Republican overreach is in the air. You can see it, smell it, taste it everywhere, as you have in years past. And the only surprise is that is that it happened so quickly this time around.
In this last election cycle, the Grand Overreaching Party seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures and governorships around the country on a platform of jobs, balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. It took not so long before conservatives revealed their true intentions.
On the federal level there was the sideshow of Rep. Peter King's (R-NY) hearings on radical Islam. People are foreclosed upon, out of money, out of luck and suffering out there, but what do the Republicans decide to go after? NPR and Planned Parenthood, and rape victims who want an abortion. On the state level there is the ban on Sharia law and the war on the unemployed. There are birther bills, bills to eliminate birthright citizenship, and voter ID legislation to deal with the nonexistent issue of voter fraud. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder represents the epitome of overreaching, with new powers to dissolve municipal governments, throw out union contracts, and eliminate school districts.
And in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana Pennsylvania and Ohio, talk of shared sacrifice really has meant one-way sacrifice, with cuts to programs for the poor and working people and no demands made on the wealthy. In a perverse fashion, devastating cuts in education and health are paired with equally generous tax breaks to corporations, as if no one is looking and this grave crime being committed has no witnesses. Let's not forget the attack on unions' collective bargaining rights under the guise of deficit reduction. Now, that was diabolically slick of them.
Even many Republican voters are having buyer's remorse, with recall efforts underway, and some newly elected governors losing if an election were held today. Voters, be careful what you ask for. And yet, this was predictable, with history providing examples such as the 104th and 105th Congress and the Republican Contract with America. At that time, overreach came in the form of an impeachment of President for marital infidelity, and hypocrisy--and subsequent resignations--of GOP lawmakers who were guilty of the same.
Why voters send in the same crowd time and again, knowing their track record and their tendency to perform a bait and switch, is anyone's guess. My theory is that voters were attracted to Republican candidates on the false hope that eliminating wasteful government spending would create jobs. In the past, conservatives have used the "welfare queen" as the perennial scapegoat, a "whipping girl," if you will, to attack a bloated bureaucracy and further the cause of a smaller, limited government. The racial overtones were not too subtle, as it was understood that it was a black woman living in the projects on the South Side of Chicago who, according to President Reagan, "has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."
That was the Southern Strategy that served the GOP for decades--getting poor and working class whites to vote against their economic interests by convincing them that government programs mean unfair benefits to black people. But what do you do when, as is the case today, the so-called welfare queens are all public sector workers, who are accused of draining the public coffers with their million-dollar salaries, the teachers, police officers and firefighters who are only trying to feed their families and send their children to school? And what do you do when you realize some conservative politician considers you the welfare queen and makes you the scapegoat?
In the overreaching world of the conservative Republicans in power, the poor and the working class as a whole are the welfare queens. And struggling working people will bear the burden of this new regime of austerity and lopsided shared sacrifice. GOP overreach is part of a greater problem, made possible thanks to the growing inequality in America, the concentration of wealth, the relative weakness of organized labor, and the ubiquity of corporate power. In the absence of a national industrial policy--and given the state of U.S. political system, which is sold to the highest bidder each day--everything revolves around the short-term needs of corporations. Corporations have purchased big chunks of influence in our government, so the regressive policies we are witnessing reflect these corporations' quest for short-term profits, not the long-term needs of the people. True democracy cannot sustain these conditions, but feudalism can.
But it seems the people are waking up, finally. As President George W. Bush once said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."