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Why the Republican crackup is bad for America

Robert Reich, professor of public policy | December 22, 2011

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more profoundly than at any time since the GOP’s eclipse in 1932. That’s bad for America.

The crackup isn’t just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.

Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for it.

Not just Speaker John Boehner, who keeps making agreements he can’t keep, versus Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who keeps making trouble he can’t control.

And not just venerable Republican senators like Indiana’s Richard Lugar, a giant of foreign policy for more than three decades, versus primary challenger state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who apparently misplaced and then rediscovered $320 million in state tax revenues.

Some describe the underlying conflict as Tea Partiers versus the Republican establishment. But this just begs the question of who the Tea Partiers really are and where they came from.

The underlying conflict lies deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.

As Michael Lind has noted, today’s Tea Party is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority – predominantly Southern, and mainly rural – that has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way.

It’s no mere coincidence that the states responsible for putting the most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of the Confederacy. Of the Tea Party caucus, twelve hail from Texas, seven from Florida, five from Louisiana, and five from Georgia, and three each from South Carolina, Tennessee, and border-state Missouri.

Others are from border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties. The four Californians in the caucus are from the inland part of the state or Orange County, whose political culture has was shaped by Oklahomans and Southerners who migrated there during the Great Depression.

This isn’t to say all Tea Partiers are white, Southern or rural Republicans – only that these characteristics define the epicenter of Tea Party Land.

And the views separating these Republicans from Republicans elsewhere mirror the split between self-described Tea Partiers and other Republicans.

In a poll of Republicans conducted for CNN last September, nearly six in ten who identified themselves with the Tea Party say global warming isn’t a proven fact; most other Republicans say it is.

Six in ten Tea Partiers say evolution is wrong; other Republicans are split on the issue. Tea Party Republicans are twice as likely as other Republicans to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and half as likely to support gay marriage.

Tea Partiers are more vehement advocates of states’ rights than other Republicans. Six in ten Tea Partiers want to abolish the Department of Education; only one in five other Republicans do. And Tea Party Republicans worry more about the federal deficit than jobs, while other Republicans say reducing unemployment is more important than reducing the deficit.

In other words, the radical right wing of today’s GOP isn’t that much different from the social conservatives who began asserting themselves in the Party during the 1990s, and, before them, the “Willie Horton” conservatives of the 1980s, and, before them, Richard Nixon’s “silent majority.”

Through most of these years, though, the GOP managed to contain these white, mainly rural and mostly Southern, radicals. After all, many of them were still Democrats. The conservative mantle of the GOP remained in the West and Midwest – with the libertarian legacies of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater, neither of whom was a barn-burner – while the epicenter of the Party remained in New York and the East.

But after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as the South began its long shift toward the Republican Party and New York and the East became ever more solidly Democratic, it was only a matter of time. The GOP’s dominant coalition of big business, Wall Street, and Midwest and Western libertarians was losing its grip.

The watershed event was Newt Gingrich’s takeover of the House, in 1995. Suddenly, it seemed, the GOP had a personality transplant. The gentlemanly conservatism of House Minority Leader Bob Michel was replaced by the bomb-throwing antics of Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay.

Almost overnight Washington was transformed from a place where legislators tried to find common ground to a war zone. Compromise was replaced by brinkmanship, bargaining by obstructionism, normal legislative maneuvering by threats to close down government – which occurred at the end of 1995.

Before then, when I’d testified on the Hill as Secretary of Labor, I had come in for tough questioning from Republican senators and representatives – which was their job. After January 1995, I was verbally assaulted. “Mr. Secretary, are you a socialist?” I recall one of them asking.

But the first concrete sign that white, Southern radicals might take over the Republican Party came in the vote to impeach Bill Clinton, when two-thirds of senators from the South voted for impeachment. (A majority of the Senate, you may recall, voted to acquit.)

America has had a long history of white Southern radicals who will stop at nothing to get their way – seceding from the Union in 1861, refusing to obey Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, shutting the government in 1995, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States in 2010.

