By V.B. Price
the Mercury Messenger
When young friends of mine tell me that Democrats and Republicans are “just alike,” the New Deal-Green Deal Democrat in me never ceases to be flabbergasted. Where have they been? What planet are they from? Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Despite the Democratic party adopting con-job Republican fund-raising tactics, despite a disheartening chunk of the party embracing sometimes appalling “centrist views” to attract wavering Republican voters, despite many Democratic office holders seeming political passivity and spinelessness in the face of opposition, the Democratic Party is still the only affiliation with which people who care about other people, and care about the environment, can associate.
It’s self-evident that most Democrats align themselves with environmental science, with funding health and social programs for children, the elderly, the working poor, the infirm, and the marginalized. They believe in public works not privatization. They champion racial and gender equality, privacy rights, internationalism and foreign aid, and a fair-minded, rehabilitative criminal justice system. Even if the Democratic Party has been less than efficient and effective in pursuing these causes, even if it has lost too many times to Republican entertainers and charlatans, even if nobody likes a loser, Democrats are not the same as Republicans.
The Republican Party and most of its members stand in strident opposition to climate science, to social and economic justice, to human rights and feminism, to religious and social toleration, and to the idea of democracy, voting rights and free elections. Their media is dominant and sells to the American public a toxic brew of hate, prejudice, suspicion, conspiracy and a weird sob story of the victimization of the rich at the hands of a crafty class of criminalized poor of their invention.
The Republican Party of the 21st Century has embraced a militant misogyny and brutal policies that oppose reproductive freedom of choice. It looks down on people who work hard at jobs that don’t pay a lot of money and blames their economic status not on systemic traps and quick-sands but on a myth of the undeserving poor. The Republican Party has aligned itself with the ideology of white supremacy and has done all it can to weaken the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. It is fulsome in its hate speech, its immigration bigotry and anti-Latino prejudice. It stridently opposes same-sex marriage and the whole LGBTQ community. It pits pricey private schools against the institutions of free public education. It opposes unionization and the upgrading of worker rights. It provides the political and institutional platform for climate change denial and all other forms of anti-environmentalism and the forces of environmental injustice. And much of the Party’s elected membership unabashedly sanctions the storming of the halls of Congress in an attempt to violently disrupt the peaceful transition of power and the election of a Democratic president.
Republicans and Democrats have little in common other than their “capitalism” and perhaps their misbegotten sense of American exceptionalism.
And when it comes to basic life support legislation — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, nutritional programs for children, public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and public works — the rift is bottomless.
Republicans have been opposed to Social Security from the very beginning. In the 1930s, the Republican Party and its business class constituents regarded the “whole idea” of a social safety net for the elderly and infirm, as well as unemployment insurance, “with consternation, if not with horror,” Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. writes in his definitive work “The Coming of the New Deal.” Schlesinger quotes the the National Industrial Conference Board as saying that such ideas it would cause “ultimate socialistic control of life and industry. He quotes a spokesman for General Motors as saying it would undermine national life and values by “destroying initiative, discouraging thrift, and stifling individual responsibility.” Republicans still believe that stuff today.
For tens of millions of elder or infirm Americans and the working poor and their children — who are real human beings doing the best they can — the social safety net is a matter of life and death, not a cushy hand-out or a coddling of indolence. But Republicans obsessively attack one of the major life supports — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. Four years ago, they lobbied for massive cuts in SNAP food allocation, creating draconian work requirements, and crippling paperwork that would have removed by some estimates more than two million people from the food stamp program. The cuts were embedded, and softened somewhat, in the “farm bill” of 2018.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote that SNAP “is the most effective anti-hunger program in the country, helping 1 in 8 Americans afford a basic diet.” As of the beginning of 2018, “the program helps about 40 million people in 20 million households put food on the table,” the Conference said. Republicans never seem to take the blame for kicking people when they are down. They’ve made a political art form out of stoking resentment toward millions of people who for reasons of health and age are incapable of helping themselves.
There has been a persistent effort on the part of Republicans to privatize Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, an effort that includes voucher schemes and a set-up that would force low income people into the crazy casino of the stock market to “save” and grow a health care nest egg for the future. Some plans include allowing insurance companies to supply a private version of Medicare that could cherry pick healthy customers and leave the aged and unwell to languish in a financially starved and perishing public Medicare program.
Republicans opposed the New Deal in the 1930s and they still oppose every one of its evolving provisions. And there’s no way to hide the fact that the Republican party is the official organ of climate change denial, and as such a prime suspect in the deaths and impoverishment of millions of Americans by thwarting efforts to slow or end the surging destructive patterns of global warming.
There is a difference, a profound difference, between the major political parties in the United States. It’s a catastrophe for all efforts to create a more humane society to lump the parties together and withdraw into a cocoon of cynicism from which might hatch the nihilistic fervor of an authoritarian American state.
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