Richter Scale

How the Republicans Empower U.S. Minorities

Why are the Republicans so keen on creating their own worst nightmare?

Credit: Anita Hart (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Takeaways


  • Obama is a potent political symbol of the changing America that is reflected in him, but not — at least so far — really shaped or led by him.
  • If you get blamed for being a radical when you have not been one, why not be the one to trigger real, radical change?
  • It would be a miracle of sorts if Obama now discovered his inner Harry Truman or the focused determination of a Dwight Eisenhower.
  • The challenge for Obama's second term is whether he can make the United States a democracy, not just a republic.

The major irony of American politics today is that conservative Republicans, with their obstinacy, are largely responsible for creating their own worst nightmare: They, not the Democrats, are the ones who really empower the minorities living in the United States.

As a result, the realization of the Republicans’ long-term worry — whites losing majority status in the U.S. population — has been greatly accelerated in the political arena. That is the major outcome of the 2012 elections.

Barack Obama and his campaign team are proud of their ability to turn out the vote. However, it is important to note that, at key turning points in the campaign, they actually did not need to do all that much. The Republican Party did most of the job for them.

Just take the critical moment late in the campaign when the women’s vote seemed to be slipping out of the Democrats’ hands. Then, out of the blue, two atrocious statements about rape made by two (male) Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate changed the entire equation.

They were, in fact, so absurd that they seemed to be an invented-news segment broadcast on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, the satirical television show. In other words, they were a pure gift to the Democrats, helping galvanize the women’s vote in a manner that no action they themselves could have taken would ever have achieved.

The same is true for Mr. Romney’s disastrous souring of relations with Hispanics early in the primary campaign when he suggested that the solution to the country’s immigration problems was for illegal immigrants to “self-deport.”

Given the Republicans’ penchant for campaign self-destructiveness, the President clearly had a lot of luck on his side. And let’s face it, he needed all the luck he could get. After all, no sitting president had been re-elected with the unemployment rate higher than the current 7.9% since Franklin Roosevelt in 1940.

What this shows is that a majority of Americans are finally looking through all the empty promises and rhetoric of the Republican Party. They are beginning to see who, contrary to Mr. Romney’s protestations about the 47%, is the real entitlement party.

That would be the Republicans, who are unflinching in their demands for tax cuts for the well to do — and especially for those who are already doing extremely well.

That kind of thinking reeks of the habits of the 19th century’s landed gentry. As then, there is now a palpable sense of entitlement, manifested by rigging the tax code and the public trust very much in favor of the “haves” via instruments like carried interest and other niceties.

This spirit of entitlement is especially widespread among Republican elites, although the phenomenon is by no means limited to them (witness the parade of Democrat-leaning Wall Street billionaires).

That deeply engrained habit may now meet its long overdue political death at the altar of real democracy, even though the scandalously rigged U.S. campaign finance system will considerably prolong the arrival of the inevitable.

The futility of big spending by outside interests on Tuesday is indicative of the happy progress that election results can no longer be bought quite so easily as has long been assumed.

The last hurrah?

It has been wisely said that George W. Bush’s disputed victory over Al Gore in the 2000 election was the last hurrah for the white American male.

And what a “victory” it was: A decade lost to unnecessary foreign wars. Distortions in the tax code. Vast underinvestments in infrastructure (other than military “infrastructure”). A vast increase in the buying of political influence.

Reflexive opposition to any kind of modernizing reforms (including to reforms that would provide near-universal health care). Lamenting high levels of regulation in a country with a notoriously weak regulatory structure (at least measured by developed country standards). The list goes on.

The important thing for the future is that the tenure of President Obama may turn out to be a catalyst with regard to levels of political engagement. Because of the Republicans’ self-destructive machinations, they have literally left all the sectors of the population who are rising in number, status and dynamism — Hispanics, women, African-Americans and other minorities — no choice than to step up to the plate and claim their country’s future for themselves.

Mr. Obama was forthright when he told his supporters in his final campaign speech that “you took this campaign and you made it your own.”

Indeed, they did. They were the ones, thanks to the never-ending Republican stimulus program of major political missteps, who had fire in the belly when Obama himself seemed to lack it.

The President was thus not so much the leader of this campaign to retake America, but its figurehead. Obama is a potent political symbol of the changing America that is reflected in him, but not — at least so far — really shaped or led by him.

It remains to be seen whether he will abandon his customary caution and natural inclination to make sure that he never upsets the powers that be.

He may have learned from his first term that the Republicans will claim that he is a radical no matter how establishment-oriented his actions are in practice. From financial reform to healthcare reform, there surely is nothing radical about him.

Obama’s financial reform still permits too-big-to-fail banks to engage in risky gambling, where a radical would have broken these banks apart and reestablished divisions between consumer and investment banking.

And health care reform, done by a radical, would have meant a Canadian-style, single-payer national health service rather than allow largely discredited and inefficient insurance companies to remain — and, indeed, expand their markets — in the post-reform landscape.

If you get blamed for being a radical when you have not been one, that suggests an interesting opposite conclusion: Why not be the one to trigger real, radical change?

It would be a miracle of sorts if Obama now discovered his inner Harry Truman or the focused determination of a Dwight Eisenhower. Both of them provide potential guideposts for Obama’s second term.

Anyone who listens to Truman’s acceptance speech at the 1948 Democratic Convention cannot fail to be impressed by his fighting spirit in addressing the pernicious influence of money (and Big Business’s lobbies) on the political culture.

It was over six decades ago when Truman called a spade a spade on this issue, which is a far bigger threat today than it was then.

One also wonders whether President Eisenhower would have been as accommodating as Mr. Obama has with regard to being soft on the defense industry’s constant demands for more money. Eisenhower would have surely put the available funds into the nation’s real security problem: its greatly diminished infrastructure.

The real security of the homeland requires investments in sea walls along the Jersey shore. It must be better prepared for the onset of climate change than tourist villages are on lush Thai beaches. So far, that is not the case.

In short, the challenge for Obama’s second term is whether he can move the real American Dream ahead a determined notch: making the United States a democracy, not just a republic.

That is a pivotal distinction: A democracy serves the interests of all people, seeks to make the most of their potential, and underpins that goal by creating a web of safeguards on basic health and income security.

In contrast, a republic — at least in the American understanding of the word — mostly limits the common national purpose to uniting around the cause of defense against foreign threats. Otherwise, the federal government is there primarily to serve the interests of those who are already well-off and keen on keeping it just that way.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist.

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