Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Republican Party Cannot Govern Anymore: Part 3

In the previous installment, I covered the GOP's obsession with money over people. Today I would like to delve into Republican ideology ... such that it is, anyway.

Let's be honest. From an ideological perspective, the modern Republican Party makes the sinking of the Titanic look like a dripping faucet. They claim to be the party of conservatism and Reagan, but let's take a closer look at what is actually going on in GOP-land.

First, there are the Tea Partiers. Back in the day when they first splattered all over the national political landscape, they referred to their demonstrations as "teabagging," apparently completely unaware what this is a euphemism for (and if you still don't know, look it up. I don't peddle smut, I peddle loud, vitriolic bile). These are people who claim they are Constitutional originalists, but this is malarkey. The Tea Party was born out of a hatred of President Obama and a fervent belief that anything that came from him was bad.

Take the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, for example (aka "Obamacare"). This was originally called RomneyCare when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts and it was implemented there in 2006. In fact, the similarities between the two plans are striking: both include individual mandates, penalties for not buying insurance, and Medicaid expansions, for example.

When RomneyCare was first introduced, the GOP was thrilled with it. Democrats, less so. Republicans hailed it as a triumph of the free-market system and the best possible option to ensure coverage for all without resorting to single-payer.

Skip forward four years. President Obama had seen this plan, liked it, modified it slightly to make it work at the national level, and introduced it as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As soon as he did, Tea Party Republicans started screaming "socialized medicine" and demanding that "the tyrant Obama" be impeached for ... something, I guess. I was never really clear, as nobody actually presented a legitimate charge against him.

This "anybody but Obama" approach carried through both of his terms. During an address about Obamacare to a joint session of Congress on September 9, 2009, Rep Joe Wilson (R-SC 2) shouted "You lie!" ... a stunning breach of protocol that would have drawn immediate censure in any other situation, if not expulsion. Yet in the week immediately following the outburst, Wilson raised $1.6 million for his re-election campaign.

Wilson, along with family members, friends, and close associates, all deny that his actions were racially motivated. While this may be true for Rep. Wilson himself -- and I personally believe it is, although this begs the question of what his motivation actually was, then -- the same cannot be said for all of his supporters, many of whom simply couldn't abide a person of color as President.

This is indicative of one of the unspoken pillars supporting the Tea Party platform: racism. After all, Tea Party memes have included depictions of Barack and Michelle Obama as apes, of Michelle Obama as a man in drag, and images of Obama being lynched in effigy. Tea Party intellectuals (as oxymoronic as it sounds, there are a couple of these) say their opposition to Obama was based on his purported violations of the Constitutional checks on the power of his office, but let's be honest. President Obama did nothing that his predecessor hadn't done.

Well, except for actually killing Osama bin Laden, of course.

All this makes the Tea Party unfit to govern. With an ideology based on racism and xenophobia, and an unwillingness to even consider the possibility that a national government might be more effective in certain cases, the Tea Party limits itself to a very narrow set of principles that are actually in direct opposition to a small-R republican form of government.

Another part of this three-legged stool is staunch social conservatism. Tea Party members are opposed to abortion. They support the idea of a blurring of the line between church and state, and are not fundamentally opposed to the idea that the United States is a nation based in Christianity. They oppose things like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which amended the statute of limitations that applied when a pay discrimination case is filed, making it easier for people to file pay discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). They are opposed to immigration in general -- 68% of them believe all immigration is detrimental to the United States (according to a poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal in 2014). They oppose environmental regulations that would require companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 74% to 23% margin.

The final leg of this stool is centered around fiscal issues. Tea Party members actually have a fiscal ideology somewhat closely related to the original Articles of Confederation, in which virtually all functions were handled at the state level and the federal government was relegated to national defense and regulation of interstate commerce only. This libertarian ideal underpins much of the Tea Party rhetoric surrounding fiscal concerns.

However, the Tea Party is not the only branch of the Republican Party. There are also the religious conservatives, represented by such groups as Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition and James Dobson's Focus on the Family. This branch of the party firmly believes that the United States is a Christian nation and should be governed by biblical principles. This is somewhat similar to the Tea Party, but where the Tea Party holds that the line between church and state is a little vague, the religious conservatives want to remove it altogether.

These are the folks behind such things as putting the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state house, or ginning up a "war on Christmas" every year because non-Christians ... well, exist. They were the ones responsible for putting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and have been at the forefront in the battle over abortion rights. Basically they want Jesus to run the show and the government to act merely as enforcers of the word of God.

The religious right (which is actually neither ... more on that later) is behind repeated efforts to defund Planned Parenthood due to the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services in addition to everything else they do. Forget for the moment that it is already illegal to use federal funds for abortions, or (thanks to the Hyde Amendment) to use federal funds to even talk about abortion (a possible First Amendment violation), or that abortion services constitute somewhere in the neighborhood of 3% of the activities of Planned Parenthood ... the majority of their work is in women's health, such as pap smears, cancer screenings, birth control, and general health screenings for low income people. These guys just want it gone, and they want it bad.

