Whatever Became of the GOP?

The year President Dwight Eisenhower ran for a second term against Adlai Stevenson, the Republican platform sang the praises of unions, and called for government to have a “heart as well as a head.”

1956_platformBack in the day, the Republican Party appeared to actually have a grassroots membership. It publicly supported plans and programs that would be good for ordinary people.

But that was never satisfactory for the libertarian rich, who wanted government to be withered away to practically nothing, and which would be under their covert control in order to serve their own interests. They literally wanted to do away with most of the agencies of the federal government in order to “save money” and support “free enterprise”.

With the investment of billions the very rich gradually learned how to pretend to act in the public interest while contributing unlimited amounts of money solely to promote their own interests. (The full story is found in Jane Mayer’s profound new book: Dark Money.)

The very rich hated government because it had the audacity to limit their activities. The agencies that earn the wrath of the Koch family and the other super-rich are those that serve and protect the rest of us: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health, Education, and so on. They even hate the Internal Revenue Service, since they believe that the income tax is unconstitutional (it’s not). They want unrestricted power to do as they wish.

It’s not that they don’t sincerely believe in the libertarian faith. It’s that there is no evidence anywhere that libertarianism does anything other than hurt the people and the environment. The agencies of the federal government serve and protect the rest of us from the very rich. That’s why they want to get rid of them.

The arch-devils for decades have been the Koch brothers, Charles and David, unimaginably rich owners of Koch Industries, who have battled hundreds of federal and state lawsuits over their self-enrichment schemes, tax dodging, workplace safety, fraud, bribery, regulation avoidance, and egregious environmental assault.

Over a long period, the Koch boys learned how to build hidden political organizations whose real purpose is self-enrichment, while pretending to protect the public interest. Over the decades they have poured billions into these efforts, complex, money laundering, tax avoiding, endless shell organizations designed to hide their donors. In many cases they are only Post Office boxes in obscure little towns. Huge sums of money move in and then out, stripped of names. These organizations are always misleadingly titled with words like “prosperity” and “freedom” that make them sound like anything other than what they are: self-enrichment clubs for billionaires. In the rare cases where Jane Mayer could tease out the membership of these organizations, they usually consisted of one or two Koch brothers, another billionaire or two, a Koch manager, and no one else. These grass roots organizations for the people had no people.

Rich conservatives were enraged when the 2008 presidential election returned over 60% of votes for the democratic populist Barack Obama. Both they and their congressional puppets swore to resist him at every turn, rather than serve the people, and to return government to “the people”, meaning themselves.

Among those most enraged was Rick Santelli, a broadcaster who one night went on a particularly uncontrolled rant about taxes and called for a new Boston Tea Party. The term was not apt, but it caught on. 

But again, the Tea Party is nothing more than another Astroturf organization with hidden Koch leadership and Koch-supported lackeys. No public was involved at first. A number of poorly educated white racists eventually jumped in to avow their hatred of the black guy who somehow cheated his way into the White House, flaunting their ignorant pronouncements with misspelled signs, and displaying their lack of dental care. The Koch pseudo-populist propaganda machine then sprang into action, spending hundreds of millions on misleading or completely bogus claims that convinced a lot of people who should have known better.

Virtually nothing about the Tea Party operation is honest or actually true, as usual, but the Koch boys and their many millions have succeeded in convincing some people it is. Their investments have convinced a lot of people, including elected officials, that doing away with the protection of government and such things as minimum wage will be good for everyone. They preach about how they succeeded because of how hard they worked, and how low wage workers would learn the satisfaction of success with honest work. Sure, but it helps if you inherit a hundred million and daddy makes you president of the new branch. Supporting a family by working full time for minimum wage?—maybe not so much.

There are very few authentic Republicans right now. The extreme right, under the thumb of the Koch’s, and radical Tea Party folk, don’t seem to know that there was a time when the party did present a rational platform designed to benefit ordinary people. That platform vaporized when the very rich redesigned it to serve only themselves, while claiming that the poor would be ennobled by not being “given things”—such as a living wage, one assumes. The few remaining real Republicans are dismayed at what the party has become, but if they speak out they will be attacked by the Tea Party, and lose the next election to a radical.

