Ted Cruz won a victory for the Tea Party in Texas recently, defeating the experienced Republican “establishment” candidate, David Dewhurst. A very conservative candidate was beaten by an even more conservative candidate. In Texas, there is a lot of jostling to see how far to the right a politician can get, even when a casual observer would think that there’s not much elbow room to be found between various positions.
Since I grew up in a conservative Republican family long ago, I thought that it might be instructive to examine some of these far-right ideas, which haven’t changed in generations, because although they seem crazy to outsiders, within the world of true believers they seem perfectly logical.
I should point out that I first became disenchanted with the Republican party when Reagan was governor of California. It happened primarily because of the bracero program. This program, started by the federal government in the early days of World War II, allowed cheap seasonal labor to be legally imported from Mexico. Oversight of employers was negligible, and miserable living conditions, substandard wages, and “stoop labor” field work from dawn to dusk were hallmarks of the system. The program ended in 1964, at the time of the Civil Rights movement.
Reagan, as I remember, wanted to bring los braceros back to California, because, you know, nobody could afford to give their workers all that “minimum wage” and “health and safety” stuff that was usually required of employers. (I remember some of my athletic boy cousins picking crops, after school and during vacations, after the original bracero program ended. Obviously kids from local families were more demanding than strangers from south of the border.) The return of the braceros and the idea of trickle-down economics told me all I wanted to know about the new direction of the GOP. Mr. Reagan drove me from the Republican party, which my family had joined in the days of Lincoln, before he ever made it to the national stage.
After I renounced my Republican status, I floated for awhile as an “independent” and finally, after a move to Texas, came down on the side of the Democrats during the governorship of the late Ann Richards. That was long ago, and the conservative Republicans have taken over Texas now. Not surprisingly, they remind me a lot of the folks I grew up with.
Here are a few of the standard positions that I used to hear, and that I still hear, in conservative Republican diatribes.
1. The 16th amendment ought to be repealed!
This is an oldie. The 16th amendment, establishing a federal income tax, was originally passed to help pay for World War I. The law was written to exempt all but the wealthiest Americans from the tax, but of course time, inflation, and governmental sclerosis gradually brought more and more people into the income tax pool. Nowadays, we think of only the very poor as being “exempt” from income taxes, but when my parents were young, the income tax kicked in just as you were beginning to feel a bit wealthy--and it was just enough to push you back down into the lower earning levels again. Obviously, the income tax was invented just to keep people down!
Nowadays, conservatives howl about the fact that some people (meaning the tax-exempt poor) don’t pay their fair share of taxes--though that charge might be leveled at the tax-avoiding rich, as well.
2. We ought to do away with Social Security!
Another oldie. The Social Security Act of 1935 covered many bases: old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, help for dependent children and their mothers when the breadwinner died... It would seem that during the Great Depression, no one would argue about the need for such social support. It would seem that way to you and me, but we would be wrong. Both my parents were working when the Social Security Act was passed, and both fiercely resented having funds deducted from their paychecks to help “those people” -- those people who bought things on credit, lived beyond their means, did not mend and make do, and did not save for their own retirement. (As for mothers and children, and the distressed unemployed, their own families ought to help them, not perfect strangers.)
Today that’s the same argument we hear from the Tea Party. For the record, my parents both accepted Social Security in their old age, and I’m sure all the Tea Partiers of today will do the same.
3. The government is the problem, not the solution!
This one is ancient, probably as old as the institution of government itself. The purpose of government is to enforce the laws that keep society functioning, and there are always some laws that are not popular with everyone.
The classic complaints from our conservatives show a particular bent. Why should an employer worry about how, when, and where the field workers eat lunch, or whether they have clean water and sanitation? What about specified breaks and safety equipment for factory workers? Nobody ever complained about working conditions before the government stepped in!
On the other hand, the conservatives say, the government had better be on its toes about the really important things, like fire and police service... everybody knows those guys don’t work as hard as they ought to... Somebody oughta make a law...
So government is intrusive and overbearing when you don’t agree with what it’s doing, but when you want it to act, you want a big response, and you want it right now! Let’s just say that “higher order thinking” is not a favorite pastime among conservatives, as you will see if you read the platform of the Republican Party of Texas.
Could we ever give the conservatives everything they want? Could we ever make the Tea Party happy?
I doubt it. Even if we could roll the clock all the way back to 1912, it wouldn’t solve anything at all. These folks see the world as divided into two groups: winners, who deserve to win, and losers, who deserve to lose. That’s just the way it is. And winners don’t have to share if they don’t want to; they have no responsibility to help “the other guy.”
This was drummed into me as a child, because as a person with an obvious physical handicap, I was an obvious “loser.” My family might give me help, but society wouldn’t, and shouldn’t. That’s the rule conservatives live by. In today’s Tea Party, especially in Texas, we see that rule writ large. Is this what we want for our country? That’s what this election is about.