STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The GOP and National Planning, you say? Hasn’t the GOP always been against planning, particularly against nation-wide planning to deal with nation-wide problems? Well, actually not always. In the immediate post-Civil War period the so-called “Radical” branch of what was then truly the Party of Lincoln was very much for national planning in dealing with the problem of how to integrate the freed slaves into the regular economic and political life of the nation. They proposed to start with three central programmatic elements: universal co-equal education, land re-distribution which went under the slogan of “40 acres and a mule,” and the vote. Well we all know what happened to that, as the GOP quickly transmogrified into the Party of the Emerging Corporate Power (which so ironically and quickly replaced the Slave Power as the principal reactionary force in the nation). Planning for anything but imperial expansion (and sometimes not even that)? Fuhgeddaboudit.
From the time it became entrenched as the Corporate Party in the 1880s through the New Deal (except to a certain extent under Teddy Roosevelt) the GOP remained that way. In the 1950s, however, it was under President Eisenhower that the most important, widest–ranging national planning effort ever, the construction of the Interstate Highway System, was initiated. (Too bad Ike wasn’t as interested in railroads!) Nixon was also interested in certain aspects of national planning: the clean air and water acts, and national health insurance too, which we would have had had it not been for Watergate.
But beginning with Reagan the GOP resolutely turned its back on any kind of rational, national planning designed to meet national needs. President Carter has started a modest alternative energy research project. The Oil Men’s President shut it down on January 21, 1981 (and had Carter’s solar panels taken off the roof of the White House on the same day). Reagan also shut down the very modest but modestly effective Comprehensive Health Planning program. Then the GOP shredded the last best hope against the present health care mess, the Clinton Health Plan, which had major planning elements for cost-containment and boosting efficiency built into it. And so on and so forth right down to the present.
However, there is one element of national planning with which the GOP is intimately involved: how to maintain, and indeed expand its political power as on the one hand, the demographics of the country move away from it and on the other, the cover issues for their true agenda become less effective (see my previous column on this subject ), e.g., homophobia and religious determinism in the matter of abortion). The strategy, which just now is becoming very clear, combines voter suppression, Gerrymandering, and a plan to change the way electoral votes are allocated in each state, with a focus on those that have a majority of their Congressional districts in the hands of Republicans (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
The idea is simple: with their dwindling true following, the GOP can stay in power by repressing the vote of those constituencies which vote normally Democratic (of which tactic many examples were seen in the 2012 elections), and by Gerrymandering electoral districts in the states so as to boost the number of GOP representatives being elected to the Congress. (The drawing of electoral districts with, shall we say, “odd” boundaries so as to maximize the number of legislative members of a particular party in a given state is named after an early 19th century Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, the first practitioner of the craft. But his efforts look absolutely amateurish compared to those of the modern GOP). And here is where GOP long-range planning came into play. Even though it was only in the run-up to the last election that the usual pundits started talking about “demographic changes” favoring the Democrats, it was obvious that the Republicans recognized what was happening some years ago and began planning, yes planning, to deal with them.
Major GOP outside political organizations, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), began gearing up for the 2010 state legislature elections several years in advance. The National Plan was to capture as many of them as possible, with the relatively modest influxes of money that would be needed, even in traditionally Democratic states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Then in 2010 would come re-districting and their electoral precinct demons could go to work, jamming as many Democratic votes into a given district as possible, and spreading the Republican ones out over more districts. The plan worked, for the incoming 113th Congress. Nationally, about 1.4 million more votes were cast for Democrats in the House races yet the GOP ended up with a 33 seat majority (6).
Nationally, voter suppression, was carried out under the extensive, Fox”News” “voting fraud” propaganda campaign (itself fraudulent for there are no more than a handful of cases here and there), and attempts to limit access to the polls themselves in high Democratic-vote districts (7): “The mostly Republican modern voter suppression efforts include requiring photo identification in order to register, reducing the time allowed for early voting, ending same-day registration where that has been available (in Texas, voter registration ends 30 days before the election), creating greater difficulties for eligible ex-felons who have paid for their crimes, requiring proof-of-citizenship documents in order to register, and discouraging voter registration drives through new regulations that penalize authorized registrars who can't immediately file registration forms.” It didn’t work too well for them this time. But you can bet your bottom dollar they will be working on that one for future elections.
Finally, there is the perfectly legal campaign to change the allocation of electoral votes, in states where this will benefit the Republican candidate, from winner-take-all as it has been since the beginning of the Republic, to an allocation by Congressional districts won. If this system had been in place in 2012, Obama would still have had his close-to 5,000,000 popular vote margin, but instead of winning the electoral vote by 332 to 206, he would have lost by 258 to 280. This all has taken planning, folks. Before the 2004 elections Karl Rove had been talking about the Permanent Republican Majority. Even though they won in 2004 in part by mobilizing the Christian-Rightist vote on the gay marriage and abortion issues, they already knew that that wasn’t going to last forever, which is why even George W. Bush vainly tried for real immigration reform in 2005, only to come a cropper with his own party in the House.
Permanent Republican Majority? Nah! Permanent Republican (minority) Government? Could very well be. And then, with the power to implement fully GOP policy, watch out U.S. Can Right-wing, minority governments get into power in advanced capitalist countries and stay there? You-betcha. After all the maximum proportion of the vote that the National Socialist German Workers Party won in any national German election before 1933 was 37%. This takes national planning, and the Republicans are doing it.
1. Jonas, S. “The Demise of the GOP? Fuhgeddaboudit!,” http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/17751-demise-of-the-gop-fuhgeddaboudit.
2. National Journal, “Electoral College Scheme,” http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/on-the-trail/the-gop-s-electoral-college-scheme-20121217.
3. “The GOP’s ‘REDMAP’ Memo,” http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/01/15/16533072-the-gops-redmap-memo; http://www.fairvote.org/electoral-college-chaos-how-republicans-could-put-a-lock-on-the-presidency
4. Trudeau, Gary, “Doonesbury,” http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/ucomics.com/db130117.gif
5. People for the American Way, “Every Vote Counts,” http://site.pfaw.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=46501&em_id=34061.0.
6. Coll, S., “Building a Better Democracy,” The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/01/ending-gerrymandering-and-building-a-better-democracy.html?mbid=nl_Daily%20(157).
7. Hankins, L. W., “Suppressing Democracy 101,” http://truth-out.org/news/item/9950-suppressing-democracy-101.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Managing Editor of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy (http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/).