Newt Gingrich’s recent assertion that public officials aren’t bound to follow the decisions of federal courts derives from the same tradition.

This stop-at-nothing radicalism is dangerous for the GOP because most Americans recoil from it. Gingrich himself became an object of ridicule in the late 1990s, and many Republicans today worry that if he heads the ticket the Party will suffer large losses.

It’s also dangerous for America. We need two political parties solidly grounded in the realities of governing. Our democracy can’t work any other way.

Cross-posted from Robert Reich’s blog.

Comments to “Why the Republican crackup is bad for America

  1. Prof. Reich overreaches in claiming that the Tea Party “has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way.” Whether you agree with them or not, the Tea Party demonstrates how the democratic process can be used effectively to bring about political change. Those who disagree with their views have every right to launch a counter political effort of their own, and they should. But to simply attack these people through slander and innuendo, attempting to link them to the Confederacy and so forth, is a cheap trick that ultimately will backfire. To effect real political change takes hard work and organization. The Tea Party has put in that work and it has paid off in results. Prof. Reich would do better to stick to the thoughtful and critical analyses of economic and political issues for which he is well known rather than engaging in political demagoguery, which has no place on UC Berkeley’s public website.

  2. Dr Reich is correct about the bogus nature of the Tea Party and it’s Republican so-called affiliation. He is also correct to mention the Dust Bowl resettlement behind the “Orange Curtain”, a wealthy Republican strong-hold community known as Orange County. Your entry behind the Curtain can simply be screened during an employment interview by querying your local school affiliation, wealth effect, social ties, including signals of John Birch Society dogma in your conversation. Dr Reich could have mentioned the Curtain’s fiscal budget tool of filing Bankruptcy to counter their monetary woes by a so-called investment know-it-all! The County still has a toxic glow from the filing, but fall in line with Senate southern voices to encourage GM to file for reorganization protection. Orange County still practices a Republican front-runner’s re-engineering strategy of fiscal “slash and burn” of balance sheets while ripping out equity for redistribution to the successors. Thus, the tag line, “tne bain of my existence”! Lastly, Orange County will not be the swing vote that carries a Republican to the White House, but a party stronghold spitting vinegar at the Middle Class with, “I’ve got mine, good
    luck in getting yours”. We have no Honey Holes for Dems!

  3. It is unfortunate that Professor Robert Reich characterizes the nature of the Tea Party as “racist”, and assumes that its membership is at fault for the suppose “crackup” of the GOP. This is entirely incorrect. The crack-up is about how the Tea Party Movement members seek to restore the balance between taxation and revenue streaming, and how the Republican Party establishment is failing to listen to the Tea Party folks; it’s about policy, and nothing more.

    First, the epicenter of the Tea Party birth has always been the collapse of the American financial system, and how “crony capitalism” (i.e. the partnership between the state and corporations) is at fault. Much of the policies that had been implemented in the 1990s, such as the the repudiation of the Glass-Stegall Act, which mixed private bank capital with the capital of investment banks, and thus increased risk to the entire financial system, were under Professor Reich’s tenure. While the repudiation of the law allowed for greater returns, the repeal allowed for risky investments. In fact, the bundling of worthless public securities was allowed to go forward in the 1990s, even though there were concerns about the risks (especially when factoring the flow of cheap money that inflated the housing market gains). So, when the collapse in the financial market occurred, and when the very financial institutions on Wall Street (as well as semi-private entities like Fannie and Freddie) were being bailed out by TARP, that increased the nation’s debt. This act has been exacerbated by the bailing out of those firms that are known to be contributors to the Democratic Party, such as Goldman-Sachs, who were responsible for helping to craft the Frank-Dodd Finance Reform law. In fact, many regulators of Wall Street during the past twenty years have been employees of Goldman-Sachs, which is why the Bush II Administration is equally as fault for the collapse of the American economy, and this includes members of the Obama Administration. Thus, the disdain towards the Federal government is more to do with the unfair competitiveness of the economic system, than the fact that there is an African-American, Liberal Democrat in office presently.

