Tag Archives: GOP

Remember Knowledgable Republicans?

I’m getting used to having my students express surprise when they discover that I used to be a Republican–that I even ran for Congress as a Republican.

I try to explain to them that the radical fringe that constitutes today’s GOP is nothing like the party I worked for over a period of 35 years. I tell them that although both parties have always included zealots and know-nothings of various sorts, I remember a time when serious people who cared about America’s prospects and were even willing to work across the political aisle could be found in both parties.

A recent media release from the Lugar Center is evidence not just of the accuracy of that recollection, but the distance between then and now.

Washington–Former Sen. Richard G. Lugar said today many of President Trump’s stated foreign policy goals are “simplistic, prosaic and reactive,” and are characteristic of “a selfish, inward looking nation that is being motivated by fear, not a great superpower with capacity to shape global affairs.”

In remarks prepared for a Washington event hosted by the Foreign Policy Association, Lugar, a former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that if Trump fully followed through on his current policies for trade, immigration and international alliances, “the net effect…would be an economic and geopolitical disaster.”

Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who served 36 years in the Senate, said the president is relying too much on beefing up the military while “squandering America’s international leverage.”

“We cannot bomb our way to security,” Lugar said.

Always the diplomat, Lugar attributed the “missteps” of the Trump Administration to a period in which it was “finding its footing.” (Those of us who are far less diplomatic might suggest that in order to find one’s footing, it is helpful to know what a floor is…But I digress.) He did, however, address several of the issues that he clearly considers troubling, if not disastrous.

What worries him Lugar said,

are Trump’s “campaign-driven foreign policy themes that are fundamentally contradicted by centuries of world history.”  For instance, Trump’s protectionist trade agenda ignores the powerful impact of technology on job displacement, Lugar said, and “attempting to isolate a nation from trade competition is a self-defeating strategy that will hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder before anyone else.”

“On immigration, we are mired in a debate of distraction,” Lugar said. “In a world where dampening the rise of new terrorists is as important as dealing with existing ones, the ban on entrants from Muslim countries represents the most obvious recruitment tool against the United States since Abu Ghraib…The ban has been a steep net loss to U.S. national security.”

Lugar, a strong supporter of NATO throughout his Senate career, also expressed concern about Trump’s willingness to question U.S. commitment to our allies as he seeks to wring more contributions from them. “Such ambiguity is not clever,” Lugar said. “It is dangerous and can lead to deadly miscalculation.”

A couple of things about these public remarks struck me: first–and most obvious–is the monumental distance between statesmen like Richard Lugar and the Keystone Kops party of Trump, Pence, Ryan, McConnell and “Freedom Caucus” ideologues who now are both the face and the substance of a once-responsible GOP. Where we once had thoughtful, intellectually-honest elected officials who understood the complexities of government and world affairs, we now have posturing fools who don’t know what they don’t know.

The second thing that struck me was how unlike Dick Lugar it is to voice these concerns publicly. Lugar has always been a good “soldier,” unwilling to go public with criticisms of others in his party (and muted in his critiques of Democrats, for that matter). Even out of office, he has been collegial to a fault.

He must be really, really worried.

 

 

The Worst-Case Scenario

Okay, thanks to some despicable behavior by the self-styled “moralists,” and millions of Koch brother dollars, Neil Gorsuch is now the newest Supreme Court Justice. So–aside from occupying Merrick Garland’s seat and a worrisome tendency to favor the arguments of corporate and “religious” litigants– what is the worst thing that can happen?

He manages to get Roe v. Wade overturned.

What would happen then?

Several red states would immediately pass laws making abortion illegal, something the Constitution currently prevents. Other states, however, would leave the decision where it belongs– with the woman, her family and her doctor. Women living in states prohibiting abortion– those who could afford it– would travel to states where it remained legal, and would have their abortions there. Others would go back to the remedies available in the “good old days”–coat hangers and dangerous “potions”– and many of them would die or become sterile.

