The Great Republican Rollback
For years, retail giant Wal-Mart and its smiley face logo have lured American shoppers to its stores with a campaign to "rollback" prices. Now, as Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul was just the latest to make clear this week, the Republican Party is waging a rollback campaign of its own. From health care, Social Security and Medicare to civil rights, abortion and the U.S Constitution itself, Republicans are trying to turn back the clock to 1964, or 1933, or 1861 or even before the Founding itself.
2009 1973 1965 1964 1933 1861 1787
2009. To be sure, Republicans would love to return to January 19, 2009. On April 1, 2009, House Republicans, all of whom voted against the $787 billion Obama stimulus bill, called for its repeal. (Georgia's Jack Kingston, one of over 110 GOP Congressmen taking credit for stimulus funds they opposed, said he would "gladly run" on the repeal of the recovery act.)
As for the new health care reform law, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in March declared his party's mantra for the fall midterm elections:
"I think the slogan will be 'repeal and replace', 'repeal and replace.'"
1964. Given his druthers, Rand Paul would flip the calendar back to the Middle Ages. But as his opposition to the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, the minimum wage and above all the Civil Rights Act show, Paul the Younger would like to start with 1964.
Hoping to literally whitewash his disastrous interviews with his hometown paper, NPR and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Paul ended the week by insisting he would have voted "yes" on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Sadly for Paul, he also answered "yes" when Maddow asked him, "Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?" And as he wrote in 2002, Paul apparently longed for the days when Plessy v. Ferguson was the law of the land:
"A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."
1965. The next year brought two more targets for the conservatives' historical eraser: the Voting Rights Act and Medicare.
Republicans, of course, tried to block the health care program for America's seniors in the 1960's and tried to gut its budget in the 1990's. A decade ago, Newt Gingrich predicted the demise of Medicare:
"We don't want to get rid of it in round one because we don't think it's politically smart. But we believe that it's going to wither on the vine because we think [seniors] are going to leave it voluntarily."
Now, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his "Roadmap for America's Future," leading Republicans want to privatize Medicare out of existence. In 2009, 137 House Republicans voted for an alternative GOP budget which called for "replacing the traditional Medicare program with subsidies to help retirees enroll in private health care plans." Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Jack Kingston (R-GA), Paul Broun (R-GA) and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) all support Medicare privatization, a scheme Sarah Palin similarly endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last fall:
"Instead of poll-driven "solutions," let's talk about real health-care reform: market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven...providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage."
Last summer, yet another Georgian decried Medicare as having been wrong from the start. Tom Price, a one-time orthopedic surgeon and current chairman of the Republican Study Group, proclaimed:
"Going down the path of more government will only compound the problem. While the stated goal remains noble, as a physician, I can attest that nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare."
Mercifully, the Republican war on Medicare shows little prospect of success for the foreseeable future. Gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, however, is another matter.
No doubt, during its 8 years the Bush administration effectively undermined the "pre-clearance" provision the Act requires for federal approval of electoral changes in 16 mostly southern states. Overruling its career staffers in its Civil Rights Division, Alberto Gonzales' DOJ supported draconian voter ID laws in Georgia and other states. Adding insult to injury, the only voting rights action brought by the Bush Justice Department was on behalf of white voters in Mississippi.
And now, the Supreme Court stands ready to finish the job. A year after the Roberts Court blessed Indiana's transparently partisan voter ID law, the Supremes signaled their willingness to erode the VRA further in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder. Chief Justice John Roberts, who during his tenure in the Reagan administration argued that "the Voting Rights Act should be enforced according to whether discrimination was intended, as opposed to whether discrimination was the effect," signaled his disdain for its pre-clearance requirements:
"I mean, at some point," he said, "it begins to look like the idea is that this is going to go on forever." Robert also asked. "Are Southerners more likely to discriminate than Northerners?"
1973. The Republican Party and its conservative allies have been waging war on women's reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade was handed down 37 years ago. But even with their 2008 ballot defeats in California, Colorado and South Dakota, their campaign to roll back abortion protections continues full throttle.
No doubt, Justice Anthony Kennedy's shocking crusade against "abortionists" and mythical "post-abortion syndrome" in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart opinion cheered the GOP base. Now, while Coloradans will vote on whether or not a fertilized egg is a person, potentially giving "unborn fetuses human rights in the state constitution." In April, Nebraska ignored Roe's requirements by passing a law barring abortions after 20 weeks because of the possibility that fetuses might feel pain. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Republicans overrode a gubernatorial veto to require women to view mandatory ultrasound images before receiving an abortion and posting details of the procedure online after. Meanwhile in Kansas:
"Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook may have just offered the most unique idea so far: impose a sales tax on abortion...