The party has devolved into a sleazy parody promoting the twin pillars of plutocracy: the very rich must control everything, and the ideal government is no government. The Republican Party is absolutely beholden to the interests of Charles and David Koch and other multi-billionaires. 

Meantime, the party itself is also in denial over the huge success of a very popular president they opposed at every turn, but who nonetheless became arguably the most successful president we’ve had. They rage that Obama and Democrats are bad for business, but during the past eight years of mismanagement the Koch fortune became three times larger.

It is very clear that all of the talking points of Republicans that grew out of the early Koch belief in libertarianism and minimal government are bad for the country. Clear to everyone but the Koch boys, their multi-billionaire buddies, and those captured by their recent billion-dollar soft sell. Their most recent buzzword is “well-being”. No matter how many of their plans include such soothing words, everything they promote benefits only the very rich, and prevents ordinary workers from achieving “well-being”. There is no democracy in their plans. It will be a hard landing when followers discover they’ve been had.

The important programs of the federal government—taxation, environment, safety, education, bank regulation—and so on, are good for the people, their only real defense against the gross excesses and purchase of politicians by the very rich. The Koch goal of dismantling government can only be bad for everyone, even the very rich, only their vision is too limited to see that.

Mr. Republican Guy, You’ve Been Had

Guess what, everything they told you about why you should vote Republican is lies.

Here’s what they said: The unimpeded free market serves everyone best. Making the rich richer causes wealth to trickle down to you. The best government is least government.

Want to know why they hope you believe these things? It’s because these beliefs make them richer. Not you, them. Let’s consider them one at a time.

There’s no such thing as the “free market”, because the market always favors those with the most money. And how do they get their money? They get it by holding their business costs as low as possible. That’s why they think there’s no need for a minimum wage, and why they hire people as “independent contractors” with no bennies. It was the “free market” that allowed them to ship jobs overseas. It made them rich. What did it do for you?

They don’t want rules, such as air or water quality rules, because it costs money to protect the air and water from pollution. Would it be OK by you if they put a chemical factory down the street from you? If your water looked like what comes out of the faucet in Flint?

Trickle down. Ha ha. How much money has trickled down to you? The answer is none, not in 35 years. Productivity has doubled, the rich are almost three times as rich, and your money is the same—or less.

Republicans want to basically do away with most government. Why? Because government agencies cost tax money. The rich don’t use these agencies, and they want to keep that money for themselves. That’s why they arrange all those tax breaks for the rich. If rich people need something they just buy it. They can easily afford to pay $200,000 cash for a medical treatment. If you get cancer and don’t have good insurance, where are you going to get the $200,000 to treat it?

Government agencies protect you; shutting down government agencies hurts you. You’d have dirty water and air. You would have no Medicare. No Social Security. The highways would break down. Need I go on?

The Republican Party has always been slanted toward the rich, but back in the 1950s or so it was party policy to protect your interests. Today the very rich have secret meetings several times a year to decide how to control everything Republicans in Congress do. They spend hundreds of millions to lie to you about it. Hundreds of millions.

Check it out. Every year Republicans complain about high taxes, even though our taxes are actually low compared to other advanced nations. Every election they try to shut down all the agencies that protect you: Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare, environmental protection, education—all of them.

They have screwed us by taking away the government’s right to bargain for the best drug prices. They protect the insurance industry by opposing national health care, because that would cut our cost in half, and they wouldn’t get the other half. They want to make schools private, because then they can get the profit they can’t get from public schools.

Your most important protector is the federal government, but rich Republicans don’t want you to know that. They want no government, because not having to pay taxes makes them even richer—and you poorer. Millions are protected by Obamacare, by environmental rules, by banking rules, by Social Security, and so on. They want all that to go away and leave you naked and unprotected.

Your power can’t come from having billions of dollars. Your power can only be the power of numbers. That’s why they don’t like unions. Unions give you strength you don’t have by yourself.

The Republican Party is the party of billionaires. If you don’t have billions, maybe it shouldn’t be your party. 