Hopefully, there would be groups formed to raise money to cover the costs of poor women’s travel to states where abortion remained legal. We might expect the war on Planned Parenthood to abate somewhat–or at least devolve to the states– since the national anti-choice movement wouldn’t have Roe to kick around any more.

The political tsunami, however, would be the most interesting consequence of such a decision.

Survey research confirms that substantial majorities of Americans do not want to see Roe overturned. They may or may not support a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy, but they are appropriately leery of allowing government to dictate that decision. It is only a rabid anti-choice constituency that has maintained the political potency of reproductive choice as an issue. (I have a sneaking suspicion that most of these folks believe overturning Roe would end abortion in the U.S. It wouldn’t–it would simply leave the issue up to the states.)

Research suggests that anti-choice citizens are far more likely to be single-issue voters than pro-choice Americans. But that could change once a right that has been taken for granted is revoked. Pro-choice voters–especially women, who are already more likely to vote Democratic– would be more than irate; they would blame the GOP for the loss of reproductive liberty, and would be very likely to vote in even greater numbers against a party that so vividly demonstrated its contempt for women’s right to self-determination.

Anyone who participated in the Women’s March on Washington–in the nation’s capital, or in any of the multitude of other venues–and looked out over the sea of “pussy hats,” saw the signs being carried and heard the passionate speeches being made–understands the extent of the fury that would be unleashed by a Supreme Court  retreat from Roe v. Wade. Anti-choice activists have been a (generally marginal albeit important) asset to theocratic Republican candidates, but the pro-choice legions that would erupt after such a Court decision would create political blowback of massive proportions.

The GOP has used the issue of abortion to turn out a relatively small but very intense constituency in election after election.

If Roe is gone, the national GOP will no longer be able to rely on the issue of abortion to generate turnout, or to obscure or outweigh the party’s retrograde positions on other issues. If decisions about the legality of abortion devolve to the state level, the passions will also devolve. Some states will respect women’s right to autonomy, some will not. But in the absence of Roe v. Wade, abortion would lose its potency as a national right-wing wedge issue.

And Democrats would solidify their position as the party protecting and promoting women’s rights.

Republicans should be careful what they wish for.

 

 

Politics and Racism

There’s an ongoing debate about the extent to which bigotry motivated Trump voters.

Certainly, his anti-Muslim diatribes resonated with the Republican base, no matter how devoid of logic or fact. (As has been pointed out many times, immigrants from the nations singled out by Trump’s Executive Orders have been responsible for exactly zero terrorist attacks in the United States; however, had the courts not stayed them, those Orders would have affected 15,000 Doctors.)

But it wasn’t only Muslim-Americans. Trump inveighed endlessly against Mexican immigrants, used code words and stereotypes to communicate his animus against African-Americans, and defended himself (weakly) against charges of anti-Semitism by pointing out that his daughter had converted to Judaism when she married.

And of course, his “wall” was an obvious metaphor for the division between “us” and “them.”

There was a reason he was enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK and a number of equally disreputable white supremacist groups.

That said, pundits on both the left and right have protested the unfairness of attributing support for Trump to racist attitudes, rather than to economic distress and/or Hillary hatred. So recent research from the General Social Survey is illuminating.  As Ed Brayton reports,

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago does continual polling on many questions called the General Social Survey. And it shows that while American society as a whole still buys into racist stereotypes, Republicans are far more likely to hold such views.

The General Social Survey is one of the oldest, and largest, recurring surveys of American behaviors and attitudes. It collects far more data than most researchers can afford to do, and as a result, as Brayton notes, it is able to “drill down” further than most similar efforts.

The 2016 results have now been released, and they are both noteworthy and concerning.

The partisan gaps among whites were as wide or wider than we’ve seen since the survey first started asking most of these questions in the 1990s. It’s not that white Republicans’ views of African Americans have dimmed so much as that they haven’t kept pace with those of white Democrats. But in some cases, the GOP has moved in the other direction.

The biggest yawning gap between Democrats and Republicans is on the issue of motivation and will power. The GSS asks whether African Americans are worse off economically “because most just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?”

