Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Why Do Republicans Behave the Way They Do?

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Why Do Republicans Behave the Way They Do?

Article excerpt

Why are the Republicans so mean-spirited when it comes to “the poor” and so indulgent when it comes to “the rich”? That’s the incessant question as posed by liberals today about the party’s now enacted “tax reform.” Not only does the bill include another attack on Obamacare, but it provides the pretext — the need to reduce deficits — to go after other long-held goals, the end of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

The answer should be obvious by now. Republicans behave as they do because they can get away with it! It’s no more complicated than that.

Contrary to liberal opinion, Republican politics isn’t out of the mainstream — provided we push the clock back sufficiently. A political economy without social services and entitlements is in fact the default position of the capitalist mode of production from its inception. If recent comments from Republican Sens. Orin Hatch and Charles Grassley sound like characters from a Charles Dickens novel — their barely disguised contempt for the working poor — that should come as no surprise. Such attitudes were almost de rigueur for ruling elites in capital’s long ascent. The constant refrain of the rich — “Why should we be taxed to pay for the education of the children of the irresponsible poor?” — explains why public school education became a widely accepted norm only in the 20th century.

Determinant in the eventual enactment of social benefits was ruling-class fear of the working class — violence or the threat of violence on their part. The 1848 Revolution in France birthed the first jobs program for the unemployed. That Germany, with the largest and most powerful working class political party in Europe, was the first major country to institute social security is no accident. Otto von Bismarck clearly saw the program as a way to buy social peace. In England, elites like John Stuart Mill advocated for public schools because of their fear of “uneducated” workers who might become voters.

The Great Depression: workers in the streets

The New Deal in the United States had a similar origin. The Great Depression forced workers into the streets in protest, beginning with the Bonus March of World War I veterans in Washington, D.C., in 1932. Organized labor battles in Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco between 1934 and 1936 obligated the ruling class concessions of Social Security, unemployment insurance and Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC) — the most consequential of the social programs. (Keep in mind, contra what standard economics would expect, that the wealth redistribution — the biggest after Abraham Lincoln’s expropriation of the slave owners — took place in the context of a shrinking economy.) The much-applauded G.I. Bill was motivated by elite fear of another Bonus March by World War II veterans. These programs were supplemented later with Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 owing to the power of the civil rights movement. All of these social entitlements were, in other words, the exception to the rule of U.S. capital and granted under duress.

But the social movements and fear of them that had spurred ruling class concessions were soon house broken—“out of the streets into the suites” as their swan song came to be called. Because the Democratic Party had been in office when the concessions were made, it was the chief electoral beneficiary of that cooptation. Nothing in its history, however — the party of the slave owners and their descendants — would have predicted its modern image as the more progressive of the two capitalist parties. …

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