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Republican Disdain for the White Working Class

Democratic Pres. Lyndon Johnson signing Medicare into law with Pres. Truman, also a Democrat, looking on.

An emerging lament of congressional Republicans, recently voiced by Carl Rove in the Wall Street Journal, is that President Trump’s awful behavior makes it more difficult to achieve Republican goals. Actually, the good thing about this vicious man’s behavior is that he may be making it more difficult to achieve Republican goals like tax breaks for those already awash in money, cancelling health insurance for 20 million people, rewriting environmental policy to please oil and coal interests, encouraging abuses by police and winking at discrimination and intolerance of all sorts.

The larger and more dangerous truth is that Trump’s vileness disguises the anti-working class bedrock of the Republican program being pushed in Congress by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The foundation of this program is the belief that working class Americans have to be coerced to work. The Ryan-McConnell approach reeks with the attitude of Dark Age nobles and Gilded Age bosses who believed that serfs, laborers fresh off the farms, and immigrants would not be sufficiently subservient, stay on a job and work hard if jobs were well paid and plentiful. Based on the same insulting view of working people, Republican leaders argue that patients will overuse health services if they don’t face high out-of-pocket costs, and become too contented for bosses to manage if they are guaranteed decent social security in old age.

“Freedom” is what the Republican congressional program supposedly offers American working people if they support policies that deny them the economic security workers have in countries like Germany, France or Britain. The freedom Republican policies offer of course is the freedom to struggle with grotesquely expensive and undecipherable private health plans and the freedom to lose their teeth for lack of dental coverage. It is the freedom to fear costly illness and to worry about what will happen if technology makes a job obsolete, a downturn comes, a business fails, or parents or children need help.

When Republicans do condescend to provide something for ordinary people, they riddle the measures with drug tests and other demeaning governmental intrusions never applied to the tax breaks and gold-plated benefits that go to corporate executives and the wealthy who they are sure, contrary to much evidence, can be trusted to police themselves.

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost in 2016 because they paid too little attention to economic insecurities affecting the White Working Class. I have believed this to be a liberal blind spot for four decades but the sins of “liberalism” are insignificant compared to the disdain for the WWC that is central to “conservatism.” The essence of the Republican version of that word is the view of the nobility that working people are shiftless, undisciplined, and of lesser worth and have to be coerced to work by the fear of punishment, poverty, and personal economic disaster.

This insulting and false view has to be exposed and countered. Democrats, who gave working people Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should never hesitate to compare what they have done for working people to the record of the Republicans. Democratic policy for the future should be to build 21st century economic progress and security for all Americans on the foundations that earlier Democratic presidents and congresses laid, and that are deservedly popular with voters. Democrats may no longer be the favored party of the working class, but they have done a great deal more for working people and hold them in far higher esteem than does the party that is sure that economic security will turn American workers into shirkers.

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