In Cosmology, it is said that the death of a star is preceded by a period of violent growth that can lead to the death of its inner planets. The spectacular growth in the size of a star as it enters the final stages in its life cycle is a direct consequence of its inability to create fusion efficiently. This bellicose period of violence and destruction is a precursor to instability and its imminent collapse. Parallels between the period leading to a star’s death and the current state of the Republican Party are apropos.
Once upon a time the Republican Party prided itself on being a party of ideas; and, its genesis in 1854 was a direct consequence of its founders and supporters’ opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill . With intellectual giants such as William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk,and Milton Friedman who helped to shaped the political and economic agendas of the Republican Party and crafted effective strategies that hastened the collapse of Marxist-Leninism worldwide and the end of the collectivist regime in the former Soviet Union, the Republican Party offered our nation an effective intellectual framework for operationalizing conservative principles . Sadly, the party that gave us Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has been captured and held hostage by right wing zealots and intellectual Talibans1 whose idea of an efficacious strategy for reversing the United States’ slide into the abyss is fewer taxes, a smaller government, and a 2,000-mile border fence to keep illegal immigrants from realizing the American dream.
Julia Preston writes, “So far border authorities have built 650 miles of hard fence along the southwest border, including about 299 miles of vehicle barriers.” Preston continues, “In 2009, the Congressional Search Service reported that the Department of Homeland Security had spent roughly up to $21 million per mile to build a primary fence near San Diego. The cost had ballooned as the fence extended into hills and gullies along the line” . So much for “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free…”
The recent Republican primaries/caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Maine speak powerfully to the effectiveness of this fringed/influential group’s ability to hijack an agenda thereby giving a new meaning to William F. Buckley’s “It (National Review)2 stands athwart history, yelling Stop at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it” .
While I believe deeply in many of the principles of the Republican Party, a disproportionate number of its members embrace the philosophy that a strong belief in God, family, and the Constitution are exclusive to its small club. Thus, instead of being forward looking, the party has degenerated into a pathetic group of over 50-something trying desperately to turn back the hands of time when blacks were obedient servants and the Mexican-American War took care of our immigration problems.
While many of their leaders won’t admit to it, their message increasingly targets and blames the most vulnerable and politically disenfranchised segment of our society for all the ills plaguing our nation. Examples of the latter abound. Illegal immigrants are blamed for taking jobs away from hard working Americans, despite the fact that these immigrants’ employment niche is at the bottom of our nation’s occupational ladder where instability and below subsistence wages are the norm. This reality is largely ignored because it gets in the fact-checking way of this fringe group’s narrative that exists mostly in a realm called fiction.
Devoid of a substantive strategy to rescue America, the GOP has resorted to slogans. Borrowing from the “Terminator” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, “I’ll be back,” the GOP candidates for president in recent time have offered the following slogans as effective alternatives to well thought-out strategies for revitalizing America: “Drill Baby, Drill”; “9,9,9”; “under Obama the deficit and national debt have reached untenable levels” and “Barack Obama is the food stamp president.”
On the surface while the last two claims appear true, upon close analyses these assertions by the GOP about President Obama being the principal cause for our government’s budget deficit and national debt are, at best, exaggerated. As Chart 13 shows, the current fiscal woes are a consequence of the Monetarist policies followed by the Republicans starting with Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1980. Additionally, the costly wars and military interventionist policies of President George W. Bush played important roles in our country’s current fiscal maladies. While a recent editorial in the Washington Post delineates the current presidential candidates’ aversion to debt, their proposed current tax cuts would add trillions more to our country’s fiscal deficit . The GOP must be careful lest their economic policies lead the United States to duplicate the follies of Philip II and Louis XIV. Their militaristic adventures and unequal taxation policies advantaged the rich and powerful, ultimately leading Spain and France into bankruptcy in 1557 and 1788, respectively .
