The GOP--A Hijacked Party
How the GOP is Promoting a Culture of Intolerance and Dividing our Nation
Since the 2008 Presidential campaign the political discourse in this country has taken an unprecedented turn for the worse. Charges from the right against President Obama have included rhetoric like; Obama is a Socialist; he wasn’t born in this country; he associates with terrorists; he’s a Muslim; he’s a racist; and he hates what this country stands for.
This dangerous rhetoric is part of a narrative that has driven a wedge between the “two Americas” and has sent us on a downward spiral towards civil unrest. This narrative was concocted by the very same people who gave us the Swift Boat narrative that came to define John Kerry’s character. I suspect that the authors of this narrative don't believe any of these assertions, but nevertheless they realized how affective they would be in alienating someone with the name Barrack Hussein Obama in a post 9/11 America. In making these claims they were relying on people’s ignorance; people’s fears; and people’s longing for a time when life in America was...well let’s just say, different. In past decades this vitriolic rhetoric might have been enough to sway more voters away from Obama and ensure a GOP victory; but victory for the GOP did not necessarily mean maintaining the White House. Victory for members of the GOP meant keeping their jobs and the prerequisite for doing so was to withstand any attempts at compromise with the newly elected President.
We saw GOP inflexibility on full display during the debt ceiling debate. Since March of 1962 the debt ceiling had been raised 74 times including 18 times under President Regan, 8 times under President Clinton, and 7 times under President G.W. Bush. The GOP was well aware that they would eventually have to vote to raise the debt ceiling but they saw this as a perfect opportunity to show their base that they were still on the side of freedom and democracy. This political theater resulted in a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating for the first time ever. S&P's cited “political brinkmanship in the debate over the debt" as a reason for the downgrade. They also stated that the debt ceiling debate had made the U.S. government’s ability to manage its finances “less stable, less effective and less predictable.” Political grandstanding by Republicans was the sole reason for the downgrade but it didn’t take long for the talking heads to start blaming President Obama; and the Republican base was more than willing to blame Obama because it played right into the narrative that he was out to destroy this country. The GOP nearly drove us all over a cliff but they had served their purpose---they had stood firm against the "SOCIALIST."
This is the sort of dilemma that the GOP has been faced with since President Obama was elected. Even if they wanted to work with Democrats to help solve the nation’s problems; how could they ever justify working with the same person whom they had spent months vilifying and painting as an Islamic Socialist who is committed to destroying America? For months they had fueled people's fears about this man and pandered to some of the worst elements of our society. Their base was fired up and pissed off that they were “losing their country” so any God fearing, flag waving Republican was expected to stand firm against this administration no matter what proposal was put forth. They had left themselves no choice but to use their time in office to represent the base’s disdain for this President. John McCain found out first-hand what type of reaction any support for Barack Hussein Obama would provoke from the base. McCain corrected an older woman at one of his town hall rallies after she stated that she did not trust Obama and that she felt that that he was an “Arab” (we can only assume that she meant Muslim). McCain corrected the woman and told her that she was wrong and that he personally knew Obama. McCain told the woman that Obama was a good man and a citizen that he just happened to have fundamental disagreements with. He was greeted by a chorus of boo's from the crowd. This oddly shaped woman with her disheveled hair and fanny pack was only voicing her concerns over the very fears that had been drilled into her head for months by GOP leaders and conservative media outlets. By simply trying to restore civility to the political discourse, John McCain had turned many in the base against him; but this poor ignorant woman gave Senator McCain a golden opportunity to send a very important message to his base, and while I applaud his courage for trying to change the tone of the debate, I hesitate to give him credit for handling the situation appropriately. During his endorsement of President Obama, Gen. Colin Powell offered a more suitable response to not only this this lady’s remarks, but to a sentiment shared by many in the Republican base.
“The right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?"
Immediately after making these remarks, General Powell was shunned by the members of his own party. The refusal of more GOP leaders to follow suit and come to the defense of a faith that is shared by millions of our fellow Americans is at the core of what is wrong with today’s Republican Party. For fear of being shunned by their own party, GOP leaders have been rendered ineffective in confronting the culture of intolerance which has become so pervasive in their party. I sincerely hope that the tone of our politics improves soon but I fear that something has gone terribly wrong when defending even the character of the President of the United States could mean political suicide. Conversely, calling the President a “liar” during a joint session of Congress can mean millions in campaign contributions.
Perhaps the most divisive tactics being used by the GOP today is the politics of race baiting. By using these tactics they’re tapping into a vein of hostility and resentment that seems very reminiscent of a sentiment that was very prevalent during the 1960’s. When Republicans constantly repeat the falsehood that President Obama removed the work requirements from welfare, or when they refer to him as the “food stamp president,” they are trying to convince people that he has created a culture in which obtaining food stamps and welfare is a virtue. While speaking to a mostly white audience in Iowa, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said:
"I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."
While speaking at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said:
“I will go to the NAACP convention and explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.”
These types of statements paint an unfair picture of African Americans as the largest group of welfare recipients and a huge drain on our economy. African Americans actually only make up 37% of current welfare recipients; so while we may be disproportionally represented among recipients, it’s difficult to understand why a presidential candidate would campaign on welfare reform as if the problem is unique to African Americans. I also find it ironic that these messages which are purportedly for the benefit of African Americans are never given in front of African American audiences. These messages are not intended for African Americans and they are not even intended for the average run of the mill racist. These messages are targeting my close friends, my neighbors, and my co-workers and this is why I find these tactics so offensive. The hope is that enough of these voters have at some point in their lives, given at least some consideration to the fallacy that most black people are predisposed to relying on government handouts for survival; and that if they can convince these voters that President Obama is actually promoting this culture among blacks, they will be less likely to vote for him.
Now let’s look at this issue of welfare a little closer. From 2001 thru 2008, an average of 11% of the federal budget was spent on welfare; and during Obama’s first three years in office 13% of the federal budget was spent on welfare. If Republicans really want to make a campaign issue of the additional 2% in spending, it would be disingenuous to not point out the fact that this increased spending occurred during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression and that President Obama temporarily adjusted the eligibility requirements for certain entitlement programs to help ease the suffering of millions of American families during these difficult times. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that welfare spending will only make up 9% of the federal budget by 2017; so the narrative that President Obama is attempting to create a permanent nanny state in which most Americans are dependent upon the government assistance is no more than an attempt to ignite an already polarizing issue----racial division.
Many Republicans vote based on their core values and GOP leaders are exploiting their commitment to those values. There are very powerful people who are deeply entrenched in our politics today, and these people have a vested interest in keeping Republicans in power by any means necessary. They are not interested in the social values of the Republican base but these values allow them to appeal to these conscientious voters. Meanwhile, GOP leaders with all of their grandstanding on social issues, are supporting legislation that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Americans and is against the best interests of the majority of their supporters.
If Americans continue to sit by idly while powerful interest groups manipulate our political system for their own self-interests, it will ultimately lead to our downfall as a nation; and with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United, our politics are becoming even more negative and more divisive as competing corporate interests clamor to make us fear the candidate who is not committed to protecting their interests. We should all demand that our elected officials restore civility to our politics and begin working together for the greater good. Our nation is confronted with skyrocketing deficits and the looming threat of insolvent Medicare and Social Security programs; so every American has a huge stake here. It would behoove us all to demand an end to these dangerous games being played by power hunger individuals... before this powder keg explodes.