Tag Archives: GOP

The Once-Grand Old Party

According to Nate Silvers’ 538.com,

Democrats have deep divides over policy. In contrast, Republicans, at both the state and federal levels, are largely unified around an agenda of cutting spending for programs such as Medicaid that are targeted at low-income people, defending Americans’ ability to own and purchase guns, limiting abortion, and reducing regulations and taxes on businesses.

If you analyze those GOP positions, they all come down to screwing over poor people–either by shrinking the social safety net, by refusing to respect their personal autonomy, or by allowing businesses to ride roughshod over laws that were originally passed to protect them (and the rest of us).

Oh, and of course, ensuring that “good Americans” have access to guns to protect themselves against the freeloaders.

If you do a deeper dive into these positions–especially if you consult research conducted in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election–you’ll notice that Republicans picture the poor people they disdain as overwhelmingly black and brown. Other. Them. Those people. Not like “us.” Not “real Americans.”

The GOP of my younger days has been replaced by a White Nationalist cult.

I can remember when the Republican Party–at least in Indianapolis–was the party of good government, when the party people with whom I worked genuinely cared about building a society that worked for everyone.

Were there always some venal people in the GOP? Was there a racist and anti-Semitic fringe? Sure. There were also plenty of unsavory characters among the Democrats. No political party, no movement, no government is free of all corrupt influences. No party supports policies that all turn out to be good ideas. Especially when a political party is in power, the climbers and hangers-on and self-interested will gravitate to it and if those in positions of authority aren’t careful, they’ll pollute the entire organization.

Purity, unfortunately, is inconsistent with humanity.

That said, in the GOP I knew, among the candidates I supported and the volunteers with whom I worked, most were genuinely good people, and they are almost all gone now from the party ranks. When I talk to them–party workers, former political appointees and officeholders–they are depressed and appalled at what the Republican party has become.

Nixon’s southern strategy has become the Republicans’ national identity.

The problem is, America desperately needs two adult, reasonable, non-racist parties. In the absence of Republicans of good will, intellectual honesty, and rational policy prescriptions, the Democrats will fracture into warring factions. (We’re already seeing that, as the quote from 538.com recognizes.) That’s because, in a two-party system, when people with respectable political philosophies can’t imagine affiliating with one of those parties (because it is no longer respectable), and thus join the other party, that other party loses coherence. Policymakers lose the benefit of competing, rational prescriptions for dealing with the nation’s issues.

The Whigs went the way of the buffalo. Today’s iteration of the GOP needs to go with them.

America needs a new center-right party that is genuinely conservative–as a philosophy, not as a cover for racism, theocracy and plutocracy.

Indiana–Ignoring Law, Pursing Bad Policy

The current push by the Trump Administration to add work requirements to Medicaid is stupid and unworkable–not that Trump understands or cares. It is also likely to be costly–adding another condition to receipt of health care is yet another bureaucratic task, another box to be checked off by someone who must be paid to do the checking.

People knowledgable about the program point out that virtually all Medicaid recipients fall into one of three categories. They are elderly, disabled or children. (This is an administration that doesn’t listen to experts, of course. The President’s “gut” is the basis of policy, not evidence or fact.) The consensus of opinion from experts is that it would cost far more to administer the requirement than it would save by throwing a very few people off the program (unless, of course, the requirement is applied more broadly than justified).

And that brings me to my own State of Indiana, where ideology consistently defeats both facts and common sense. Indiana is continuing to pursue work requirements despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s a stupid policy and despite the fact that recent federal court decisions hold that it violates federal law.

On Wednesday, a judge struck down Arkansas and Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirement programs, throwing the future of the conservative health policy — and Medicaid expansion at large — into question.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg’s ruling blocks Kentucky from implementing its program — which was the first approved by the Trump administration in January 2018 — and puts an end to Arkansas’ program, which has been running since June and has led to the loss of health care for tens of thousands of people.

In a case expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Boasberg ruled that “Medicaid is an entitlement” and that the defendants “did not address … how the project would implicate the ‘core’ objective of Medicaid: the provision of medical coverage to the needy.”

A number of Republicans echo the position taken by (increasingly unpopular) Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. Bevin has vowed to end Kentucky’s entire Medicaid expansion program if he can’t implement the work requirements. That  would mean 400,000 people would lose their health insurance–but punitive ideology is clearly more important to Bevin than the health care of 400,000 citizens of his state.

Gives “my way or the highway” a whole new emphasis….

What makes this position especially egregious is that it isn’t prompted by cost concerns; it is entirely motivated by opposition to government-provided health care even when the federal government is paying for it.