    And speaking of the Obama Administration, there is a second reason why the Tea Party exists: the Healthcare Reform Package. The problem many within the Tea Party as with Mr. Obama is his governing style. When the healthcare reform package was being debated upon in the US Congress, Mr. Obama was insisting that the package had to be implemented immediately, without debate, even though, during his campaign, he pledge to allow a rigorous debate before passage of the bill…on “C-Span”. But when the Republican Party wanted to have greater input in how to craft legislation, that would be acceptable to their own constituents, President Obama balked, stating that, to Sen. McCain (R-Arizona) in 2010 at a healthcare summit, “the debate is over”, and openly complained that McCain was mischaracterizing the debate at hand. As long as the Obama Administration did not need bipartisan support to get Mr. Obama’s signature legislation through the US Congress, the Republican Party could not participate in the process.

    As an aside, Professor Reich is not elaborating upon the nature of the conflict between the Tea Party Movement and the GOP Establishment. During the 2010, whenever Tea Party-backed candidates had successfully nominated someone to represent the Republican Party, many of these same candidates lacked establishment backing, most notably Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. The importance of those two races was due to the fact that the US Senate seats were/have been held by backers of the Obama Administration. Rather than unite around the candidate for the GOP, the GOP establishment, most notably Karl Rove, sand-bagged O’Donnell and Angle. Even news commentator Charles Krauthammer openly disdained these two as being “unelectable”, and refused to support or lend help to them. The events surrounding this infighting was the nucleus of the infighting between Tea Party folks and the GOP establishment, and would go on to even to get both McCain and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) caught up in the infighting, since the Tea Party has always characterized the two senators as “Washington insiders” (i.e. RINOs, or “Republican-in-name-only”). That is why it should not be surprising that McCain and McConnell essentially “sand-bagged” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), if it made the Tea Party-backed elected look like extremists. Ultimately, the infighting is more to do with the principle-versus-pragmatism debate, than anything else.

    In conclusion, it is easy for characterize the Tea Party as “racists”. if that was the case, then there would not have been Tea Party candidates competing in the 2010 General Election, nor would there be a tsunami of successfully-elected Tea Party candidates elsewhere, such as in Indiana, Wisconsin and even in Michigan. The Tea Party, just like the Occupied Wall Street movement, are concerned about how the government is spending money, which, in turn, brings up the question on taxation. And just like the Boston Tea Party event, the Tea Party Movement has always been about how the government uses taxation to cover the debts of its own making. After TARP, the failure of the first and second stimulus packages, increase regulation that incur more cost to small businesses, and the news that 47 percent of the populace are not paying any Federal income taxes, people have the right to be angry at President Obama’s decisions, which, in turn, puts the Democratic Party on the wrong side of the debate.

    Professor Reich is a brilliant man in economic theory, but, like so many academic theorists, he is on the wrong side of the debate in real terms.

  4. Why these anonymous replies to an article posted on a University of California website? Is “FSM” just the name of a cafe?

  5. Crudely put perhaps.


    That sounds extreme (and it is) and blunt (partly the intent)

    While I have some strong opinions on the best way forward, I don’t discuss those in this post.

    The US has some serious “directional issues” (at least with regards to the economy) that need to get resolved.

    I am going to define “Tea Party” as believers in a “limited government” committed to reducing government expenditures.

    “Democrats” are defined to be those that believe that the government role in the economy should be at the minimum constant or expanding.

    Traditional “Republicans” are those claiming to be for limited government spending but in reality have expanded the government role in society.

    No doubt the definitions above are simplistic. It is perhaps simplistic to say that the Tea Party’s origins are based on an “Enough is enough”, “Republicans have betrayed the principles of limited government”, etc.

    I am a firm believer in “Test before you guess”. Sticking to the economic aspects, “Test” can be best described as looking at the government balance sheet, income statemnt and for the accountants “Statement of change in financial position”

    And it is not a pretty picture.

