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The Dead Core of McCain's Republican Party

10/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The current economic meltdown, along with the energy, health care and transportation nightmares in the US, are not so much an indictment of a capitalist society, as they are of Republicans' duplicity in advocating for free markets when their main purpose is precisely the opposite: to ensure that economic power remains in the hands of a few, preferably their friends. This in turn should guarantee Republicans' own political power thanks to bountiful donations, and their personal financial future with the promise of highly profitable "jobs" and "consulting" careers.

Now that it has thoroughly discredited the market economy it was ostensibly pushing, the Republican Party is left with no clear, logical economic agenda. Once the party of smaller government, greater choice and enterprise, John McCain's GOP has been reduced to the party that wants more government intervention (see constitutional amendments forbidding gay marriage) and less choice for women (see outlawing abortion in all cases), and stifles scientific research (see stem cells).

The greatest failing of Republican management has been to pretend that the government does not exist (except to send the country to war), until it is too late and the heretofore non-existent government has to come to the rescue of assorted investment banks, mortgage companies, insurance giants, etc, providing massively inefficient subsidies to those least in need of them, simply to prevent further disaster.

Eight years of Texas/Wyoming rule in the White House has given us an energy policy that has pushed the country deeper into the oil well thanks to direct and indirect financial and military support of the oil industry in the US and abroad. This corruption is, of course, disguised as giving in to Americans' deep love of driving and flying (ha!), notwithstanding the fact that the federal government actually ensures that consumers have no choice whatsoever when it comes to transportation.

Health care remains the most egregious disgrace in contemporary America, an uneconomical and unfair system that would be the laughing stock of the world were it not a matter of life and death. Here too, Republicans have been glaringly dishonest in advocating for free markets while ensuring that extraordinary profits are made by insurance and drug companies. The US spends more than any other on medical care, a huge proportion of its huge income, with so little to show for it that it has one of the lowest life expectancies among wealthy countries, sliding from 11th to 42nd in the past 20 years. In a place where such a premium is supposedly placed on social mobility, 15% of the population is without insurance: how the hell are you supposed to focus on moving up if your entire livelihood and your family's is dependent on you not getting the flu, let alone cancer? And in a country in which labor mobility is extolled as the greatest virtue, most workers are tethered to jobs for the sole purpose of "benefits" (ie access to health care), under constant threat of losing their threadbare medical safety net: how anti-capitalist is that? Even with insurance, mind you, over 1 million Americans file for bankruptcy every year after slicing through their life savings because they cannot work or because they have to meet "co-pays" and a Kafkaesque labyrinth of hidden costs they have to bear when they are catastrophically ill. McCain's response to this absurdly inefficient (let alone socially shameful) situation is a tax proposal that is so flawed that it will increase the number of uninsured. Barack Obama goes much further, but he and many Democrats remain painfully timid about revisiting the disastrous launch of health care reform in the 1990s.

Under the guise of free trade, the untouchable holy grail of the global economy, successive governments have let goods into the US produced under conditions that would be illegal in the US, making a mockery of federal labor laws, including those that apply to children and those that govern safety. Again, it is not so much the theory of free trade that is necessarily defective, it is its blind application and the rush to implement it, spurred by the need to please Republicans' (and, yes, occasionally Democrats') corporate sponsors. Republicans, though, do deny their masters one wish: borders that are legally open to immigrants, including highly skilled ones and students. McCain saw the writing on the wall during the GOP primary and did a 180-degree turn on this, more fearful for his political career than for his financial well-being (a luxury he can afford thanks to his wealthy wife.) And so the party of free trade and unfettered capitalism erects walls that are both physical and legislative to prevent the free flow of labor, not really stopping less-educated and less-skilled workers from entering the country, but making sure that technology and other sectors in need of skilled employees open campuses anywhere but in the US. Another unintended but ominous result: US schools of higher education, possibly the country's greatest asset, are under assault from foreign competitors who have seized the opportunity as students everywhere are turned off by a US education because of the non-academic burdens placed on them.

McCain's response to these challenges is so blatantly ignorant that it is clear that, in fact, he does not know they exist. Carly Fiorina, his chief economic advisor, has now confirmed what McCain himself told us last year: he is unqualified to manage the US economy. His previous chief economic advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, had previously opened our eyes to the McCain team's economic ineptitude when he accused "whining" US workers of being in a "mental recession." And of course, in an era in which technology is critical to the economic growth of any country, most of all one in which traditional industrial jobs are melting away, McCain has fewer computer skills, including email, than many 7 year-olds.

And thus, McCain is left to focus on what he likes best: foreign and culture wars. On the former, he is eager to throw yet more tax money to Halliburton and assorted corporate beneficiaries of US military largesse. Iraq and possibly Iran if McCain comes to power, provide yet more evidence of the warped oligarchical goals of the current US government and most of the Republican party: beneficiaries of the venture are among the staunchest friends of the GOP, from oil companies to weapons manufacturers to security firms, all of which have made billions from a war that has impoverished the country in countless ways, caused the deficit to balloon and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of US families. Under the guise of a "war on terror", Republicans have bloated the Federal government to a record size, concentrating its extraordinary power on the enrichment of a very few, while criminally neglecting its duty to the majority, all along claiming to want "smaller government, less taxes and more choice." The result feels more like kleptocratic Uzbekistan than it does a healthy capitalist society.

With the right-wing of his party having decreed that Sarah Palin would be his running mate, McCain now gives us the 80s and 90s culture wars, slightly revisited. This has long been the strategy of last resort for the Republican party. And, more often than not, it has worked. It may seem insane to many of us, but there really is a whole slice of the electorate for whom sexuality and race are the defining negative issues of the 21st century. You know the old GOP strategy may work one more time when working-class Democrats in Scranton, one of America's fastest-dying cities according to Forbes, plan to vote for McCain because of "the life issue," because Palin is "anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage [...], the perfect woman," and because if Obama wins "they" are going to make it "the Black House." As Forbes makes clear, Scranton hardly represents the future of America but it still matters a little, at least electorally, and the Republican Party is clearly betting its own life that such a city would rather die than to shed its prejudices.