Work requirements for Medicaid, the nation’s health insurance for the poor, sprang up after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. The law allows and helps states offer Medicaid to more low-income people. The federal government initially pays 100 percent — and eventually 90 percent — of the costs of expanding eligibility to people earning 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Most of the early adopters of Medicaid expansion were Democratic-led states. Some Republican-led states have slowly expanded coverage, but most of them have added a work requirement for nondisabled people — a policy that the Obama administration repeatedly rejected. Under the Trump administration, CMS has approved work requirement waivers for Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin.

I will never understand the Republican animus toward the poor. Whatever happened to the Christian admonition about caring for “the least of us”?

 

The Anger Games

Wonder why we keep seeing reports like this one from Talking Points Memo?

Bennett Bressman has “more compassion for small dogs than illegals” and claims his “whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists.” He uses the n-word freely and cracks jokes about the Holocaust.

Bressman also happens to have served as statewide field director for Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ successful 2018 reelection campaign.

A shocking trove of leaked private messages Bressman sent over Discord, a gaming platform popular with white nationalists, were surfaced Sunday by Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska. Under the handle “bress222,” Bressman made over 3,000 comments on the page for white nationalist YouTuber Nicholas Fuentes’ show America First. The chats were made public by Unicorn Riot, a volunteer nonprofit media outlet devoted to exposing the internal communications of white nationalists.

The Nebraska GOP declared itself “horrified” by the disclosures, and if this were a “one-off,” I’d be inclined to give the party a pass. But it comes on the heels of too many similar revelations and the constant stream of “dog whistles” and worse from Trump and numerous other Republican candidates and officeholders.

A recent sociological study confirms what many of us have suspected: these sentiments are widely shared in the GOP.  Far from “horrifying” good people who inexplicably voted for Trump, these attitudes are actually the reason they cast those not-so-inexplicable-after-all ballots.

New research by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley demonstrates how a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying, put the United States on a path to authoritarianism.

 Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

Furthermore, the authors report, what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance. What they define as authoritarian views were “strongly associated with support for Donald Trump.” Political polarization, although it definitely exists, is not strictly a “class phenomenon,” in their view. Trump voters came “from many strata and milieus” and “the effects of class are mediated … through biases and other attitudes.”

Smith and Hanley’s research identified eight attitudes that reinforced each other and predicted support for Trump: self- identifying as conservative; a desire for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, animus against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research concluded what many of us suspected: people didn’t vote for Trump “despite” his obvious prejudices; they voted for him because they shared those prejudices. It was the basis upon which they identified with him.

Assuming the accuracy of this research (and I do), the rest of us will have to come to terms with two very unpalatable facts: (1)some 35% of our country’s citizens are racist, and (2) they are not going to desert Trump. They aren’t going to recoil as his administration and cabinet wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, and the social fabric. So long as he hates the same people they hate, they will continue to support him.

For that (disconcertingly large) minority of the population, he really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing their allegiance. And that is terrifying.

Be Careful What You Wish For

It really is hard to keep up with all of the Trump Administration’s assaults on modernity–its disavowal of science, its attacks on public education, immigrants and poor people, and of course, its persistent efforts to turn back the social clock to “times gone by,” when straight white Protestant men were kings.

One aspect of that relentless attack on equality–what you might call the “Mike Pencification” of policy–is the administration’s current determination to de-fund Planned Parenthood. After all, women who have access to birth control and Pap smears are free to enter the workforce and even the political arena. Their ability to plan their pregnancies even allows them to engage in lustful sex without incurring God’s disapproval in the form of an unplanned child.

Shades of Margaret Atwood. As Michelle Goldberg recently opined in the New York Times, 

Donald Trump’s administration turns the Gilead model upside down. Its public image is louche and decadent, with tabloid scandal swirling around the president and many of his associates. This can make it hard to focus on the unprecedented lengths the administration is going to curtail American women’s reproductive rights and enrich the anti-abortion movement.

On Friday, the Trump administration escalated its war on Planned Parenthood and the women who use it. It released a rule prohibiting Title X, a federal family-planning program that serves around four million low-income women, from funding organizations that also provide abortions. Further, the administration instituted an American version of the global gag rule, barring doctors and nurses receiving Title X funds from making abortion referrals to their patients except in certain emergency situations.

The new approach mirrors what Pence did in Indiana–it diverts funding from organizations operating on the basis of sound medical science and sends the monies instead to religious groups, many of which are not just anti-choice, but anti-contraception.

The administration appears to think that religious anti-abortion groups, including those opposed to contraception, will fill some of the gaps. The new regulation jettisons a requirement that Title X clinics provide “medically approved” family planning services. That means that funds that once went to Planned Parenthood could flow instead to anti-abortion groups that promote so-called natural family planning. Unless the courts halt the new policy, struggling women who need refills on their birth control pills could get federally funded lectures on the rhythm method instead.