"If you want less of something, you tax it," Pilcher Cook said.
1933. While Lyndon Johnson's Great Society may be a four-letter word for conservatives, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal remains liberalism's original sin. (So much so that Fox News host Glenn Beck asked of FDR Friday, "Am I wrong by saying there was a good portion of people that thought, 'Holy cow, I'm glad he's dead. He was turning into a dictator.'"
And perhaps no New Deal achievement stings Republicans more than Social Security. But even with President Bush's total failure to advance his wildly unpopular Social Security privatization scheme, his Republican allies are still on the case.
For example, while Paul Ryan's much-touted "Roadmap" preserves the current system for Americans 55 and older, for younger people the plan "offers the option of investing over one-third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, similar to the Thrift Savings Plan available to federal employees." In February, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) echoed Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) by insisting "what we have to do is wean everybody" off Medicare and Social Security. As Georgia Republican Jack Kingston summed up his party's plans for the retirement system:
"I think we should go back to Social Security, take it off budget, dedicate the funds, put personal accounts on it."
1861. As we've seen, Rand Paul was just fine with the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision when it comes to discrimination in public accommodations. But as the neo-Confederates of the Republican Party keep suggesting, race relations in the antebellum South seem to suit them just fine.
Just this week, Texas conservatives approved an overhaul of the state's textbooks which would remove the word "slave" from the term "slave trade." Of course, that omission follows two others, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Mississippi's Haley Barbour celebrated Confederate History Month in their respective states, each without mentioning slavery. As Barbour put it:
"To me it's a sort of feeling that it's just a nit. That it is not significant. It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."
As for Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee, they apparently considered the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to Constitution unnecessary, at least judging from the RNC's May memo attacking Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan:
"Does Kagan Still View Constitution 'As Originally Drafted And Conceived' As 'Defective'?"
As the health care reform debate reached its climax in March, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was among those reminding Americans that in Dixie the old times there are not forgotten. Missing the irony that health care is worst in those reddest of Southern states where Republicans poll best, Broun took to the House floor to show that he was still fighting the Civil War:
"If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States -- the Great War of Yankee Aggression."
If you thought you had heard that outdated term of Dixie revisionist history recently, you did. In February 2009, Missouri Republican Bryan Stevenson took exception to President Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which codify the reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide:
"What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression."
For the GOP "states' rights" cheerleaders, the next logical step is to threaten secession. And as ThinkProgress reported a year ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested to a furious Tea Party rally that the secession option should be on the table:
Perry told reporters following his speech that Texans might get so frustrated with the government they would want to secede from the union.
"There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."
Sadly for Perry and the secessionists, Supreme Court Justice and would-be Elena Kagan colleague Antonin Scalia crushed their hopes:
"If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede."
Hoping to stand the Civil War on its head, President Obama's Republican opponents are once again turning to nullification. Suggesting that South Carolina's effort to nullify federal tariffs starting in 1828 was a blessing, foes of the new health care reform law claiming state sovereignty trumps federal supremacy. The new "Tentherism" is embodied by Minnesota State Senator Tom Emmer, the Republicans' choice to succeed Governor Tim Pawlenty. As TPM recounted earlier this month:
He has even proposed a state constitutional amendment that would allow federal laws to operate in Minnesota only if they were consented to by super-majorities of the state legislature.
As TPM concluded elsewhere, these Republicans seek to defend the Constitution, just not the one you think.
1787. For many of the leading lights of the Republican Party, the ultimate rollback project is to revise the meaning of the United States Constitution and the clear intent of the framers.
That's especially true when it comes to the separation of church and state. James Madison and his Remonstrance is noticeably absent from conservative commentary on the subject. The Texas school book censors went so far as to delete Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson from their history texts altogether. His sin? His 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Of course, historian and half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has a different reading of America's founding as a "Christian nation." As she told Bill O'Reilly earlier this month:
"Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant. They're quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 commandments, it's pretty simple."
Asked in January by Glenn Beck to name her favorite Founding Father, Palin responded, "You know, well, all of them, because they came collectively together with so much." When he pressed her further, she narrowed it down to one:
"[C]ollectively they came together -- and they were led by, of course George Washington, so he's got to rise to the top."
Sadly for Sarah Palin (and earlier, her running mate John McCain), George Washington could not have disagreed more with her rewriting of the Founding. As Article 11 of the 1797 treaty Washington negotiated (and John Adams signed) with the Barbary pirates put it:
"The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
Just one more thing for Republicans to roll back.