A majority — 55 percent — of white Republicans agreed with this statement, compared to 26 percent of white Democrats…

The survey also asks people to rate the races on how hard-working or lazy they are, which allows us to compare whether people rate some higher than others.

In this case, 42 percent of white Republicans rated African Americans as being lazier than whites, versus 24 percent of white Democrats.

Are we really supposed to believe that all those voters who said they liked Trump because he “tells it like it is” and “isn’t ‘politically correct'” were reacting to his position on trade?

Racism and stereotyping may be more pronounced among Republicans, but Democrats are hardly immune. Refusing to admit how consequential racism is, refusing to recognize how many of our political and social attitudes are rooted in disdain for the “Other,” distorts public discourse and perpetuates bias and misunderstanding.

America has a problem–and a blind spot.

 

Interesting Parallels

History doesn’t really repeat itself, at least in the sense of “re-enactment,” but there are historical cycles with striking resemblances. We really can learn from history–if we are open to pondering its lessons.

Because I think the past can illuminate the present, I found this article by a Brookings Institution scholar fascinating.

Philip Wallach looked at various pieces of evidence offered by November’s elections–the electoral dominance of the GOP, followed by dissent and disarray, and asked whether America might be on the cusp of a realignment:

A month-and-a-half into Trump’s presidency, however, the tensions are looking more overwhelming than manageable. Internecine fights between Republicans, about both the party’s biggest priorities and the president’s unprecedented persona, erupt into headlines daily. And so we find ourselves wondering: could the GOP coalition be impossible to hold together? Might we be witnessing the beginnings of a serious partisan realignment, perhaps even the end of the long era of Democrats vs. Republicans in federal politics?

Wallach proceeded to analyze this question by comparing today’s political landscape to a “neglected chapter in American history”: the downfall of the Whig Party from its peak in 1848 (the year its outsider candidate won the presidency and gave Whigs effective control of American government), to 1856, when for all intents and purposes, the party no longer existed.

That period featured surging nativism, profound uncertainty for both major parties, and a striking number of rhymes with our current political moment. Then, as now, the issues that provided the traditional lines of contestation between the two major parties were losing potency while new divisions were taking their place.

Wallach proceeds to enumerate the schisms within the GOP that might well lead to that party’s disintegration–the various factions rejecting Paul Ryan’s healthcare “reform,” similar disputes over tax policies, deep disagreement with Trump’s populist policies on trade, and concern over what Wallach delicately refers to as Trump’s “preoccupations” and “personality.” He then turns to the Democrats.

Although the GOP’s troubles are more vivid just now, Democrats are in some ways in just as serious a predicament. Insurgent populists and establishment neoliberals are deeply suspicious of each other and divided on where the party’s future lies, as was made apparent by the bitter fight over the DNC chairmanship.

What internal conflicts ultimately fractured and dissolved the Whigs? The most important was slavery, but there were also deep divisions over prohibition and the rise of anti-Catholic nativism. There had been a major influx of Catholic immigrants, especially German and Irish, and the “native” Protestant Americans, who tended to be  Whig voters, accused these immigrants of “popery,” criticized their use of foreign languages, and decried their participation in “corrupt” urban political machines. (They also tended to drink demon alcohol.) A number of Whig politicians adopted virulently nativist positions as a way of energizing their base. (Sound familiar?)

Wallach identified a lack of leadership continuity as another reason the Whigs imploded:

As the party looked for a champion going into the presidential election of 1848, a majority of its members opted to put their trust in a man who had no political history in the party at all. General Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War, seemed to be “a new Cincinnatus, a man who, like the revered Washington, stood above party.” There were even those who were enthusiastic about rebranding the party, abandoning the “Whig” label in favor of “Taylor Republicans.”

However, Taylor’s policies enraged a substantial number of Whig partisans, allowing the “Know Nothings” and others to step into the breach.