Goldberg calls this a “move to turn a lifesaving women’s health program into pork for the religious right.” (She’s right on the money; that was also Pence’s motive for Indiana’s voucher program, which takes millions of dollars from the state’s public school system in order to prop up the religious schools that make up 95% of the institutions accepting vouchers.)

The assault on Planned Parenthood joins the successful effort to pack the federal courts–including the Supreme Court– with anti-choice judges, and it doesn’t bode well for the continued viability of Roe v. Wade.

Ironically, sending the legality of abortion back to the states, as a decision to overturn Roe would do, would fall into the “be careful what you wish for” category. Republicans have benefitted greatly from the one-issue voters they cynically created. Should Roe be overturned, the zealots in states that continue to allow abortions  would turn their attention to those legislatures, but those would mostly be deep blue states where they would be unlikely to prevail. Anti-choice activists in red states with compliant legislatures would mostly cease to be activists; they would consider their “job” accomplished.

The majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproduction, however, would be highly likely to take their outrage to their polling places. Most of them have been complacent until now, assuming the courts would continue to protect women’s autonomy.

A “victory” for opponents of reproductive rights would be likely to do two things: tamp down the passions of the anti-choice warriors, and “activate” millions of Americans who would rightly see that victory as a theocratic threat. If survey research is to be believed, the latter group is much larger than the former.

Those people vote. And they sure  won’t be voting Republican.

 

 

Trumping The Constitution

I’m not one of those old people who is always looking back in time through rose-colored glasses–“remembering” that families were closer, people were friendlier, children were seen and not heard, etc. etc. Those memories are highly suspect, if not deliberately dishonest.

That said, I do miss the Republican Party of my younger days. It’s true that it always had a right-wing fringe, but before that fringe took control and ran reasonable people out, the GOP I worked for was filled with admirable, public-spirited men and women.

I thought about those “good old days” when I read that a group of former GOP lawmakers had written a letter to Republicans in Congress, urging them to void Trump’s “Emergency” declaration.

A group of 23 former Republican lawmakers, including former Defense Secretary under the Obama administration Chuck Hagel, signed a letter urging Republicans in Congress to pass a joint resolution that would terminate President Trump’s emergency declaration over the border wall.

In an open letter to GOPers, the former lawmakers argued that Congress should not allow the President to “circumvent congressional authority.” They also questioned how willing lawmakers are to undermine the Constitution.

“How much are you willing to undermine both the Constitution and the Congress in order to advance a policy outcome that by all other legitimate means is not achievable?” they wrote.

One of the signatories to that letter was former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar.

The contrast between the Republican Party of Lugar and Hudnut and the party of McConnell and Trump is devastating. The Republicans who currently “serve” Indiana in the House and Senate (please note quotation marks around the word serve) are a sorry group of wanna-be’s, terrified that they will run afoul of the party’s rabid, racist base if they confront a President they know to be corrupt, ignorant and dangerously incompetent.

The letter from party elders was blunt: support for Trump’s “Emergency” is an attack on the Constitution. Failure to oppose it is failure to serve the national interest. And yet, every single Republican member of Indiana’s House delegation caved. Faced with a choice between serving their country and falling into line for Trump, they chose Trump.

Emergency powers are intended to allow Presidents to act when there is not time for Congress to do so. If the President can overrule Congress when it has acted, simply by declaring an emergency, there is no longer a separation of powers. Congress is neutered.

The lawyers in Indiana’s delegation, especially, fully understood the import of their votes. (And yes, Susan Brooks, we are looking at you.)

In an eloquent essay in the Atlantic, Eliot Cohen described these Republicans.

Talk to them privately, and they will confess that there is no emergency at the southern border—there is a problem, to be sure, but one whose seriousness has actually diminished over time. They know that the congressional leadership had the votes to build walls there for the first two years of the administration but did not manage it. They know, for that matter, that border security involves much more than walls. They know that the president is invoking emergency powers as an electoral ploy, and because he is impatient.

They know, in their timid breasts, that they would have howled with indignation if Barack Obama had declared a national emergency in such a circumstance. As they stare at their coffee cup at breakfast, the thought occurs to them that a future left-wing president could make dangerous use of these same powers—because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed that fact in their face. Some of the brighter ones might even realize that emergency powers are a favored tool of authoritarians everywhere.

 But they are afraid. They are afraid of being primaried. They are afraid of being called out by the bully whom they secretly despise but to whom they pledge public fealty. They are afraid of having to find another occupation than serving in elective office. And the most conceited of the lot—and there are quite a few of those, perhaps more in the Senate than in the House—think that it would be a tragedy if the country no longer had their service at its disposal.

I didn’t always agree with Dick Lugar’s policy preferences. (I didn’t always agree with Bill Hudnut’s, and I worked in his administration.) But I respected them both, and I respected the many, many other persons of integrity and intelligence who called the GOP their political home before it devolved into a cult composed of racists and moral midgets.

I miss them.