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Why do Republicans behave the way they do?

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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. 

August H. Nimtz Jr.

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. Historical contingency makes for a more convincing explanation. 

With the social movements safely ensconced in and bridled by the Democratic Party and, thus, the working class in all its skin colors and other identities no longer seen as a threat, capitalist politics could revert to its default position of business, literally, as usual. That’s the course the Reagan administration embarked on in 1981 and whose result, the present “tax reform” bill, is simply the most recent victory in redistributing wealth to the rich and chipping away at social benefits. Think also, for example, the continual reduction in funding public education at all levels. 

How Dems aided and abetted

But indispensable for political clarity is the need to recognize — given the lesser/evil justification for liberal support for them — how the Dems have aided and abetted the Republican campaign to re-establish a social entitlement-free U.S. The first successful attack on the New Deal — and with all of the social carnage in its wake — was the Clinton administration’s ending in 1996 of one of its three pillars, AFCD, in the name of “welfare reform.” The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal gleefully seized on that inconvenient fact for Dems to justify its unsuccessful call earlier this year for the end of the Medicaid component of Obamacare. Dems also enabled the 1986 Reagan and 2001 Bush tax breaks to the rich. And Barack Obama was willing to lower corporate tax rates from 35 to 28 percent, not that far off what the current GOP bill does. Objectively, at least, the Dems are the Republicans’ co-conspirator.

Liberals have always feared the masses in the streets; Luther and Tocqueville were respectively the early modern and modern prototypes. If there is any doubt that leading U.S. liberal voices are in accord about not wanting a replay of the turbulent '30s and '60s, consider their nearly unanimous answer to how to counter the Republican offensive: wait until the next elections! Never mind that the Republicans have learned how to game elections, to craft a bill whose anti-working-class consequences won’t be seen for a number of election cycles. No wonder they feel confident that they can get away with it, once again. 

Whenever you hear the timeworn liberal mantra that the most important political thing you can do is to vote, ask yourself: If that's true, then how did those who couldn't vote get that right?  Exactly because we, in all our diverse identities in the centuries-old fight for the suffrage, had been in or threatened to go into the streets. I personally know that to be the real truth after having been denied that right owing to my skin color.

As long as the U.S. working class lacks its own political party, one that actively fights in its interests, the Republicans will do their thing — and be successful if not met with any kind of credible resistance as the effective protests in defense of Medicaid demonstrated. But 20th- and 21st-century social democracy, not just in Europe but elsewhere such as Brazil, teaches that it isn’t enough for the working class to have its own political party. It also requires a party that has a working-class program that it actually fights to advance. Otherwise workers become demoralized, opening the door for others who claim to advance their interests. Never should it be forgotten what the official name of Hitler’s party was: the National Socialist German Workers Party. The tragic costs of that monstrous deception continue to reverberate. 

August H. Nimtz Jr. is a professor of political science and African American and African Studies and Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Minnesota.

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Comments (32)

When enough qualified leaders have nothing to lose

It's going to take awhile - perhaps sooner than we think - before we have enough people who are able to lead having the motivation to fight back.

As it is, those with the social skills to lead this fight still lack the motivation to do so.

Only when a critical mass of these people have nothing to lose will they finally see
the need to organize and fight back - despite the risks and suffering incurred by
the Wobblies and Labor Union leaders of the teens, twenties, and thirties.

Given the incessant and unchecked greed of the capitalists who truly feel, "Greed is Good,"
we'll get to this point within the next twenty years.

“Only when a critical mass of

“Only when a critical mass of these people have nothing to lose will they finally see
the need to organize and fight back” As Marx noted, proletariat had nothing to lose but its own chains… Lenin got it to heart and channeled this into Russian Revolution… We know how it ended.

About sums it ...

If you are looking at for a good read on how it is done here is a link to precisely how the juggernaught of capitalism worked in one community in a small northern Minnesota mining town.
https://www.nmu.edu/upperpeninsulastudies/sites/DrupalUpperPeninsulaStud...