Once you peel away the rhetoric, though, it becomes clear that the religious right is less opposed to abortion than they are the idea that women are equal members of society. It is this faction of the GOP that was behind things like:
  • Virginia's transvaginal ultrasound bill, which required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound of the fetus -- an invasive procedure that fits the federal definition of rape, defined as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
  • Legislation such as the law in Texas that requires any physician performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital, and to have facilities where abortions are performed to conform to the same standards as surgical facilities, even though the majority of abortions are medical (using medications to terminate the pregnancy) as opposed to surgical, and almost all abortions are performed on an outpatient basis.
  • Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Opposition to legislation requiring equal pay for women.

In addition, this group opposed same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violates the biblical injunction that marriage be between one man and one woman, even though Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. This stems from a history of opposition to any form of "non-traditional" marriage: in the 1960s, Judge Leon Bazile wrote in his decision upholding the interracial marriage ban in Virginia that "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. ... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." This decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia (1967).

Further, they repeatedly made -- and still make -- the preposterous claim that same-sex marriage erodes the right of the faithful to publicly denounce same-sex marriage. It does not. The right to publicly denounce same-sex marriage is protected by the First Amendment.

This raises another question, one that the slew of "religious liberty" laws (which were not about liberty at all ... more on that in a minute) attempted to answer: where does this right to denounce end, and is it appropriate to curtail this right in any way?

Religious conservatives felt the answer to this question was that the right to denounce should not be infringed upon in any manner, and they picked Kim Davis, a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, as their poster child for this effort. Ms. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the United States Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage was legal, claiming that doing so would violate her "sincerely held religious beliefs." Mike Huckabee, in the roughly 47 minutes he was a candidate for President, tried to use her as a means to woo religious conservatives, then got publicly spanked for using Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" without their permission.

The thing that the GOP (willfully or otherwise) overlooked is that there was no infringement of religious liberty happening here. Kim Davis was perfectly free to voice her opposition to same-sex marriage -- as a private citizen. That right remained inviolate, and if anyone had tried to infringe on it I would have been among the first to come to her defense.

However, Kim Davis is not issuing marriage licenses. The Clerk of Rowan County is. The Clerk of Rowan County, interestingly, is also non-religious (as per the Establishment Clause of the same First Amendment that protects Ms. Davis' right to claim that Jeebus doesn't like gays, or something) due to it being a position in government. It is this refusal to separate one's personal faith from one's official role that makes religious conservatives a dangerously destabilizing force in government.

Interestingly, you never hear the same concern for infringement on religious liberty when Republicans speak about Muslims, or trump tries to impose a ban on Muslim immigration, or Muslims are repeatedly demonized as a whole due to the actions of a few fundamentalist nutjobs. After all, many Christians have distanced themselves from the likes of Kim Davis, saying that she does not represent all of Christianity ...

The final leg of this stool consists of socially moderate fiscal conservatives. These are people that, when you look at their proposals, sometimes seem to be halfway decent people. This is the wing of the Republican Party of which Paul Ryan claims to be the intellectual leader ... which is to say, this wing of the party is completely rudderless. I mean, let's face it. Ryan's idea of fiscal conservatism is trickle-down economics and the writings of Ayn Rand ... appropriate, considering that most of what Ryan peddles falls under the heading of "science fiction."

To begin with, trickle-down economics -- or, as known by its more formal name, "supply side economics" -- has been proven not to work as advertised. The idea behind the theory is that, by concentrating wealth at the top of the socioeconomic ladder, it will "trickle down" to the lower rungs, and thus prosperity for everybody. This philosophy has been summarized in the aphorism "A rising tide lifts all boats."

What it fails to take into account is that, if you concentrate wealth at the top, they are going to keep it. Because, you know, people are generally greedy bastards. Proof of this can be found in Kansas, which had a supply-sider in the governor's mansion and a raft of 'em in the state houses. Governor Sam Brownback instituted economic policy that dovetailed almost exactly with classic supply-side economic theory in that state. As a result, businesses left in droves for friendlier climes in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Arkansas; schools were forced to close for the year over a month ahead of schedule due to severe budget cutbacks, private-sector job growth was well below the national average, and Brownback's tax overhaul actually increased the tax burden for the poorest residents of the state.

So the "rising tide" analogy, while it seems to make sense on the surface, is misleading at best, and probably deliberately ingenuous. What actually happens is that this "rising tide" is diverted to the wealthiest, leaving everyone else in a drought.

This is where the heads of "fiscally conservative" Republicans are at. The underlying economic belief that prosperity begins at the top, even though it has been thoroughly discredited over the past forty years or so, is one of the pillars on which the modern Republican Party is built. The problem is that it leaves out 99% of the population ... but hey, the campaign dollars keep flowing, and that's all that matters, right?

In summation, the Republican ideology is not a healthy one for our country because:
  • It tacitly accepts, if not actively promotes, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.
  • It attempts to impose a strict fundamentalist Christian theology on the rest of us, and to delegitimize other belief systems -- including (and especially) atheism and Islam.
  • It espouses an economic approach that only benefits the wealthiest few and imposes even ore hardships on the poor.
Because of these reasons (at least), the GOP is not fit to be in power. Unfortunately we have to wait until 2018 to fix it ...

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