Regarding Newt Gingrich’s claim that “Obama is the food stamp President,” there is a great deal of truth to this assertion in that under President Obama the number of Americans applying for food stamps has escalated (see Chart 2). However, Speaker Gingrich’s explanation for this increase is not congruent with the facts. Specifically, Chart 3 shows that since 2006 the number of Americans receiving food stamps have been on the increase. That is, the surge in the number of Americans receiving food stamps began under President George Bush’s administration. The fiscal crisis was triggered by his Administration’s adherence to Monetarists policies that favor the rich, gut the middle class, and penalize/criminalize the poor.
However, under President Obama, this increase reached record levels. Equally as important, contrary to former House Speaker Gingrich’s statement that implied that blacks constituted the majority of individuals receiving food stamps and government handouts, the United States Department Agriculture’s records show that white Americans is the largest constituency served by the Food Stamp Program, more accurately known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
As Chart 4 demonstrates, 35.7% whites, 22% Blacks, 18.9% unknown, 10% Hispanics, and 2.4% Asians are served by SNAP. While it is accurate to say that a disproportionate number of blacks are served by SNAP, it is disingenuous to target black Americans as the main “undeserving4” benefactor of this USDA’s program.
As the scholarship of Herbert J. Gans (1995) and Teresa Amott and Julie Matthaei (1996) eloquently demonstrate, the attempt to label black Americans as undeserving has a long record in American historiography. We only need to recall President Ronald Reagan’s invention of the “Welfare Queen.” As John Blake correctly observed, while “Reagan never said the Welfare Queen was black …he didn’t need to. People assumed she was black because of rhetorical clues Reagan dropped5” . Recent examples to label blacks as lacking the personal principles that made our country great are again reflected in presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum’s remarks, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money” and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama wants to transform America into an “entitlement society” . While these assertions play well to those circles with a proclivity toward believing America’s decline is a consequence of our government’s socialistic policies, which are perceived as favoring undeserving blacks and other minorities, they are quick to forget that in 2010, General Electric (GE) reported a worldwide profit of $14.2 billion and it paid the American government zero dollars in taxes for that year . Specifically, GE recorded $14.2 billion in profits of which $5.1 billion of this total came from the United States. Would you be surprised to learn that its tax bill in the United States for 2010 was zero? General Electric’s tax settlement with the American government gives new life to Piven and Cloward’s (1993) remarks that decisions that are beneficial to various groups will lead to those groups demanding that government intervene to protect them. Specifically they wrote:
… once governmental action is inaugurated, the groups who benefit become a supporting constituency press for further gain. But most such social welfare activity has not greatly aided the poor, precisely because the poor ordinarily have little influence on government. Instead, “social welfare” programs designed for other groups frequently ride roughshod over the poor, as when New Deal agricultural subsidies resulted in the displacement of great numbers of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, or when urban renewal schemes deprived blacks of their neighborhoods6 .
Piven and Cloward’s observation demonstrates that groups that are in the commanding heights of international and national decision making structures are best positioned to receive government entitlements and privileges that are not shared among “underserved” blacks, immigrants, and financially poor minority communities .
Whereas powerful American corporations and the politically connected elites are the recipients of government handouts and sole source entitlements, they are not singled out by the GOP as undeserving, social parasites, or corporate Welfare Queens. The insistence of the GOP on bringing our electorate’s attention to the former as opposed to the latter is reflective of the absence of deep thinking in addressing the structural issues that not only confront America, but Greece, Italy, Ireland, and other countries whose domestic financial crises may well result in the collapse of the Capitalist World Economy.
Succinctly, the frightening problems confronting America which are inextricably linked to the Capitalist World Economy aren’t black Welfare Queens, Hispanics swimming across the Rio Grande, millionaires that are advantaged by our nation’s current tax codes or Greek workers who can retire as early as 55 years of age. If you asked the people in Greece who are currently being forced to accept austerity measures like people across the African continent during the 1980s and 1990s that were forced to accept Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP), they would state that the problems are not the socialistic policies imposed by Western national governments that favor undeserving workers, the poor, and disenfranchised blacks. On the contrary, as observed by Giovanni Arrighi (1994), historical capitalism is “indeed in the midst of a decisive turning point. However, under closer examination, this decisive turning is not “unprecedented” . Over the longue duree, historical capitalism has shown a consistent pattern . Its logic is consistent–endless accumulation.