The link originated in and even more frightening piece giving more backstory to the recent reports of KKK leafleting on the Iron Range. Capitalism gave birth to the Southern strategy. And it is destined to lead to end for us all if we collectively do not reign in the power that comes with wealth as it is structure to our phony city on the hill drivel.

thanks for the link

I did not intend to spend a chunk of Sunday morning involved in review of a political struggle, but as a non-Minnesotan from Michigan I was intrigued by the UP connection. This is a good, instructional history read. The mining companies of yesteryear are the fossil fuel and tobacco companies of today. Tools of disruption have changed a bit but intent with political leverage remains the same.

Once again

Why am I not shocked that the author (who makes a well versed commentary) is a college professor? And it is certainly not a surprise that a liberal would offer an opinion as to what makes Republicans tick. The better story is almost always the opinion of someone within a group commenting on the workings of their own group rather than, well, this. Once a writer adds the name Hitler to a commentary on Republicans, especially if the writer is a liberal, it pretty much adds the commentary to the pile of disgruntled commentaries. Perhaps a commentary describing practical solutions to distinct problems would be more useful. There are pundits who claim that our universities are nothing more than an arm of the Democratic party. Sometimes, I have considered the possibility that they are right. But, most of the time, I believe that there is balance.

Perhaps the inside view is,

Perhaps the inside view is, in fact, the "better story". But a critique of the other side is still valid and a staple of commentators on both sides. Can I assume you're equally critical when conservatives comment on what makes liberals tick?

Your comment, "adds the name Hitler to a commentary on Republicans" implies a comparison of Hitler to Republicans. If you read the commentary, it does nothing of the sort. In fact, it's a reference to how social unrest can be perverted by evil. In this case, I think you owe the writer an apology.

"Practical solutions to distinct problems" is certainly useful. But that doesn't obviate the need to understand the motivations of those with different views.

Finally, as to balance, I would suggest that balance is achieved by having a range of viewpoints, not a single view magically in the middle. If you agree with the concept of a range of views, you can't be critical when you encounter a view in conflict with your own.

There's much in the commentary that I don't quite agree with, but that doesn't make the commentary invalid.

Anyone familiar with

Anyone familiar with Minnesota knows that August Nimtz is not in any way a liberal. He is, and has been for many decades, a Communist. Openly and eloquently and always rady to engage in constructive dialogue..

This article--if you have any ability to read, attacks liberals as well as the current Republican party. It's pro-worker in a way that liberal capitalism simply is not.

Nicely said

People forget that the reason we have social programs at all was because of the unrest (there's a word with a lot of room for interpretation) in the 20's and 30's. Programs were given grudgingly to curtail large-scale uprisings--and ever since then 'they' have been trying to take them back.

A workers party--or a liberal party--would be welcome. Even the Republicans of yesterday appear liberal in today's climate. Who gave us the EPA? Nixon. Of course, the alternative that was staring us in the face at that time had the potential to be as bad for Capitalism as the previous Socialist unrest. Drastic actions were required and money had to be spent.

The larger question is

The larger question is how Republicans managed to get elected with the current mindset presented to the electorate over what they used in 1956: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=25838 They once had to go through the motions at least to placate the more humane of their numbers, but no more as there seem to be less and less of that sort of Republican. It is always about good or evil, something we all have and hold both of in some fashion no matter how or where we see it, but there is little doubt on either side now who is more evil, making our process nothing but numbers and confidence games. Want to change it? Hate less and tell the truth. Thanks.

That question is answered, and has been answered.

The "rightward" creep of the political system normalized increasingly toxic Republican agendas and behavior. Centrism pushed Democrats away from basic liberalism for decades to the point where they actually started adopting and implementing Republican policies. The author mentions Clinton's welfare reform, but we can look at many other examples such as Hillary's health care proposition which was an Heritage Foundation product.

Check this out: There was a documentary on TPT TV last night about Humphrey's presidential bid... guess what one of his main campaign platforms was? Expanding Medicare. When Medicare was created THAT was actually the plan... to expand to cover everyone. By the time the centrists take power of the Democratic Party in the 90s, Medicare is a "leftist" agenda. THAT'S how Trump and the Tea Party end up winning.

