There are two planks in the Republican Party’s platform this election season. Power without responsibility. And a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.
Let’s be realistic. Someone is going to have to oversee healthcare, business ethics, the financial world and environmental regulation. And who would you rather see managing these entities, or at the very least, looking over their shoulder? A government, elected by and accountable to voters? Or a corporate board, an industry consortium, committed polluters, all of whom are unaccountable to the public and whose primary concern is the health of their bottom line rather than the economic and social well-being of the working and middle classes?
Because make no mistake, the Republican Party is channelling the message of the Tea Party and railing against government intervention, which they characterise as socialist. The same kind of intervention, mind you, that Republican and Democratic governments alike engaged in during the 1960s and ‘70s which resulted in more protection for consumers, for the public and for the environment than ever before.
But what the Republican Party is really promising is nothing less than a full-court press, using all the instruments of power and the influence of government, on behalf of the obscenely wealthy, the cavalierly corporate, the blatantly polluting...all the same people, in short, whose short-term thinking and profit-oriented mindset led us into Iraq in search of quick and dirty oil, to the deregulation of industry that gave us the oil spill in the gulf, to the financial meltdown in 2008 and the soaring unemployment that followed, to the Supreme Court ruling that says that corporations are individuals and that money is free speech, all of which squeeze out the working and middle classes and throw the weakest amongst us on their own resources.
And now we have an example of what will begin to happen if the Republicans begin to win back the reins of power. In Britain, the kind of austerity regime based around cuts to public services is set to mutilate the social fabric of the country more than the most heartless and bloody-minded Thatcherites of the 1980s ever dreamed of. An economic plan based on pushing nearly half a million public service workers into unemployment (and thereby depriving far larger numbers of people of the services those workers rendered) is a recipe for disaster.
Moreover, it is baffling illogical. We are living in a moment during which the working and middle classes are buffeted by perilous economic winds. People in this country are more vulnerable than at any time in the recent past. So why choose this moment to disinvest in the public, in the safety nets that protect people? If we turn our collective back on the unemployed and on those who are struggling to make economic ends meet—because let’s be clear, that’s what the Republican Party is arguing for—we will have a far larger crisis to confront down the road.
Why would you argue against healthcare reform that asks employers to take responsibility for their employees, to ensure that those people are able to live decent lives? Why would you argue against taxes that ask those making more than six times what the average individual in the U.S. does to pay a little more? Why would you argue for deregulating the kinds and amounts of pollutants that industries can pump into our air, our water and our fields...pollutants which affect all of us, but the weakest, poorest and most marginalised amongst us disproportionately? Why would you argue that the welfare of a business (especially one bent on evading its social and economic responsibilities) is more important than the welfare of people? And why would you suggest, at a moment when intellectual, technical and economic regeneration and imagination are the path to salvation, that we should make wholesale cuts to schools, colleges and universities?
The public and the media need to be asking the Republican Party these questions, because as it is, the Party is running on the assumption that the public won’t hold them responsible for the unethical and dishonest deregulation that got us into our current mess. And while they are vocally protesting government intervention, they are plotting an intervention of historic proportions on behalf of the wealthy, the corporate and the unethical at the expense of the working and middle classes, the unemployed, and the otherwise unrepresented. That is what this election is really about: who holds the levers of power, and on whose behalf do they exercise them? Nothing less, in other words, than the future of democracy.