Monday, May 23, 2011

The GOP Has Gone from the Party of No to the Party of F You

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (a week after Mike Huckabee also chose not to run), he said it was because of the "interests and wishes" of his family.

And while I have no reason to doubt Daniels's claim, I can't help think that there may also be another factor in play. Daniels has carefully built his reputation as a reasonable governor, one who puts practical solutions in front of ideological battles. (Whether he actually is the above-the-fray leader he portrays himself to be is a different story, of course.) But, as Jacob Weisberg astutely pointed out in Slate on Friday, to be a national Republican figure today, you have to embrace a litany of lies, distortions and flat-out factually incorrect positions. The GOP lives now, he says, in "a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems ... can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact ... expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot."

And living in a self-produced and Fox News/Rush Limbaugh-protected bubble of false reality has practical consequences. For the first two years of President Obama's administration, the Republicans were the Party of No, obstructing every one of the president's initiatives to address the pile of problems left behind by George W. Bush, all for political gain. But after winning control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections (as well as state governor's mansions and legislatures across the country), the Party of No morphed into something else, fully embracing a far-right, Tea Party-driven, wealth-and-business-obsessed, social and fiscal conservatism that sits to the right of even Ronald Reagan.

The GOP is now the Party of F You. (Fitting, given last year's infectious hit of the same name by Cee-Lo Green.) And that might be too much for Daniels to embrace.

After all, the Republicans campaigned in 2010 on jobs, deficits and health care, but it was all an act, a strategy to get elected. Once in office, the GOP has embraced a very different agenda, one that could easily be called the F You Agenda. Simply put, if you are wealthy or a large corporation, the Republicans have nothing but hugs and kisses for you. But for the rest of us? The GOP only offers a stern "F you."

- Are you out of a job because of the financial collapse-induced recession that spiked the country's unemployment rate in 2008? The Republicans say "F you." Unless you believe the fairy tale that tax cuts for the rich create jobs (a lunatic fringe position not accepted by virtually any respected economists), the GOP has done nothing to help address unemployment. They've fought federal programs to boost job growth (including stimulus proposals, even lying about the effects of the 2009 stimulus legislation). And if not addressing the problem wasn't bad enough, Republicans have blocked efforts to extend unemployment insurance to those out of work, at both the state and federal level.

- Are you worried about another financial collapse due to a lack of regulation of the industry? The Republicans say "F you." The 2008 recession, the effects of which are still with us today, was precipitated by a near collapse of the financial system, which was brought about by major financial institutions unscrupulously taking huge risks on junk securities, all while making billions in the process. This conduct was made possible because of 30 years (dating back to Ronald Reagan) of repealing regulations that had prevented just such abuses for nearly 50 years, from after the crash of 1929 until the Regan administration. So you would think it would be common sense that regulation would be needed to ensure that the financial industry can't do it all over again. But you would be wrong. The Republicans fought the modest financial regulation bill, Dodd-Frank, that was finally enacted in 2010, and have continued to fight to weaken it or delay its implementation ever since.

- Are you worried about cutting the federal budget deficit? The Republicans say "F you." The GOP doesn't care about deficits, despite its rhetoric, because if it did, it wouldn't adopt the position that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy cannot be rolled back, adding billions to the deficit in the years ahead. (And it's not like we're being over-taxed as citizens right now. The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently found that Americans now enjoy their lowest tax burden since 1958.) No, the Republican agenda is to cut taxes at all costs for corporations and the wealthy, and then to use the deficits that are created to justify draconian cuts in government spending. The end game is undoing the safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society, including government programs like Medicare and Social Security that Americans have come to rely on. Paul Ryan's proposed budget (based on ludicrously optimistic projections provided by the right-wing Heritage Foundation), which effectively destroys Medicare by replacing government-paid-for health care for seniors with vouchers that won't begin to cover their insurance costs (assuming they can get insurance at all), is the realization of 80 years of conservative dreams of returning the country back to the 1920s. Which leads to ...

- Are you someone who hopes to have medical care when you're elderly? The GOP says "F you." Acceptance of Ryan's proposed budget, with its destruction of Medicare, has become unassailable dogma in the Republican party ( just ask Newt Gingrich). As I described above, Ryan's plan would leave many seniors without health care (including in his home state of Wisconsin). But hey, that's a small price to pay for an ideological victory, right?

- Do you believe a woman should have the right to control her own body if she gets pregnant? The Republicans say "F you." Since taking office, both in the House and in the states, eliminating a woman's right to have an abortion has been at the top of the GOP agenda. In fact, the very first bill introduced in the GOP-controlled House this session, HR 1, was laden with anti-abortion provisions.

- If you are a woman who has been raped in a way House Republicans don't think is rape, they say "F you" to you. GOP legislation introduced in the House sought to redefine rape, limiting the types of acts that constitute rape.

- In fact, if you are a woman, period, Republicans say "F you" to you. Even beyond abortion, GOP proposals have been so detrimental to women, especially women's health services, that myriad organizations and writers have used the term "the Republican war on women."

- Do you want the government to responsibly manage the country's finances and prioritize the financial health of the nation over strict ideological games and tests? The Republicans say "F you." Despite the fact that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling "threatens the health of our entire global economy and the jobs of millions of Americans," and an independent report outlined the potential disastrous consequences to the economy, the Republicans are playing games. They're using the need to raise the limit as a bargaining chip, trying to extract draconian budget cuts in return, all while disingenuously downplaying the impact of failing to raise the ceiling (also this), even as John Boehner traveled to New York to assure financial executives that the limit would be raised.

Keep in mind, it is truly the ideologically driven radical right behind the debt ceiling obstruction. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an Obama-despising conservative institution, as well as financial executives like the managing director of J.P. Morgan, want the debt ceiling raised.

- Are high gas and oil prices having a real impact on your family's budget? The Republicans say "F you." Republicans in the Senate voted to protect subsidies for big oil companies, who have made billions in windfall profits thanks to high prices, choosing their corporate benefactors over the American people (not to mention blowing an opportunity to cut into the deficit and perpetuating a dependence on oil that has grave national security, economic and environmental implications for the United States).

I could go on (global warming denying, birther-coddling, union-busting, etc.), but the Republicans repeatedly say "F you" to everyone in this country except for the elite wealthy and big corporations. The party has moved so far to the right, its core policies are far out of the American mainstream. No wonder so many Republicans are dropping out of the presidential race, including Daniels, who would have to surrender his carefully developed persona as a reasonable, pragmatic leader if he wanted to have even a prayer of getting through the far-right-dominated GOP primary process.

I know Daniels is worried about the scrutiny on his past marital problems, but I can't help wonder if, at least in part, he just didn't want to be the standard bearer for the Party of F You.