Saving Our Way to Strength

Being thrifty with our money has much to recommend it, but we cannot build national strength by failing to spend money where it is needed. Unfortunately, many Republicans and Libertarians fail to see this, and it has caused a great deal of difficulty. They believe that “The best government is that which governs least”. Catchy, but it would institute poverty and continually aging infrastructure.

Infrastructure has already decayed badly, but what Republicans really want to do is to rid the country of Social Security, Medicare, food assistance, and everything else that’s “unnecessary”. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, they believe that poor people have no one but themselves to blame for not being rich. Dumping all this “nanny state” stuff would at last force them to stand on their own two feet and get to work. A Republican governor said this using almost these exact words this week.

How anyone can believe this crap is quite beyond my comprehension. The argument can be demolished with two observations: (1) Worsening inequality creates more and deeper poverty, which would mean that laziness waxes and wanes; (2) Our record inequality is demonstrably the result of political policies that favor the rich, which would mean that laziness rises with gifts to the rich. These two observable truths negate their entire belief. The two cannot logically coexist.

Ongoing gifts to the rich have left huge chunks of the nation’s wealth in the portfolios of a handful of self-interested multi-billionaires. A few decades ago we stopped being a democracy and instead became a plutocracy when the wealthy gained enough power to control Congress. If this worsening inequality does not reverse course we will in time be in danger of a genuine armed revolution, because we are beginning to look more like pre-revolution France and less like post-revolution America.

This Republican belief that we can starve ourselves to greatness has been proven wrong so many times, so many ways that one wearies of thinking about it. No matter how many times St. Reagan expressed it, money doesn’t “trickle down” when the rich get tax breaks and other goodies of their own choosing. Money bubbles up from the bottom, starting with the poorest.

These government programs Republicans love to hate are the kinds of things that make the more advanced countries of Europe and Asia better places to live than the US. The reason is simple: a base of everyone in the country makes social plans as efficient as they can possibly be. Our private health care plan is dependent on insurance paperwork that takes one of every three dollars and provides absolutely no health care. This is why national plan medical procedures cost half what ours do, as do their medicines. We see too that national bureaus elsewhere are able to control prices, rather than Congress forbidding it.

Then there is the matter of infrastructure, meaning all the physical structures that allow the smooth functioning of the nation.

I live in San Francisco, and I’m very proud of the way the city spends money. For example, a few years ago it became apparent that the city’s sewage infrastructure was aged, some of it a century old. The issue was put to the voters, who voted solidly to begin upgrading, at great expense. Many of our cities experience frequent burst water mains and the like because they haven’t spent the money to modernize. Each failed pipe costs a lot to fix, and fixing it only delays the inevitable cost of replacing the entire system.

It’s like spending on your home. Having a new roof is not nearly as much fun as a couple of weeks in Maui, but if you don’t replace your leaky roof it’s gonna cost a lot more when the drywall and insulation get soaked.

Failing to spend money on national needs is not much different. The most obvious comparison is with the physical infrastructure that has deteriorated so badly that deadly accidents occur on a regular basis. A big bridge plunges to the river in Minneapolis. An old dam is breached in South Carolina. Trains derail all over the place, creating deadly fires, or colliding because the “new” safety features now over twenty years old were never funded. The electric grid is dangerously outdated, and could be hacked or just break down on its own. Air control systems experience failures, sometimes with serious consequences.

The count of badly decayed bridges, roads, and so on, is sky high, and is getting higher every year, and still we do almost nothing about it. We do nothing about it because Congress is controlled by people who don’t seem to understand that, first, a single bad accident is far more expensive than it would have been to fix the problem in the first place. Second, the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be. Delays in infrastructure repair and maintenance also have added costs in lost efficiency that is borne by business. When transportation routes are closed by a collapse the businesses that use them aren’t gonna like it.

In short, you can’t save your way to strength by cutting the budget for everything. Certain members of Congress think we will somehow be able to “save money” by spending nothing on the essential needs of all citizens and the infrastructure. They’re wrong. Tragically wrong.