It is hard to exaggerate how rapid and widespread the expansion of Know-Nothingism was in the 1850s. Founded as the secret “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner” in 1849, Know-Nothings built up a vast hierarchical organization of lodges and established themselves as the dominant force in many parts of the country. Officeholders of both parties, but especially Whigs, found that their political fortunes depended on having themselves secretly inducted into the rapidly growing order. As long as Know-Nothings remained officially secret, they seemed to offer a kind of symbiotic relationship with the Whig Party rather than posing a direct threat. But members of the movement, active in both the North and South, soon desired a more public arm of their movement, leading to the founding of parties variously called “Native American,” “American,” or “American Union,” in 1854 and 1855.

I won’t belabor these parallels further (although I can’t resist comparing the Tea Party to the “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner”).

It may be that the American political structure–a structure that overwhelmingly privileges a two-party system– will end up saving both Republicans and Democrats in their present form, although not necessarily in their present, respective substances. But the parallels–and their implications– are worth pondering.

On the other hand, we may truly be in previously uncharted waters….

The Unarguable Benefits of Universal Healthcare

As political posturing over the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) continues, the fiscal and social benefits of expanded access to healthcare become steadily more obvious.

The journal Health Affairs recently reported an 8 percent increase per year in the number of early-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses since passage of the ACA. Extrapolated across the country, the researchers estimate the ACA led to approximately 8,400 additional early-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses among seniors between 2011 and 2013.

A 2015 study published in JAMA found that the ACA had increased the number of early-stage cervical cancer diagnoses in women aged 21 to 25.

Early diagnosis doesn’t just increase the likelihood of successful medical intervention; it significantly reduces healthcare costs. When cancer is caught earlier, it is cheaper to treat.

America’s healthcare costs have long been far higher–and our outcomes considerably worse-– than in countries with universal systems. The lobbying clout of Big Pharma and Big Insurance continue to make a cost-effective “Medicare for All” politically impossible, but even with its problems, the ACA has vastly increased the number of Americans who are insured while significantly slowing the rise of healthcare spending; last June, Fortune Magazine reported

The United States will save about $2.6 trillion on health care expenses over a five-year period compared to initial projections made right after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

While health spending spiked briefly in 2014, evidence shows that it has once again slowed down and will help save Americans trillions between 2014 and 2019, according to a new study by the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Spending declines will happen across both private health insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuaries predicted that total Medicare spending between 2014 and 2019 would be $455 billion lower than the ACA baseline forecast. Projected Medicaid spending over the same time period is expected to be $1.05 billion lower than previous ACA estimates, while private insurance spending projections declined by $664 billion.

I simply do not understand the Republicans’ hysterical opposition to the ACA. Both health outcomes and cost controls have improved, and problems with the program can be fixed with relatively minimal tweaking. The program’s popularity has also improved. (According to survey research, approximately half of those who do remain unhappy with Obamacare complain that it doesn’t go far enough–they would prefer a single-payer system.)

It isn’t just the ACA. Paul Ryan and the GOP are threatening to dismantle both Medicaid and Medicare–programs with low overhead and proven effectiveness– and they are intent on defunding Planned Parenthood, which delivers critical medical services to millions of poor women.

It isn’t as though a free market system could work for healthcare. Market transactions require a willing buyer and a willing seller, both of whom are in possession of all information relevant to the transaction. Equal bargaining power doesn’t describe real-world doctor-patient relationships. In that real world, insurance companies have virtually total control over the options available to those fortunate enough to have coverage.

It seems inconceivable that Ryan, et al, simply do not see the multiple fiscal and social benefits of universal–or at least expanded–access to healthcare. So what accounts for their persistent hostility to programs that have proven their effectiveness? Why are they intent upon substituting block grants for Medicaid, turning Medicare into a “voucher” system, destroying Planned Parenthood and eviscerating the ACA?

If the answer to that question is what I think it is– slashing social programs that benefit millions of Americans will allow them to subsidize the insurance and pharmaceutical industries even more generously and deliver more tax cuts to their wealthy patrons–I wonder how they sleep at night.