Pandering to the Right Fringe

by Linda Beale

Pandering to the Right Fringe

This campaign season has revealed more clearly than ever the ultimate goal of today’s hard right, as manifested in campaign debates and the right-wing think tanks’ output. It is nothing less than dismantling the protections established under FDR–Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage and other safety net protections that are nonetheless thinner than most advanced democracies have–under the guise that these programs are too costly, do not require personal responsibility, and can’t be afforded under the new right’s ‘realism’ about the deficits.

The right doesn’t want to afford these programs. Now that it has managed to ‘starve the beast’ through the Bush tax cuts, the repetitive stalling on increasing the debt ceiling, and numerous other revenue reduction measures–especially in the corporate tax provisions–it will claim that there is simply nothing else to be done but cut the safety net away.

This is mere spin. Tax increases and judicious stimulus measures can allow us to recover. Removing the safety net will thrust the country into a deep recession, since it will impact seniors, dependent children and the most vulnerable. The poverty increase that we have witnessed over the last few years will continue. Surely this is not what Americans want for their country!

But the politicians continue to preach the failed approaches of Reaganomics, in the claim that their deregulatory and corporate tax cutting agenda will “revive” manufacturing.

Santorum is riding his near-miss in Iowa under the guise of a populist who understands the worries of the downtrodden labor class in America. The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 7-8, 2012) says that he “cast[s] himself as an advocate for blue-collar workers and their economically troubled communities, hoping to capitalize on differences with Mr. Romney, a wealthy former private-equity investor and son of a Michigan governor.”

Santorum once didn’t have much money and he has memories of a coal-miner grandfather. Is that enough to create ‘bona fides’ for his views on how we should manage the U.S. economy? Seeing poverty can help a person to empathize with those in poverty, or it can lead that person to denounce those who remain in poverty as lazy bums who are in poverty from their failure to take the steps the person took to rise above it. Seeing poverty doesn’t mean that person understands the kinds of gut-wrenching problems that much of middle America and especially those at the lower end of the distribution are experiencing today–small towns that are rotting off the map as manufacturing jobs vanish and farms have become corporate enterprises, extensions of Cargill and AMD and Tyson and the few others that dominate the American production of food from seed to harvest to grocer to table.

And the policies that Santorum favors will be extraordinarily destructive of the middle class: they favor the wealthy and corporate enterprises, not the little guy.

Some of the things Santorum is mentioning on the campaign trail might benefit some in the middle class–like the idea of tripling the exemption for children, though the proposal apparently isn’t linked to income level and so would not be focused on families that need the help. (And it would be widely available, adding significantly to the deficit).

The rest of Santorum’s tax proposals favor the wealthy–lowering corporate tax rates to half their current level, eliminating corporate tax entirely for manufacturers, eliminating corporate tax on overseas profits that are used to buy manufacturing equipment (not clear whether that applies even if the equipment is used overseas as well, since the current tax code is already too friendly to active overseas businesses), and eliminating taxes on capital income.

Those provisions are most favorable for the wealthy who own most of the corproate stock and other financial assets. hough the right likes to label these kinds of tax policies ‘pro-growth’, they are in fact a replay of the failed policies of the last 40 years that have resulted in stagnate wages for the middle class and dying small towns, while the beneficiaries of the tax largesse flourish in gated communities.

These tax policies will carve out huge holes in federal revenues, resulting in increased deficits that will be used as justification for decimating earned benefit programs (Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment compensation). A vicious circle of cutting revenues and then using the loss of revenues to justify cutting important federal programs will leave the middle class (and especially the poor and the near-poor) in even worse condition, as the safety net that is especially needed now is weakened or removed.

These ideas on the right, stale as they are, are getting the kind of attention that cements them in people’s views, no matter how wrong they are. In debate after debate, candidates vie with each other to pander to the right. See, e.g., Santorum Claims Romney’s Tax PLan Isn’t Bold Enough, Huff. Post (Jan 9, 2012). Romney wants to cut taxes and spending and thinks Government is too big, but he at least thinks we need taxes to cover core responsibilities that government should do. Santorum wants more–more tax cuts for the wealthy and large corproations.

And when you repeat something over and over, it tends to stick. The American people are hearing these same ideas from every Republican candidate, as they compete to win the radical fringe of the Republican party.

What is worrisome is that progressives are disengaged. They are miffed about the continuing degradation of civil rights under the continuing “war” on terrorism, Obama’s weakness in not being able to stand up to the Republican minority or even hold to his threat to veto (see, e.g., the pipeline problem) and the way corporate lobbyists are succeeding in causing agencies to weaken or delay important environmental regulations. They are miffed because they had projected onto Obama their specific dreams of revitalization and change, and there is no way that any one person could have satisfied all that. Much less this person, who was an inexperienced politico with a stable of advisers from Wall Street and past administrations who valued change not one whit.

But it seems fairly obvious that the only hope for progressives is to defeat the resurging right that intends to deregulate, cut taxes and privatize if it gains complete power through control of the White House, House and Senate.