's stimulus bill or budget on the merits, the GOP resorted to fear-mongering, calling the president a socialist. Debate health care? Why, when it is easier to scare senior citizens with made-up death panels and again trot out charges of socialism and government takeovers?
In his New York Times column today, conservative David Brooks described how the misunderstood and overly rigid application of anti-government theory by mainstream Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan is a recipe for a "political tragedy," a "fiscal tragedy," and a "policy tragedy." What especially struck me in Brooks' piece is a passage he cited from a Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by Ryan and American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks:
"The road to serfdom in America does not involve a knock in the night or a jack-booted thug. It starts with smooth-talking politicians offering seemingly innocuous compromises, and an opportunistic leadership that chooses not to stand up for America's enduring principles of freedom and entrepreneurship."
Ryan, one of the Republican leaders in the House, invokes terms like "serfdom" and "seemingly innocuous compromises," as well as making accusations that Democrats are not standing up for American principles. Let's be clear here. Ryan and Brooks are not saying that Democrats, in trying to dig the country out of an economic mess (created, incidentally, by a Republican president and Republican Congress), chose policies they thought would best do the job (which by any honest and fair assessment of the situation is the actual truth), but that they disagree with those choices. No, instead, they are accusing the president and the Democrats in Congress of actively trying to overthrow the American way of life, and to make citizens into serfs.
Ryan and Brooks aren't offering positive solutions. Rather, they make wild accusations to stoke fear in Americans.
Fear is really the only item Republicans are offering voters in November. The GOP isn't running on what they want to do (all they ever offer are more tax cuts for the rich), but instead on what bad things will happen if voters don't elect Republicans in November. Under the Republican narrative of fear, it's not that Democratic policies are well-intentioned but ineffective. It's that the Democrats are out to hurt Americans, and if voters leave Democrats in office, Americans will become serfs in a socialist takeover, which might not matter since the president is a Kenyan who doesn't want to defend the United States from Muslim terrorists.
Is this the country we want to be? Do we want to be ruled by fear?
Historically, that hasn't worked out so well for us. From the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II, to the McCarthy inquisition of the early Cold War, to J. Edgar Hoover's anti-civil rights investigations, America has taken actions out of fear that we, as a country, later came to regret. And after 9/11, George W. Bush's reaction was similarly extreme, in effect doing everything the perpetrators of the atrocity hoped he would (curtailing the rights of Americans and damaging the economy, American military power and the United States' standing in the world through the ill-conceived and botched invasion and occupation in Iraq).
And yet, fear is all the GOP has to offer voters in November.
Republicans will run in November against what they say is an expanding federal government, an echo of the GOP traditions of small government and lower taxes. But make no mistake: A vote for the Republicans in November will be a vote for something very different. A vote for the GOP will be a vote for policies that favor the richest one percent of the country at the expense of the rest of us. And it would be a vote for the kind of fear that, in our history, has resulted in anti-American behavior that we, as a country, eventually come to regret. That is the real Republican platform for November.