In the 1970s, the American systemic cycle of f endless accumulation based on the Fordist-Keynesian model entered a protracted period of crisis . Stagflation, high interest rates, and the rationing of gasoline became the order of the day. The post World War II alliance between business, labor, and government increasingly became financially unviable in the post-Vietnam era (Harvey, 2005). This “regulated” regime, under which American capitalist reconstituted Western Europe, Japan and the erstwhile Soviet Union, in general, and the world economy, in particular reached its peak by the end of the 1960s. In the 1970s, the Bretton Wood accord began its exit from contemporary history. In place of Keynesian economics, the influences of Fredrick August von Hayek and Milton Friedman achieved dominance in Western economic policy circles .
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, President Ronald Reagan in the United States and Augusto Pinochet in Chile followed the economic prescriptions of Monetaristspolicy and deregulation became the order of the day. These policies were efficacious in that it blunted the impacts of unions and stagflation and led to the collapse of collectivist regimes in the Soviet Union and other countries advocating the Marxist-Leninist path to modernization. These policies crafted by Republican thinkers, such as Friedman, led to what American scholars term a resurgence of the United States and the West, in general. Despite the successes of President William Clinton (see Chart 1), who was forced to deal with the Republican’s “Contract with America,” the ideas of Friedman continued to carry the day. However, the economic collapse of the housing market in the United States in 2007 revealed the weaknesses of deregulation, which gave birth to Machiavellian schemes that brought a mortgage-based security called a derivative to hard-working Americans hoping to buy and/or upgrade their homes. This collapse precipitated large scale and long-term unemployment, sending financial markets worldwide in a downward spiral (Brzezinski, 2012). More troubling, it exposed the fragility of domestic and worldwide financial markets. As Arrighi’s (1994, 2010) erudition demonstrates, this fragility is an enduring characteristic of historical capitalism.
Ironically, instead of the GOP presidential hopefuls offering fresh and innovative solutions to the challenges outlined above, they have opted to offer up the traditional scapegoats to blame for these deep structural problems. This strategy by the current GOP presidential candidates may in the long-run prove a liability . Why do I say this? To answer this question, I have to refer to William F. Buckley, Jr. who stated, “And in the back of all political institutions there are moral and philosophical concepts, implicit or defined. Our political economy and our high energy industry run on large and general principles, on ideas—not by day-to-day guesswork, expedients, and improvisations. Ideas have to go into exchange to become or remain operative; and the medium of such exchange is the printed words” . To the GOP and all those committed to improving humanity without an insane adherence to dogmas, I offer my printed words and heartfelt desire that the Party of Lincoln does not imitate the impending collapse of Betelgeuse.
1 Let’s not forget the Nationalsozialististische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei and its supporters’ whose collective post World War II amnesia does not and will never account for the privileged distance of the advantaged vis-à-vis the downtrodden and the former’s attempts at genocide. Be it the Muslims against the non-Muslims in the former Sudan, the tragedy that accompanied the collapse of Yugoslavia post Tito, or the leadership of the Hutu’s attempted massacre of Tutsi in Rwanda. Until we (humanity wherever we find ourselves) abandon dogmas, the survival of humanity will be in the hands of the devil and his/her acolytes.
3 Chart courtesy of http://zfacts.com/p/318.html
5 “Reagan never said the Welfare Queen was black, but he didn’t need to. People assumed she was because of rhetorical clues dropped,” says John Hinshaw, a history professor at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania. “The Welfare Queen driving a pink Cadillac to cash her welfare checks at the liquor store fits a narrative that many white, working-class Americans had about inner city blacks…. It doesn’t matter if the story was fabricated, it fits the narrative, and so it felt true, and it didn’t need to be verified” .