In the crisis over approving a rise in the debt ceiling which they themselves created, the Republican Party has reached a new high in hypocrisy and cruelty, not to mention madness. But since calling someone “insane” tends to let him or her off the hook (see Anders Breivik and his 1500-page manifesto), I’ll table that as well as the hypocrisy and get to the point. The GOP has a clear agenda—to cut government to the bone—and that is what needs to be examined. This is because it is obvious that the GOP doesn’t seem to have any problem with government handouts—so long as the handouts go to banks/Wall Street execs, military contractors, weapons manufacturers, oil companies, big Pharma and giant agribusinesses. They also don’t seem to have any axe to grind when it comes to government privileges for their favorite fundamentalist churches and anti-science wackadoos. What they have set their sights on are “entitlement” programs for the poor, the elderly, the underprivileged: you know, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Nevermind that Social Security is paid for over a lifetime of labor by those who get it (providing, by the way, a handy fund for the politicians themselves to “borrow” from whenever they need a little extra cash for a war they refuse to pay for). Nevermind that without Medicare, millions would be deprived of the minimal care that can’t even approach the luxurious health plan the pols have crafted for themselves. The most visible targets are government agencies like the EPA, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Parks, the Department of Education, Head Start, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, OSHA etc; and at the local level, the public schools, the public colleges, the parole and prison departments, and all departments that service, again, the poor, the unprivileged young, the elderly, the handicapped. What they can’t get rid of, they will try to privatize—again for the benefit of their corporate funders.
Consider a few lines from a piece by Nicholas Kristof (“Republicans, Zealots and Our Security”) in last Sunday’s NY Times. He first quotes Congresswoman Rosa Di Lauro:
“The attack on literacy programs reflects a broader assault on education programs,” said Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut. She notes that Republicans want to cut everything from early childhood programs to Pell grants for college students. Republican proposals have singled out some 43 education programs for elimination, but it’s not seen as equally essential to end tax loopholes on hedge fund managers.
So let’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.
What struck me in this last line was Kristof’s qualifier: “however unintentional.” The truth is, the GOP’s rampage against “bloated government” is both quite rational and viciously intentional (again, Anders Breivik comes to mind). It is to gut every program put together by Democrats from FDR’s Depression programs to LBJ’s Great Society, programs to provide not just a minimal safety net for the least fortunate Americans, but opportunity for all those who have been able, finally, to gain a tentative purchase on a decent life by finding government jobs at various levels. This is the whole point of the GOP’s coordinated campaign to destroy unions, “cut waste from government,” and cut taxes. It’s about eliminating the revenue source for those government jobs. It’s about cutting off the voter base—mostly Democrat—that those government jobs represent. And at its core, it’s about putting back in their place—at the lowest levels of society—all those “uppity” minorities who, through government equal-employment mandates, have ‘risen above their station.’ This includes blacks, Hispanics, and women, as well as the lefties and liberals who have long argued for the inclusion of such minorities in America’s prosperity.
It is this that most grates on the Republican zealots—now concentrated more than ever in the South and the West/Midwest. They hate the fact that teachers have tenure and all those “luxurious” pension plans. They hate the perceived “laziness” of government workers with “cushy” jobs and pension plans. Though it may bring them down as well (and it is doing just that; the massive loss of government jobs in the wake of the 2008 collapse is responsible for a large part of the high and persistent unemployment rate), they are willing to sacrifice their own well-being in order to appease their toxic resentment. This resentment is clear in the symbolic language (“to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”) used by the guru of this movement, Grover Norquist. Drown it in the bathtub? What is the size Norquist means here? Baby size? Are we to imagine an infant drowned in a bathtub? Who would use such imagery? A privatizing Republican zealot, that’s who. An artist of propaganda, of revenge, of cruelty. The heir to those massive crowds in the pre- and post-Civil War South who could relish the spectacle of torturing, burning, hanging a human being who had dared to transgress their sacred code of two worlds that could never, ever meet.
And with a black man in the White House, that resentment has only festered and grown more virulent, more ugly. Of course not even the most conservative of GOP leaders can come right out and give this voice. So they use the symbolic language of cutting taxes to cut government spending.
But don’t be fooled. If you’re wondering why the GOP is hell-bent on destroying government (even as Republicans and their corporate masters suck from the tit of that same government, and display a fierce determination to re-take its most visible power source), you can start with two simple but toxic causes: racism and resentment. Then add the infinite greed and casual cruelty of the elite (the top 1% of Americans now control more wealth than the bottom 90% combined; median wealth of Anglo households is now 20 times that of black households—see July 27 Pew Research report), and you’re pretty much there.