By Jay Hansen
(Originally published September 12th, 2011)
(Photo: Carolyn Tiry / Flickr)
I recently read an article called “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Who Left the Cult,” by Mike Lofgren of Truthout, a former GOP staff member in Washington D.C. It’s hard for me to really summarize the article and give it justice, as it was just bloody brilliant. This one article summarizes nearly the entirety of my political ideology today. I highly encourage everyone to read it. Be warned, it is quite lengthy, so make sure you’ve got spare time on your hands (but don’t be too concerned – half an hour should suffice), but, allow me to attest one more time, it’s a remarkable analysis of how politics in this nation works, specifically from the GOP’s perspective, and the absolute core principles of their party in the most simple, clear cut, yet revealing and shocking way.
There is a lot I could discuss that is written in Lofgren’s piece, especially the part where he writes in detail how Republicans are waging a war against voting. The GOP is trying to stop Americans from voting because statistics show that the fewer people vote in elections, the better Republicans do, among a whole host of other reasons and downright villainous tactics such as creating mandatory photo ID laws for voting, yet also closing down DMV offices in Democratic-leaning districts. Vile, sleazy tactics of the Republican party like this fill the article, and worse yet, it explains how Democrats so desperately want to “play along” with the Republican handbook.
The one part of this article that I absolutely must make comment on, though, is on Lofgren’s comments about the incentive structure for the Republican Party. Republicans fancy themselves the anti-government party these days. Their slogans and speeches are always about one thing; getting the government “out of the way.” They do this by cutting spending to programs the lower and middle class are dependent upon, cutting taxes disproportionately to how much money the government has to spend to remain functioning, eliminating regulation on the false claim that it “hinders job growth,” and a whole host of other things. Given that the Republican’s claim is that “government doesn’t work” and that it’s “always in the way,” their party has an incentive for the government not to work. As Lofgren writes;
“By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner… This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends… Undermining Americans’ belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy.”
The Republican Party has an incentive to sabotage the government. Lofgren so eloquently laid out his case for this most harsh of criticisms it’s difficult to even think of an argument to the contrary, let alone be able to present it in a fashion as skillfully as Lofgren.
I write this article primarily to explain this simple truth; every single decision in life by anyone is all about incentives and disincentives. This is the reason why Communism fails; people have no incentive to work harder or improve the quality of their work. They get no higher wages or extra benefits, so why bother? The exact same thing is true for systems of government where corporations are unregulated and hold all the power. If we deregulate, and allow corporations to do whatever they want, what incentive would they have to do the ethically correct thing? Say an energy company has multiple power plants that generate large amounts of smog, which causes numerous health problems. Federal regulations such as those of the EPA would prevent the company’s power plants from generating certain amounts of smog in the name of public safety, even if this means the power plants in question can’t generate as much energy, and therefore, get less business and the company make less profit. If we remove the regulations on smog, then the company stands to make more profits by generating more smog, even though more smog puts public health and the environment in jeopardy.
This is why companies and corporations are amoral. They exist solely to make a profit, not do good or evil. Without regulations, companies have an incentive to generate more smog, because doing so will make them more profits. With regulations, companies have a strong disincentive from generating smog, because generating excess smog could lead the company to face fines, penalties, or even jail time for certain company leaders and decision makers.
So now, let’s go back to the matter at hand; Republicans have an incentive to sabotage the government. Their party runs on a platform policy of “government doesn’t work,” and that they can somehow change that, usually by placing more and more of society’s needs in the hands of corporations and the private sector which, as I just highlighted, puts American citizens at risk since corporations don’t make decisions on what’s good or bad for people, merely by what is profitable. So if a political party’s key message is government doesn’t work, their goal will be to make sure of that. As detrimental to society as that is, Republicans are “keeping their promise,” in a matter of speaking, by making the government not work.
Republicans cut and “reform” taxes, limiting the revenue flow to the government, but appeasing the uneducated by giving them more money that ordinarily would have gone to the government. Then the government can’t pay for all the programs and regulations it needs to in order to function properly, leading to spending cuts. Spending cuts to programs that help with the cost of living for lower and middle class families such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, specific tax credits, and other things leads to an increase in the cost of living for these socio-economic levels. Increases in the cost of living directly because of the government leads people to have little faith that the government is doing the right thing, and thus, that “government doesn’t work.” Out of frustration and disappointment, people then find themselves in agreement with the political party (the Republican Party) that runs entirely on that exact claim, and so, they vote for them. Voting for Republicans then leads to more tax cuts and reforms, more spending cuts, higher cost of living for the lower and middle classes, more frustration and disappointment towards the federal government, and thus, more distrust of and anger for it, which Republicans then fuel even more by saying the government doesn’t work. Driven by emotion instead of logic, uninformed, uneducated people that often proclaim themselves to be “centrists” agree and vote for Republicans. This is the vicious cycle Republicans have set up in a society where tens of millions of people are completely unknowledgeable on how the government works, let alone who controls what or what each party does when they are in power.
This is how Republicans have rigged the system. This is why Republicans keep growing more and more radical in how they want to weaken, shrink, and eliminate the federal government. It’s grown to a point where it’s snowballing out of control and Democrats are stupidly playing along, thinking that because the strategy of “less government” worked for the Republicans means it will work for them too because they’ll appear “centrist,” when in reality all it does is make them look weak and disenfranchise their voter base (liberals don’t want to see the federal government shrink, yet Democrats continually follow policies that do just that in some misguided belief of appeasing “centrists”).
It will take a long time, and a lot of effort to fix this problem. Education is the key, and moving to a point where socially we can all talk about politics again without wanting to kill each other or resort to petty name calling. Being an informed voter is the absolute best way you can fight corruption, and put an end to the Republican’s purposeful sabotage of the US government.