The real issues

Look, this entire article is essentially bashing Republicans (and to a lesser extent business minded Democrats) for allowing people to be responsible for their own choices. It rehashes old, tired moments from the past when desperate people flocked to radical ideas like communism and fascism. You know what works? Capitalism with competition and support for people who want to better their situation. There are some major issues arising in the coming decades that the author of this piece seems be oblivious to or his fixated look to the past makes him blind to them. I sat in a lunch meeting among friends this week, one of them works for Rockwell Automation and the other works for Best Buy; they cannot find enough warehouse workers at Best Buy...they're going to look into automation. That's one issue, another is machine learning (or AI) which will take over jobs rapidly in the coming years. Self-driving cars created with that same technology are also coming.

We need to address the costs of higher education the answer is not throwing more money at traditional 4 year schools, instead we need a new option for all people. You find your job automated or outsourced while raising a family you cannot be expected to go back to college for 4 years at a cost of $100k+...no we need a rapid education system that can put people into good paying jobs within 6 months at a cost of $5,000 or less. That's what we need right now, a rapid path to a good paying job ($40k+/year).

We have it...

And it is our technical college system. Drive around the metro area and look at the facilities: HTC, North and South, St Paul, Dakota County, White Bear Lake, Minneapolis and you will see one common denominator: all these schools were built in around the period 1970-1980. I was a technical education teacher at this time and it was a good time for teaching technical skills: my salary was partially reimbursed by the federal government, each year I could identify capital improvements needed in our program and a 50/50 match would be granted to our district. I was in a secondary vocational program in a rural district. We had 8 teachers focusing on manufacturing, construction, transportation and communication industries. Now there are 2. I had a budget for consumables of over $10,000 in a welding/machining/casting program. By the 90's this was down to $500.

While we have not allowed these programs to die on the vine: we do not support them like we did when we prioritized these programs that moved people into the workplace in well paying jobs in the shortest period possible.

And back to the subject at hand:

Republicans, in the name of expediency, would rather just give business a fish, through tax cuts, rather than allowing them to catch their fish through a tax supported system that produces the resources (skilled workers, basic research, a stable national debt and economy) that allows them to prosper organically.

Republican/Libertarian incoherence

"Look, this entire article is essentially bashing Republicans (and to a lesser extent business minded Democrats) for allowing people to be responsible for their own choices. "

If everyone who "fails" in an economy is just a victim of their own irresponsibility why would we be worried about schools and tuition? The idea that wealth distribution and "success" are determined by personal responsibility is simply facile. Such nonsense would have us believe that Donald Trump is the epitome of personal responsibility while a construction worker or a teacher is a slouch. You're just not going to get any coherent political, economic, or social policy out that assumption. All you can get is the magical thinking that characterizes Republican and neoliberal mentalities.

So you're responsible for choosing NOT to get an education, but it's someone else's job to create new quick and cheap schools so you can get the education you decided not to get? And the rest of us are supposed to pretend that your six month certificate gives you the same qualifications as someone with years of experience and education? And that's because you're more "responsible" than all those other people?

And what skills would these magic schools teach? Engineering? Chemistry? Medicine? Law? You're going to go from working in a meat packing plant to being a chemical engineer in 6 months? And then when you and the other hundred thousand people who got the chemical engineering degree all go out to get your new jobs... you find that there ain't that many jobs for chemical engineers. Oh, and employers will look at your six month certificate and consider it the equivalent of 4 year degree in chemistry?

Let's not pretend that simplistic fantasies are less "radical" than informed policy that emerges from the real world.

The author mentioned Hitler’s

The author mentioned Hitler’s party but what about Lenin’s one? Bolsheviks were for working class…

Difference between Conservatives and Liberals

The difference between Conservatives and Liberals boils down to this:

Conservatives believe in equal opportunity. Liberals demand equal outcome, even if they have to use the power of government to impose that outcome.

Incorrect

Conservatives believe in selling you a certain version of equal opportunity, whether it's really equal or not. Liberals believe in ACTUAL equality of opportunity, recognizing that it's an ongoing project, not a one time shot.

What is “ACTUAL equality of

What is “ACTUAL equality of opportunity?”

Well if true meritocracy is your goal

Which of course it isn't, it would require quite the drastic change. There would be no generational wealth transfer, as in, zero. Corporate entities, patents, trademarks, none of them could exceed the lifespan of their creators, even after sale. Education would be standardized and opting for a private education would be illegal. Massive support for the poor would be required to ensure that things like nutrition, housing, and extracurricular opportunity are identical to their wealthier peers. Anything less than this is tantamount to support for aristocracy, which is of course the conservative position.

