The GOP and the Tea Party hold in disdain that which was most important to the Founding Fathers – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They have opted instead for an oligarchy of a select few – the ultra rich and corporations, an approach aided and abetted by the longstanding assertion that only white Christians are really Americans at all.
It is striking that a party that expends so much rhetoric on rights cares so little for them. You would expect to find the GOP to be in favor of any rights, but they are demonstrably against them; their actions standing in stark contrast to their words as in state after state Tea Party majorities have proposed and passed legislating limiting rights again and again. Other than God and guns and waving them everywhere they go, it’s difficult to find anything they are for.
Take voting rights for example. If you are for the people as the Tea Party maintains, shouldn’t it be a given that you are for extending voting rights to all equally? Yet not only is the Tea Party against voting, they are against the results of that voting – against democracy itself, as evidenced by their imposition of economic martial law in Michigan.
Not that historically the GOP has endorsed the voting franchise. Quite the contrary in fact. In 1910, as Paul Krugman reminds us, “almost 14 percent of adult males were non-naturalized immigrants, unable to vote.” Southern blacks could not vote because of Jim crow, neatly decapitating the voice of the downtrodden and, not accidentally, non-whites with the result that as Krugman says, “the poorest quarter [of the population] were simply denied any role in the political process.” And the problem of disenfranchisement is, as Krugman says, still with us.
So during the Gilded Age, many workers, low-wage workers, the kind the continues to endorse through its economic policies a century later, could not vote. The status quo – which is, after all, what conservatism is all about – was in no danger of being upset by reforms as long as only the powers that be could vote – or buy the necessary votes. Remember, it wasn’t rich folks who didn’t have the right to vote.
How do we explain this? Gordon S. Wood writes that it was long understood by the time of the American experiment that for democracy to function, citizens had to be equal. “All took for granted that a society could not long remain republican if a tiny minority controlled most of the wealth and the bulk of the population remained dependent servants or poor landless laborers. Equality was related to independence; indeed, Jefferson’s original draft for the Declaration of Independence had stated that “all men are created equal & independent.”
Yet the GOP is built on the idea of inequality, and the Tea Party itself is driven by social Darwinism, the idea that the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich and by definition are better than everybody else. Claims that liberals wage class warfare are laughable in the face of the GOP’s and Tea Party’s own class warfare against the average working American. It is not the rich who should be taxed, but the poor, those least able to bear the burden, and those working Americans should support the rich on their backs, making them yet richer.
The reward is supposed to be jobs of course, but the jobs never appear. The rich simply invest their money, bank it, buy themselves nice things, and the corporations we extend tax breaks to ship their jobs overseas even while taxpayers fork out millions in tax breaks and subsidies. It’s a diabolical process of give and take: we give, they take and they only thing that trickles down is wet and yellow. The only way to address this imbalance is to vote for change, but you can’t vote if you have the franchise taken from you, and this is something the Republicans believe in very fanatically. And they’ve made all sorts of arguments justifying the stripping of voting rights from millions of Americans – those most likely to vote Democrat.
We’ve seen all sorts of attacks on voting rights – typically wherever the Tea Party ended up on top in 2010. To cite just a few examples:
- The Democratic Governor’s Association reports that “New laws in Ohio and Texas, passed by Republican-led Houses and backed by Republican governors, are set to disenfranchise millions of voters. Twenty other states are gearing up to follow suit.”
- Florida Republicans have also moved to disenfranchise voters. HB 1355 was passed by the state senate by a 25-13 vote. The House passage followed on a 77-38 party-line vote. The bill will make it more difficult to vote if you move (aimed at college students who vote Democratic) and will also limit early voting (another strength for Democrats) by curtailing early voting from 14 days to eight. The bill has been signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, a harsh critic of President Obama.
- A similar bill (Voter ID Bill (AB-7) requiring Wisconsin voters to show photo ID in order to vote passed Wisconsin state Senate in May and was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker. The claim was that the bill would reduce voter fraud but as Politifact showed, GOP had no evidence to support their allegations that people were voting 5-6 times apiece.
In 2009 a columnist for the National Review argued for doing away with female suffrage (1920′s Nineteenth Amendment) and the 1964 Voting Rights Act, saying you “shouldn’t try to force people to be good.” And there have been many other attacks on voting rights. One of the most heinous recent examples is that of Matthew Vadum, of the Capital Research Center, who actually claims that “registering the poor to vote is un-American.”
Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote? Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians. Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery.
Bribery. This from the party that has been buying elections for a century-and-a-half. The charge of demagoguery is also interesting coming from the party whose ideological heart is the Tea Party, the party of demagogues. The redistributionist charge is also ironical, given the GOP’s long-standing policy of redistributing wealth from the middle and working classes to the rich. But Vadum was not done:
Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to em-power the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country…Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn’t about helping the poor. It’s about helping the poor to help themselves to others’ money.
He says this even while the end-goal of the GOP and Tea Party is to help themselves to our money in furtherance of the aims of the rich and of corporations.
And of course, they will have no hope of becoming productive members of society if the GOP has its way. Likely, they will starve to death or die of disease and the rest of us will join them as our protections are eroded one by one.
The Republicans are pulling out all the stops in 2012 – they’re determined to make Obama a one-term president. If destroying the economy won’t work, they’ve got plans to make it difficult for him to run in certain states and if that isn’t enough they’re disenfranchising voters or limiting polling hours or absentee ballots. And if none of that works, there is always voter fraud, that time-honored GOP favorite. But America wasn’t founded on raising up and protecting a wealthy aristocracy or a corporatocracy – it was founded on an equality of citizens that is being roughly and continually eroded away by the GOP’s and Tea Party’s attack on rights.
Edit (9.6.11 08:43 EDT): I just became aware of Robert Reich’s excellent column of yesterday, Why Inequality is the Real Cause of our Ongoing Terrible Economy at RobertReich.org.