by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
July 16, 2010
BREAD AND CIRCUSES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a newspaper owned by the far-right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, House Minority Leader John Boehner - the Ohio Republican with the day-glo orange fake tan who thinks he is going to be the Speaker of the House next year - complained about how Democrats "are snuffing out the America that I grew up in."
That comment goes beyond laughable, especially when you consider what the world was like when little Johnny Boehner was born in November 1949.
Back in the 1950s, Republicans were a lot more sane than they are today.
For example, the top marginal tax rate in that decade was 91 percent, the rate it was raised to during World War II. Neither Republicans nor Democrats saw any reason to lower it.
The President for most of that decade, Dwight D. Eisenhower, cut the military budget by 20 percent between 1953 and 1955 on the way to balancing the federal budget by 1956.
Thirty percent of private sector workers belonged to a union in the 1950s (compared to only 7 percent today).
There was a much narrower gap between rich and poor, and few fretted about what is derided today as "big government."
Eisenhower was the kind of Republican who once wrote to his brother the following words: "Should any party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear from that party again in our political history."
That reflected the general consensus by mainstream Republicans that Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was here to stay.
Yes, the GOP nibbled around the edges, but most party members back then shared Eisenhower's perception that repealing FDR's social welfare programs was political suicide.
As Greg Sargent pointed out at The Washington Post's political blog, The Plum Line, the Republican Party platform of 1956 called for "broadened coverage in unemployment insurance" and "better health protection for all our people." The GOP also pledged support for "progressive programs" to expand workers' rights and an immigration policy that ensured that America would remain a "haven for oppressed peoples."
The Republican Party platform of 1960 hailed the GOP's success in extending unemployment insurance and its efforts to raise the federal minimum wage. The platform hailed expanded Social Security coverage, pledged an aggressive federal effort to help those struggling with health care costs, and pledged to continue robust federal intervention to preserve the environment.
Again, this was the official Republican Party platform, and this was a reflection of the generally moderate tone of the GOP of the Eisenhower era.
As Sargent wrote, "If this is what Boehner is nostalgic for, that would be news indeed."
While the Republican Party was more enlightened on public policy before it veered to the right with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, we know that is not what Boehner is nostalgic for. He is nostalgic for a time when life was good, as long as you were white, male, Christian and heterosexual. If you weren't, you were out of luck.
This undercurrent of racism, sexism and homophobia that is being exploited by the extreme elements of today's Republican Party is really what's behind John Boehner's misplaced nostalgia. But this is the shiny rhetorical object that distracts so many people from a different reality - that the people who are "snuffing out" the America that Boehner grew up in are Republicans like John Boehner.
In that same Pittsburgh Tribune-Review interview, Boehner repeated his desire to repeal health care reform. He voiced his opposition to re-regulating Wall Street. He defended offshore coastal oil drilling and said President Obama overreacted to the BP oil spill. He voiced support for increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, and for spending whatever it takes to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Boehner thinks this - plus obstructing and delaying any meaningful legislation by the Democrats - is a winning platform for the Republican Party going into November's midterm elections. He's hoping that Americans will buy his revisionist history, rather than realize how three decades of the anti-government, pro-corporate philosophy of the modern GOP have ravaged the middle class.
Too many Americans have short memories. They fail to remember that the prosperity this nation saw between the end of World War II and the early 1970s was a product of Roosevelt's New Deal and the public policy decisions that spread that prosperity more broadly than at any other time in our nation's history.
"The United States of Amnesia," as Gore Vidal once called us, has forgotten that the conservative wave that started with Goldwater and culminated with Ronald Reagan is what ultimately snuffed out the prosperous middle class nation of the 1950s and 1960s. Look at every trend line from economics to trade to national infrastructure since Reagan took office in 1981, and our nation has been on a steady downward slide.
President Obama and the Democratic Party have done too little to remind people about this history, and have done too little to live up to the legacies of Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson. Without a renewed commitment by Democrats to a shared prosperity for all Americans, the Republicans will take back control of Congress in November and take control of the White House in 2012.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.