A harsh clear look at the history of the Republican Party
Summary: Understanding the roots of our dysfunctional political system requires shining a harsh light on the institutions that run the system. This post looks at the Grand Old Party, born fighting against slavery — and a sad history in the 20th Century.
- The GOP’s great betrayal
- Look at the present
- The GOP’s war on public health
- For More Information
- Tom Tomorrow explains the Class War
(1) The GOP’s great betrayal
The great betrayal in modern American history is the Republican Party giving a home to the South’s racists after the enactment of the great Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s — a straightforward accommodation of evil in exchange for political power. Selling their souls for 30 pieces of silver, instead of allowing the South’s racists to either accept this progress or marginalize themselves with a pariah third party.
But this is consistent with the GOP’s behavior before and since. To understand their inimical role shaping America, let’s take a brief look at our history. Perhaps the reform of America should start with the part most needing reform: conservatives, heal thyselves.
(2) Starting with the present: the GOP at work today
Look at the present. Today they are threatening to shutdown the Federal government, perhaps forcing a default and ruining a two-century long clear credit record (one of the finest in history). Even clearer is their advocacy for cutting the food stamp program while boosting subsidies for agri-corps. As explained in “Republicans: We Were Too Nice to the Hungry, But We’ve Fixed That“, Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine, 20 September 2013 — Excerpt:
Republicans hate domestic spending, but their hatred is not completely indiscriminate. Some programs offend them more, and others less. The general pattern is that social programs offend Republicans to the degree that they benefit the poor, sick, or otherwise unfortunate. The struggle over the farm bill is not the biggest policy dispute in American politics, but it is the one that most clearly reveals the priorities and ideological identity of the contemporary GOP.
The farm bill traditionally combines agriculture subsidies (which hands out subsidies to people on the arbitrary basis that the business they own produces food as opposed to some other goods or services) with food stamps (which hands out subsidies to people on the highly nonarbitrary basis that they’re poor enough to likely have trouble scraping together regular meals). Conservative Republicans revolted against the normally automatic passage, insisting that the cuts to food stamps — $20 billion — did not slice deeply enough. Last night the House rectified its failure by cutting food stamps by $40 billion.
The putative rationale for the food-stamp cuts is that eligibility standards have loosened, or that it encourages sloth. Jonathan Cohn makes quick work of these claims, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes long, detailed work of them. Click on those links if you want a blow-by-blow refutation. The upshot is that food stamps are a meager subsidy, of less than $1.40 per meal, for people either stuck in very low paid jobs or unable to find work at all. Their cost has increased because the recession has increased the supply of poor, desperate people.
… CNN reported last night that Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, a Republican supporter of the bill, received a daily meal allowance of $127.41, or 91 times the average daily food-stamp benefit. Lucas is also notable as a recipient of the agriculture subsidies his committee doles out: He and his wife have collected more than $40,000 worth.
… It’s the juxtaposition of the two programs that so clearly exposes the party’s agenda. Anti-government ideology can justify even the most vicious cuts to the safety net. It can’t justify the massive socialist scheme that is agriculture policy. And, to be fair, conservative intellectuals generally don’t justify agriculture socialism. But the Republican Party certainly does. The ultraconservative Republican Study Committee recently banned the Heritage Foundation from its meetings because Heritage denounced the GOP’s farm subsidies. There is a grim hilarity here: Republicans punished Heritage for its one technocratically sane position.
…It’s not baffling, nor is the notion that the Republican Party protects the class interests of the rich a “stereotype.” It’s an analysis that persuasively explains the facts.
Indeed, it’s the only analysis that persuasively explains the facts. I’d prefer to abolish agriculture subsidies completely while keeping in place (or boosting) food rations for the poor. A libertarian might want to abolish both programs, a socialist might want to keep both. I’d disagree but attribute the disagreement to philosophical differences. What possible basis can be found to justify preserving subsidies for affluent farmers while cutting them for the poor? What explanation offers itself other than the party’s commitment to waging class war?
(3) The GOP’s war on public health
The GOP’s role as vanguard of the class war has deep roots in American history, appearing in accounts of our past on a wide range of subjects. Such as in this history of America’s public health programs: “The Doctor Who Made a Revolution“, Helen Epstein, New York Review of Books, 26 September 2013 — Excerpts:
It was in the 1890s that Sara Josephine Baker decided to become a doctor. … By the time Baker retired from the New York City Health Department in 1923, she was famous across the nation for saving the lives of 90,000 inner-city children. The public health measures she implemented, many still in use today, have saved the lives of millions more worldwide.
