Tonight a bevy of Republican presidential
hopefuls hope to emerge as finalists. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann
will battle for the right-wing nut Tea Party finals. Mitt Romney and
John Huntsman will position themselves for the moderate right-wing
finals. The putative winners in both these rounds will take on each
other in the months ahead.
Nonetheless, listen tonight (if you can bear it) for anything other
than standard Republican boilerplate since the 1920s — a wistful desire
to return to the era of President William McKinley, when the federal
government was small, the Fed and the IRS had yet to be invented, state
laws determined worker safety and hours, evolution was still considered
contentious, immigrants were almost all European, big corporations and
robber barons ran the government, the poor were desperate, and the rich
were lived like old-world aristocrats.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the Republican Party had a brief
flirtation with the twentieth century. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, Jacob
Javits and Nelson Rockefeller of New York, Margaret Chase Smith of
Maine, and presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon lent their
support to such leftist adventures as Medicare and a clean environment.
Eisenhower pushed for the greatest public-works project in the history
of the United States — the National Defense Highway Act, which linked
the nation together with four-lane (and occasionally six-lane)
Interstate highways. The GOP also supported a large expansion of
federally-supported higher education. And to many Republicans at the
time, a marginal income tax rate of more than 70 percent on top incomes
was not repugnant.
But the Republican Party that emerged in the 1970s began its march
back to the 19th century. Ronald Reagan lent his charm and
single-mindedness to the charge but the foundations had been laid long
before. By the time Newt Gingrich and his regressive followers took over
the House of Representatives in 1995, social conservatives,
isolationists, libertarians, and corporatists had taken over the GOP
Some Democrats are quietly rooting for Perry or Bachmann, on the
theory that they’re so extreme that they’ll bolster Obama’s chances for a
second term and make it easier for congressional Democrats to scare
Independents into voting for a Democratic House and maybe even Senate.
I understand the logic but I’d rather not take the chance. A Perry or
Bachmann wouldn’t just take us back to the 19th century. They’d take us
back to the stone age.
Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org. His most recent book is Aftershock.