As Victor Hugo's timeless novel arrives for another triumph with the Christmas release of Les Misérables on the big screen, Michigan Republicans launch another preemptive war against those who battle for higher wages and better working conditions for workers, performing the latest GOP imitation of Inspector Javert and demonstrating again why Republicans have lost three of the last four national elections.
In Les Misérables, Inspector Javert devotes his life to obsessively trying to destroy Jean Valjean, the hero of the novel, in the same way that Republicans today cannot let go of their perpetual enemies and demons, ranging from collective bargaining and Planned Parenthood to Medicare and Social Security. They deny the science of climate change, the dignity of food-stamp recipients and the value of teachers.
The contempt, derision and hostility of the GOP toward large numbers of voters creates fear that drives up their voting turnout and donations well beyond what is suggested by polls or predicted by pundits.
When Republicans try to destroy collective bargaining with the fanaticism of Javert trying to destroy Valjean, they create backlash and fear that escalates the organizing and activism of labor and its supporters.
When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia insults gays by opining in a way that appears to equate being gay with being a murderer, and disrespects his duty to be neutral on matters before the court, gay voters have every right to feel threatened by his judicial power. Shame on Justice Scalia. Whatever his explanations of his words, he should recuse himself from all gay-rights cases.
Like Inspector Javert pursuing Valjean, Republicans continue vendettas against Social Security and Medicare, which voters understand they deplore as successful "government programs" and dream of privatizing. Yes, Medicare savings that lower costs of care and increase the contribution of the wealthy are possible and desirable, but voters know this is not the Republican project. Current and future seniors have every right to be fearful that if given more power, Republicans would attack these programs even more aggressively, reduce their benefits, increase their costs and turn them into new profit centers for financial and insurance conglomerates.
Like Javert pursuing Valjean, the dominant wing of the GOP cannot let go of immigration policies that declare, "Show me your papers" (especially if you look different). Of course, many Hispanics feel insulted and threatened by these attitudes, policies and prospects of giving power to the party that pursues them.
Like Javert pursuing Valjean, Republicans cannot let go of their war against Planned Parenthood (traditionally supported by many Republicans), their opposition to pay equity for women (how many women support unequal pay?) and their support for members of the party who espouse offensive and repugnant views about rape. Of course, many women feel threatened by these and other wars against their interests and are motivated to action against them.
When Republicans act like Javert attacking Valjean with their obsession against public broadcasting (which is essential to rural America), show their neglect for student loans (not every student has a rich daddy) and nominate a presidential candidate who ridicules half the nation with broadside insults and contempt, voters realize these are not abstract attacks against "them" but are (to mix literary metaphors) Dickensian attacks against "us."
There is profound political relevance to the words of Victor Hugo that opened Les Misérables in 1862, a book he brilliantly stated would have value "so long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth" and so long as "the three great problems of the century -- the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light -- are unsolved" and so long as "ignorance and poverty exist on earth."
If Republicans keep obsessively pursuing their demons as Javert obsessively pursued Valjean, they will end up politically as he did, which is why I propose you read the book and enjoy the film.
A version of this column was originally published at The Hill.