Opposing public health services
… Articles about Baker’s lifesaving campaigns appeared in newspapers from Oklahoma to Michigan to California. In the late 1910s, she and other reformers drafted a bill to create a nationwide network of home-visiting programs and maternal and child health clinics modeled on the programs in New York. But the American Medical Association (AMA) — backed by powerful Republicans averse to spending money on social welfare — claimed the program was tantamount to Bolshevism. Baker was in Washington the day a young New England doctor explained the AMA’s position to a congressional committee:
“We oppose this bill because, if you are going to save the lives of all these women and children at public expense, what inducement will there be for young men to study medicine?” Senator Sheppard, the chairman, stiffened and leaned forward: “Perhaps I didn’t understand you correctly,” he said: “You surely don’t mean that you want women and children to die unnecessarily or live in constant danger of sickness so there will be something for young doctors to do?” “Why not?” said the New England doctor, who did at least have the courage to admit the issue: “That’s the will of God, isn’t it?”
Effects of the public health services revolution
… The enormous declines in child mortality that Baker helped bring about are frequently attributed to improved nutrition and a general improvement in working and living conditions, and to the availability of vaccines and antibiotics.
However, demographers who have studied the subject in detail have concluded that it had little to do with any of these things. Most vaccines and antibiotics weren’t available until after World War II and the “general uplift” in nutrition and living conditions occurred at the end of the 19th C, decades before the mortality decline. This may have set the stage for the drop in the death rate that followed, but the survival of babies didn’t substantially improve until safer milk supplies became widely available and, even more crucially, campaigns like Baker’s had helped women understand germs and how to avoid them, so that they could provide better care for their children.
… In 1971, a group of Washington officials and their allies in the civil rights movement drafted the Comprehensive Child Care and Development Act, which would have created a nationwide system of high-quality day-care, preschool, and home-visiting programs that resembled the national system of child health programs envisioned by Baker and other reformers fifty years earlier. It passed both houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support, but right-wing Republicans, using language similar to that used to quash the mother and baby care programs, pressured President Nixon to veto it.
As described in the excellent forthcoming documentary series The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of the Nation, Nixon’s adviser Pat Buchanan encouraged conservative journalists to write commentaries with headlines such as “Child Development Act — To Sovietize Our Youth,” which Buchanan would then present to Nixon in his morning press digest, as if it represented mainstream conservative opinion.Even though polls suggested that most Americans supported the bill, large numbers of letters denouncing it—some even comparing it to the Hitler Youth programs—poured into the White House.
Edward Zigler, head of Nixon’s Office of Child Development and one of the main architects of the bill, read through many of them. Most seemed to him to be form letters, and he suspected that the campaign had been orchestrated by a small number of conservative opponents. Nevertheless, the president got the message and vetoed the bill. This campaign gave rise to the “Family Values” movement, which has since attempted to thwart just about every legislative proposal to support American families. Today, nearly every other industrialized nation on earth provides some form of guaranteed support to families with young children. That America still does not is considered by many to be a national disgrace.
The infection of socialism has a hold on one part of America
… In some respects, contemporary America is not all that different. It turns out that there is one group of Americans that receives high-quality government-subsidized child-care services, including day care, preschool, home-visiting programs, and health care: the US military. Unlike the Soviet version, these comprehensive programs aren’t designed to create obedient little soldiers. Instead, they use a play-oriented approach to help bring out children’s individual cognitive and social capacity.
This may help explain why military children score higher on reading and mathematics tests than public school children, and why the black/white achievement gap is much lower in military families than it is in the general population. Since the military child-care program was created in 1989, the government has repeatedly declined requests to fund an in-depth evaluation, perhaps because if the effects were known, all Americans would demand these programs for their children too.
(4) For More Information
(a) About American politics:
- Posts about politics in America
- Posts about the Democratic Party
- Posts about Obama, his administration and policies
- The world of wonders: Democratic Party takes center, pushes GOP right to madness
(b) Posts about the Republican Party:
- Whose values do Dick and Liz Cheney share? Those of America? Or those of our enemies, in the past and today?, 14 March 2010
- The evolution of the Republican Party has shaped America during the past fifty years, 8 May 2010
- Will people on the right help cut Federal spending?, 19 June 2010
- Conservatives oppose the new START treaty, as they opposed even the earlier version negotiated by Ronald Reagan, 24 July 2010
- A modern conservative dresses up Mr. Potter to suit our libertarian fashions, 17 November 2011
- The key to modern American politics: the Right-Wing Id Unzipped, 15 February 2012
- Why Republicans Need Remedial Math: Their Budget Plans Explode the Deficit, 16 March 2012
- Let’s list the GOP’s problems. They’re all easily solvable, 12 November 2012
- The Republican Party is like America, and can quickly recover it strength, 14 November 2012
(c) The Great Betrayal: racism on the Right:
- Ron Paul’s exotic past tells us much about him, the GOP, libertarians – and about us, 27 December 2011
- What every American must know about the Republican Party, 16 October 2012
(5) Tom Tomorrow explains the Class War