"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The GOP and the Poor

Assisting the poor is seen as counterproductive by most Republicans because it dissuaded them from becoming industrious. It was claimed that they interfered with the free operation of market forces in creating wealth and spreading prosperity. Representative Dick Armey wrote, “Congress had spent the past sixty years constructing a state of public dependency.” Armey and other neoliberals saw the Democratic Party as the “Big Government Coalition,” that retained its power through a variety of handouts to dependent groups. This tougher attitude toward the poor was consistent with a steady decline in voluntary benevolence.”

However, after the GOP became the governing party in 2001, it quickly lost much credibility as the party committed to small government. Even leaving out consequences of homeland security efforts, government expanded at a dizzying pace under George W. Bush. Some Republicans were critical of this development, but their comments were somewhat muted and there were no threats of rebellion within the party. One of the most remarkable thing about the George W. Bush Republicans was that they came to embrace big government, suggesting that “big central government would look a whole lot better to Republicans when they got control of it.” Once in power, their friendliness to federalism diminished as their central government interfered with state efforts to experiment with pollution control, deal with some health issues, and address the problem of obtaining lower cost prescription drugs.

With the passage of time and the revival of neoliberal economics, conservatives came to believe that poverty was a problem of character and not the result of bad luck or societal problems. George Will took former Senator John Edwards to task for believing that the poor are just like other people. This was a romantic, New Deal notion. Citing the work of James Q. Wilson, pundit Will claimed that poverty “results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores-- punctuality, hygiene, industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc. that are not developed in disorganized homes.” In other words, the poor are responsible for their own situation. Republicans saw liberal efforts to alleviate the problems of poverty as useless attempts to solve problems by throwing money at them. Indeed, they claimed that the Aid for Dependent Children program hastened the moral collapse of America by encouraging single parent families among the poor. Conservative attacks on liberal efforts to alleviate the suffering of the poor were relentless and played a central role in partly defining liberals as foolish people who had too much compassion and too little common sense. They were especially successfully in attacking Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, claiming that “liberals fought poverty, and poverty won.” Growing acceptance of the conservative gospel was reflected in more than election results

The anti-tax thrust of conservative thought found a growing receptive audience as it became apparent that it was becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary people to make ends meet. In the 1950s, many came to see the United States as potentially a permanently affluent society. There would be modest downturns, but overall Americans could afford to compassionately address social problems by wisely spending part of tax money generated by annual economic growth. By the late 1970s, this vision had faded, and a decade later economic insecurity characterized much of the middle class. In these new circumstances, people were less willing to pay taxes to help others, and they sought scapegoats for the increasing economic insecurity they faced.
The new conservatives believe that poverty cannot be abolished and that political liberalism breeds statism. Market fundamentalism or neoliberalism is opposed to government spending as a means of stimulating the economy, and it recommends tax cuts for individuals and corporations to promote economic growth. It supports free trade, opposes welfare spending, regulation of business, and vigorous enforcement of labor law. Neoliberals believe that welfare does not work and does not encourage people to take charge of their lives. It “consists of the weary paying of protection money” to encourage the unhappy and poor not to harass the prosperous.
The arguments of the revitalized conservatives appealed to people who were experiencing more and more difficulty sustaining their standard of living. From 1970 to 1997, the percentage of people earning from $20,000 to $75,000 a year diminished from 57% to 47% of the population. Almost six out of ten whites surveyed in 1995 said they were unwilling to pay more taxes to help poor minority people. A former Vista volunteer spoke for the majority in saying “I can’t afford to support illegitimate babies, women with five abortions, and poor people who don’t want to work. Right-wing talk show hosts learned to capitalize upon this resentment of the poor. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called people on welfare the “dependency class, “ and New York host Bob Grant called the city’s African American mayor, David Dinkins “the men’s room attendant”

Limbaugh and other conservatives were quick to righteously and angrily apply their clear ethical standards when liberals have been guilty of sexual and moral transgressions, but they offered very little condemnation when Bill Bennett was discovered to have a serious gambling habit or when Rush Limbaugh was accused of illegally acquiring thousands of OxyContin pills. Liberals, on the other hand, sometimes commented on the hypocrisy of these two conservative icons, but they backed away from condemnations and talked about human failings and the need for compassion in these cases. The liberal inclination to offer tolerance and forgiveness does not energize voters or stir rage, but Comments like “We’re becoming too tolerant, folks” from Limbaugh and his demand that all drug abusers go to prison stir anger and solidify and expand the conservative political base.

The Republican information apparatus was in a position to satisfy the intellectual needs of those who disliked Blacks and the poor. Those who disliked African Americans would learn that liberals served blacks at the expense of the whites. Those experiencing economic difficulties or worried about retaining their standard of living found that liberal "tax and spend" policies were at the root of their problems. Conservative scholars provided information that seemed to justify scapegoating the poor and minority people for many of the nation’s problems. Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein offered The Bell Curve in 1994, which explained that poverty was related to race because African Americans were allegedly less intelligent than whites. In other words, they deserved a place on the bottom of society. William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues saw moral decay in the inner city and linked it to the moral decline of America. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector wrote, “There are five behaviors that characterize the underclass: out-of-wedlock births, eroded work ethic, criminal behavior, low educational aspirations, and drug use.” He told the Wall Street Journal, “One of the truly stupid ideas of the twentieth century is that if you give people indoor plumbing, free housing, free food, they’ll stop killing each other.” In The End of Racism, Dinesh D’Souza noted that some of the behavior found in black urban neighborhoods “would be regarded as pathological anywhere else.” He was arguing that blacks are culturally inferior to whites. There were many other scholarly studies that focused on the difficulties of African Americans that seemed to justify the view that Blacks had created their own problems and that many of them were unwilling to seek gainful employment. By the late 1990s, the not-so-subtle anti-minority rhetoric was difficult to find, but the point had been made. Democrats and liberals were firmly associated with providing benefits and preferences for people whom many thought probably deserved their fates.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

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Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!