The Republican search for a presidential candidate has become so surreal that it is difficult to maintain a sense of perspective. In the real world, the recession has eliminated jobs and pushed down incomes, so the number of families not paying income tax has risen. But Republican rhetoric has veered off the surface of the planet. An editorial in the New York Times today pointed out that, along with other leading Republicans, “Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the ‘injustice’ that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax.”
Perry is the front-runner in the Republican presidential race, a man who professedly doesn’t believe in evolution, global warming, or social security. In the face of a drought in Texas he organized a mass pray-in – luckily for everyone he wasn’t in charge of federal relief for hurricane Irene. Now that the Supreme Court have ruled that corporations are persons, Perry has decided they also have souls.
While outraged at the poor, Perry has blessed god-fearing corporations which paid more to their CEOs in 2010 than they paid to the government, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. “A variety of shelters, loopholes and tax reduction strategies allowed the companies to average more than $400 million each in tax benefits — which can be taken as a refund or used as write-off against earnings in future years. …Verizon, which earned $11.9 billion in pretax United States profits, received a federal tax refund of $705 million. The company’s chief executive, Ivan Seidenberg, meanwhile, received $18.1 million in compensation. The online retailer eBay reported pretax profits of $848 million and received a $113 million federal refund. John Donahoe, eBay’s chief executive, collected a compensation package worth $12.4 million …. ‘Instead of sharing responsibility for addressing our nation’s fiscal challenges,’ said Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the institute who co-wrote the study, ‘corporations are rewarding CEOs for aggressive tax avoidance’.”
Perry’s theology assigns moral virtue to the rich, the conservative, and the incorporated. Although it’s couched in a language of anti-elitism, black, poor and latino Americans are excluded from the ranks of the elect. To justify the way the super-rich have abandoned any sense of social responsibility and have separated themselves from the rest of society, Republicans are attacking social programs and the gains of the civil rights movement. Their resentment at the undermining of white privilege is expressed in a number of comments on E.J. Dionne’s eulogy to Martin Luther King on the occasion of the unveiling of his memorial in Washington D.C. The most explicit said: “Why don’t you spell it out Dionne, what is it exactly that you want America to do for the blacks, since the point of your self righteous spewing is to temporarily deny the unalienable rights outlined in the Constitution to all but people of color?”
The Republican trajectory is so far away from issues facing ordinary people, like unemployment and foreclosures, that you’d expect their candidates to be unelectable. Polls show that Tea Partiers are about as popular as dentists. But Obama is only just polling neck-and-neck with them. Of course the economy is bad; but it’s guaranteed to get worse by next year, because the fiscal measures insisted on by the Republican right will certainly lead to a double-dip recession.
Is all this because Democrats cannot conceive of an alternative? According to Peter Dorman of Econospeak, “We are not living through an epoch of intellectual failure, but one in which there is no available mechanism to oust a political-economic elite whose interests have become incompatible with ours. … Those who sit at the pinnacle of wealth for the most part no longer think about production, nor do they worry very much about who the ultimate consumers will be; they take financial positions and demand policies that will see to it that these positions are profitable.”
Far from challenging this elite and mobilizing the public against their austerity demands, Obama has repeated and reinforced their ideology. Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute comments: “Obama is choosing to pursue a policy of foreclosures and bank bailouts not because of any grand corporate scheme. He just wants to. He thinks it’s the right thing to do, and he’s doing it. … Obama spoke at the founding of Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Institute, and his first, and most important by far policy initiative, was his whipping for TARP, a policy that was signed by Bush but could not have passed without Obama getting his party in line. That was his goal, and he’s still pursuing it.”
At the grass roots, back on Earth, it’s a different story. The recall elections in Wisconsin reflected the swing against Tea Party style government, as did public support for Verizon workers. The Communications Workers of America are starting a powerful lobbying campaign against Republicans who shut down the FAA: they will escalate a fight with them over the party’s push to make it harder for rail and airline workers to unionize.
And the militant nurses’ union is lobbying legislators nationwide on Thursday, September 1, for a tax on stock trades. The nurses say: “We’ll be asking something very specific of our elected officials, and that is not about where or whether or not they take an August or Labor Day vacation. We want them to pledge their support for those who damaged Main Street so badly to pay to repair it. … The Wall Street Transaction Tax is a sales tax on the stocks, bonds, debt and other trades carried out by the financial industry. That’s the place to start. Imagine a country in which workers have jobs at living wages to reinvest in America, where there is equal access to quality public education and guaranteed healthcare, a secure retirement, good housing, protection from hunger and a safe environment. That’s the America our nurses not only imagine but insist must be rebuilt.”
Unions have been drawn into a political fight because the Republican Tea Party right have decided to legislatively suppress the right to organize. To win this fight, unions need to broaden their base to encompass the problems of the poor, homeless, and unemployed. A grand coalition like that led by Dr. Martin Luther King is needed to unite social activists, unions, advocates for the homeless, and all those who want to fight for social justice in this country. Such a mass movement will combine with those in the Democratic Party who oppose the corporate takeover of government and will change America for good.