Amidst all the nonsense that the U.S. political scene has been since Barack Obama was elected in 2008, it is easy to lose sight of the master plan that those opposing the president really espouse. Viewed issue-by-issue, the forest may not be evident. But each of the trees that comprise a particular debate (be it concerns about the nation’s debt, furor over taxes, antagonism to health care reform, resistance to new energy sources, anger over illegal immigration, militancy on national defense, or opposition to stimulus spending) is very much part of an attempt to re-cast the identity of the country.
Before delving into the specifics, let’s acknowledge that this is not your grandfather’s Republican Party. In fact, if you are even in your thirties, it probably isn’t even your father’s. For example, can you imagine a Republican Party that embraced the concept of “Earth Day” and followed its president’s lead in approving legislation to regulate the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink?
Richard Nixon’s Republicans were such a party, passing major amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1970 and enacting the Clean Water Act of 1972. Nixon also championed wage and price controls to fight inflation (talk about government intervention!) and serious negotiations with sworn enemies in the Soviet Union and Communist China (comparable today with Obama seeking sit-downs with Iraq and North Korea, albeit those enemies are not nearly as threatening as the ones Nixon broke bread with).
Think this is the party of Ronald Reagan? Not if you remember his advocacy for strengthening Social Security (a large part of which was increasing the payroll tax rate for employers as well as future recipients). And not if you remember his willingness to increase tax rates generally to overcome a burgeoning federal deficit (his being the first administration to oversee a one trillion dollar budget deficit in any fiscal year). And certainly not if you recall his perhaps naïve desire to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. (Imagine what the party’s reaction would be if Obama were to even hint at such an idea today.)
No, those Republicans wouldn’t recognize these guys, or, if they did, they probably wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable with them. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan urging his “big tent” concept on today’s party, when any elected representative risks being “primaried” by even suggesting a vote in favor of an Obama initiative?
Reagan himself (the real guy, not the icon who has somehow been idealized beyond recognition) today would risk a rebellion from his right if he ever so much as suggested one of the eleven tax increases he approved over the two terms of his administration.
So let’s start this consideration of the current Republican Party by acknowledging that they are far, indeed exceedingly far, to the right of their recent forebears. But what do they really seek? What would the United States look like if they had their way?
For openers, we wouldn’t have Social Security or Medicare or unemployment insurance or a minimum wage or labor union bargaining rights or workplace safety requirements or EPA standards or employment discrimination laws or the ADA or the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act or any other regulation on the ability of business entities to do whatever they wanted.
All of those measures, you see, are restrictions on market economics, wherein everything is controlled by the market (the market defined as the free flow of goods and services that relies on the law of supply and demand absent any government interference on either). In a purely free market economy, government actions are only allowed to remove barriers, never to impose them. Thus, telling an employer what minimum wages he must pay, or whom she must serve or sell to, or how its products must be made, or what conditions must exist in its workplace, would be absolutely unthinkable.
Similarly, imposing any kind of tax on employers in the form of a social safety net would be reprehensible. But entitlement programs would unacceptable for another, even more basic reason: In the world today’s Republican Party envisions, everyone would be “free” to choose how to care for him- or herself.
This is another tenet of Republican orthodoxy, and it has its roots in the vehement opposition to anything that sounds like FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society. Those administrations, in the view of today’s Republicans, socialized America, and a socialist society is one that gives up the freedom to choose and the concomitant corollary of that freedom, the survival of the fittest.
Today’s Republicans have rediscovered Ayn Rand, that simplistic philosopher who preached self-reliance in the 1950s in such over-rated novels as “Atlas Shrugged” and “Fountainhead,” both of which present an idealized view of the world that ignores the sad truth that often bad things happen to good people.
Today’s Republicans very much believe in Rand’s credo: that selfishness is a virtue. Hence they oppose any government intervention that attempts to ameliorate the misery that “acts of God” can impose on otherwise law-abiding, hard-working, decent human beings. Rand didn’t believe in safety nets, unless they were constructed by the individual him- or herself. (She also didn’t believe in “love,” at least not in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word.)
So in a country controlled by today’s Republican Party, it would be every man and woman for him- and herself.
It would also be a country where the rich would get richer and everyone else would be carrying the load. Rand would never have admitted to being a plutocrat, but plutocracy is the end result of her philosophy when put into action, for it rewards success (survival of the fittest) and facilitates greater success for those who have been fortunate enough to achieve success.
If what I have described sounds like a colder and less supportive, less caring nation, you are seeing the right picture. Today’s Republican Party rejects anything that includes government involvement in the economic life of the country. In that respect, it is hell-bent on creating a country where “only the strong survive.”