No meritocracy please

If people are prevented from passing on their life savings to their heirs there might not be much point to creating a life savings. No school choice, not in a pro-choice country! Lifespan requirements might tend to invite murder.
I believe that we are all entitled to equal opportunity but not to equal outcomes. If those darn rich folks have better stuff because they earned it and can afford it, good for them! I don't want the government to make up the difference.

Trees

After that I am thinking about turning the song "Trees" by Rush on.

Kids with two parents have

Kids with two parents have advantage over the ones with only one parent and kids with better educated parents have advantage over those whose parents are not educated so to level the chances completely the only way is to take all kids away from their parents at birth and let government raise them together without parents (in this case there will be no need to give massive support to the poor because they will not be raising kids anyway)… Now that I wrote this, I have a feeling that I was reading about such a system somewhere…

h

Hey, you're the folks talking about "equal" opportunity. I'm just pointing out your hogwash. Either you accept that equal opportunity doesn't exist and don't care (while trying to rationalize why we should act as if it does) and hew conservative, or you attempt to mitigate the extenuating circumstance to make opportunity MORE equal and become a liberal. That's the real dichotomy.

Equal opportunity means the

Equal opportunity means the absence of laws that prevent some people from advancing (like not allowing Jews to go to certain colleges, for example) and nothing else because everything else is nature and/or chance. Some kids are more talented than others, some kids have two parents, some kids are more attractive, etc. – nothing can be done about that. And passing wealth to children is like passing good genes to them...

Both rich and poor kids have a path to success; sure, it is more difficult for poor people than for wealthy ones but the only way to avoid it is to create a anti-utopian totalitarian state, more totalitarian than the Soviet Union: there some people were more equal than others which resulted in much easier lives for their kids.

I would say...

I would say that many conservatives claim to believe in a lot of things... but they have no coherent or viable concepts, just an ideology that relies on magical thinking.

If you examine almost any conservative principle you will find that it cannot be sustained by reason, evidence, or logic. Why for instance is a government that controls women's bodies and pregnancy outcomes "smaller" than a government that tell farmers they can't pollute the water? How can a society that's devoted to religious discrimination claim to be dedicated to religious freedom? How can an agenda that's dedicated to demolishing programs that provide equal opportunity claim to an attempt to provide equal opportunity?

Listen: When outcomes reveal privilege and inequality, those outcomes reveal inequality of opportunity. Conservative mentalities turn inequality into an enigma by concluding that outcomes can't possibly reflect unequal opportunity, it's just a circular argument for privilege.

Well...

It is always most convenient to be able to sum up all the aspirations and motivations of your political opposites in a single sentence. Always a little short of meaning or fact; but, very convenient.

I am also looking forward to new conservative "equal opportunity" positions on:

Voting rights
Voting accessibility
Equal pay for equal work

And the list goes on.....

Voting rights – totally

Voting rights – totally equal. Voting accessibility – totally equal. Equal pay for equal work – achieved (the same position is not the same as equal work).

Voting accessibility

I live in a nice green, leafy Western suburb. In the 30 years I have voted in this predominantly Republican polling place I have never waited more than 5 minutes to vote and it is usually immediate: in and out in 2-3 minutes.

Do you remember the images of lines, blocks long, hours of wait to vote?

Ever notice that these mostly occur in densely populated urban areas with a heavy D voter content?

If a concealed carry permit allows one to vote; but a photo student ID doesn't, I again think "totally equal" is misguided.

And Voting Rights:

"Millions of Americans eager to cast a ballot before the Election Day rush have stood in gallingly long lines during early voting as their overstuffed polling places struggled to accommodate increased demand. In a way, the lines were a nice symbol of democratic engagement, proof that citizens remain engaged after a miserable election season. But they also represented something much darker: voter suppression. Contrary to the suggestion of some election boards, these endless lines were not a fluke or a surprise. They were a direct result of the Republican Party’s recent, coordinated assault on voting rights.

Consider North Carolina, the epicenter of GOP voter suppression. Just days after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder—thereby allowing the state to restrict voting without federal oversight—the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature requested data of voting preferences by race. The legislators then promptly passed an omnibus bill that, in the words of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” A key provision of the new law slashed early voting, including several days of Sunday voting, which black voters favored. As the state explained in court with startling candor, “counties with Sunday voting” were “disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic”—a fact that persuaded the Legislature to severely cut back early voting."

Totally Equal = Fake News!

To the best of my knowledge,

To the best of my knowledge, local governments are responsible for organizing the elections so that is who should be blamed for the lines… And who is at power in those places?

Students ID’s… Aren’t all students temporary residents of colleges? How can it be assured that they would not vote in their home place elections?

And in North Carolina, I strongly believe that the law was the same for everyone and no one could vote on Sundays so no one got any preferences. And if I want to vote a month in advance and can’t, it doesn’t mean that my vote is suppressed… But your quote is from Salon – an extremely left publication.

Well, not exactly...

"To the best of my knowledge, local governments are responsible for organizing the elections so that is who should be blamed for the lines… And who is at power in those places?"

Different states do it different ways. What is consistent is the election of a President, Vice President, Senators and Representatives are federal offices and any short falls to provide an opportunity to vote would be due to just one more unfunded federal mandate: something I thought conservatives opposed? Of course Trump would solve this problem by just eliminating elections given his druthers.

"Students ID’s… Aren’t all students temporary residents of colleges? How can it be assured that they would not vote in their home place elections?"

One of my favorite Republican talking points. Please tell me the ratio you would accept of dis-enfranchising legitimate voters to stop a fraudulent vote? In my mind, anything over 1 to 1 is unacceptable. Republican legislative preference has been to cheerfully disenfranchise thousands to stop that one illegal vote. Of course the thousands disenfranchised are usually votes for the other side. A coincidence I am sure.

"And in North Carolina, I strongly believe that the law was the same for everyone and no one could vote on Sundays so no one got any preferences. And if I want to vote a month in advance and can’t, it doesn’t mean that my vote is suppressed"

So, a legislature researches the voting patterns of their political opposition and enacts legislation that targets their voting patterns and no one else and you are OK with that? That can lead us down a pretty slippery path. The Republicans are the party of Gerrymandering, and voter suppression because they know the future is not bright and the status quo needs to be maintained at any cost.

Someone is responsible for

Someone is responsible for deciding how many polling stations should be and where and that someone is local government. Feds and States are not the deciding bodies so if there is a shortage of polling stations, people should complain to the city hall…

“Please tell me the ratio you would accept of dis-enfranchising legitimate voters to stop a fraudulent vote.” Actually, I believe that there should be no disenfranchised voters… and there are none… There are no laws in any states that prevent legal citizens from voting. But sure people have to be able to prove that they are citizens, right?

As for voting pattern, I think there should be one voting day and everyone should have a reason to vote by mail. Not accommodating someone’s learned behavior is not voters’ suppression.

Interesting Words

The chosen words are pretty interesting. "mean spirited" "contempt" "attack"

They certainly are intended to label the intent of Conservative policies in a negative light, though as a fiscal Conservative I can assure that I do not feel or intend any of the above.

I simply believe that enabling people to stay trapped in dependency and hopeless is more cruel than pushing them hard to grow, learn, change and improve. I have faith that the people trapped in generational poverty, low academics, single parent households, gangs, poor life choices, etc can have better more fulfilling lives for them and their children.

The author of the piece seems to see the "war on poverty years" as a golden time where the poor were supported. Where as I see it as a disastrous time where the simple core of familial success, the two parent household, was very damaged. Especially for those who need it most.
http://www.stateofourunions.org/2009/si-fragile_families.php

The big question I ponder now days is how to use policy, sticks and carrots to push people back into stable 2 parent households for the good of their child(ren)? And I am flexible... It can be Mom/Dad, 2 Dads, 2 Moms, etc.

All

I can say is, I can't understand why these folks seem to basically hate other people that are not like them, do everything they can to put those folks down instead of helping them up, and have such a Machiavellian look at life, (everyone is to be defeated as an enemy) , the word ethical appears to choke in their throats, and hypocritical the standing motto. Despite "promote the general welfare" enshrined in the constitution, they despise the very words, and despite, free market being nowhere in the Constitution, they set it up and praise it as a false god, "socializing the costs and privatizing he profits!" And, I sure as "H" am not a communist.