    In simple words as mentioned above : THE US (government at least) IS BROKE.

    No doubt many will scream at me saying that the above is too simplistic.

    The US has to make a choice in direction being :

    1. Towards what could be described heading towards a “lassez faire” approach to economics, crudely put “Get government out of economics”. I point out that Republicans (as defined above) are hardly “lassez faire”

    2. Go towards (No doubt some will be upset with the following phrases) towards what could be best described as a “European socialist” model. That does not mean we end up as a “European socialist” state but tend towards one being national health care, highly subsidized post secondary education.

    As it stands now, the US has the worse of both worlds being : 1. taxes that approach but not sufficient to fund a “socialist state” and 2. taxes that are more than adequate for a “lassez faire” model but too high perhaps to attract private sector investment to create enough jobs.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that again rough approximations here but “Half the country wants 1 being lassez faire and the other half wants 2 being “towards a socialist state”

    And the above is simplistic. For my physics friends (the analogy is perhaps crude) the above discussion (or perhaps rant) is “molecular”. I suspect that the problem is much more fundamental than described above. You need to look at the “atomic” level to fully appreciate the “molecular” level. I have a “gut feeling” (no pun intended for the GUT theorists) on the “atomic” level but that is not being discussed here.

    With regards to Prof. Reich’s blog, what is relevant is that : We need a firm debate, discussion as it will on the economic role of the government. Unfortunately neither the “Democrats” or “Republicans” are willing to engage in that discussion but are too concerned about winning the next election to the extent politicians will tell you what they believe you want to hear and perhaps not what you need to hear. “Tea Party” (good or bad is another matter) tend to tell you their beliefs.

    What is most likely going to happen is that after the 2012 elections again simplistic “same old same old”, “Nothing gets done” resulting in “events forcing the issues”. Even a most cursory glance of US finances both public and private come to the conclusion that “We can’t kick the bucket down the road” for more than a couple of years.

  6. Reich is a brilliant and erudite mind. Sadly, he is an example of those who are, “ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”. He is a marxist. He wants the free enterprise system gone, for philosophical reasons, yet he will never be honest enough to admit it and will criticize his political foes for being doctrinaire. He is desperate. Obama has brought the system tantalizingly close to the abyss that would take the country over the cliff, and Reich sees the unpopularity of the leftist messiah as a danger. What does he do to ensure collapse and the chaos he lives for? He breaks out the old Saul Alinsky playbook (there is only one play) deploying ad hominem attacks and red herring racist diatribe rather than honest policy discussion. Everyone he sees as a player he slanders. Who can blame him? This may be his only chance to become one of the elites who, like Plato’s guardians, rule the roost. Of course, unlike all these evil people who he eviscerates in his article, his motives are pure, he only wishes the good (once he gets power and purges all those millions of enemies who are bad for the country he so loves). Then things will settle down into the marxist paradise so many crave…

  7. Once again, I’m honored to be attacked by Mr. Reich. It must mean that the Tea Party is a serious political movement. I don’t think Reich would waste his slanders, demonizations, outright lies and falsehoods on us if he did not feel that we actually had a chance to succeed. It’s really sad that his type of thinking has done more to subvert democracy, undermine the intentions of the Founding Fathers, destroy the economy and make sure that political power stays in the hands of special interests. As I have said before, if the conditions that exist today occurred under a Republican president the mainstream media would be 24×7 calling for his resignation, impeachment and probably encourage violent demonstrations against the government. The Founding Fathers were radicals too, going against the King, establishing the right of people to govern themselves and advocate restraints on what the government could do. People like Mr. Reich have totally perverted their dream and vision and have given us the nanny state, which is responsible for decay of this country. The Tea Party is composed of people like myself, we work hard, pay taxes, vote and volunteer to improve our communities. We don’t like the fact that as self employed people we might work 12 hours a day or more to keep our businesses running and the more successful we become the more we end up working for the state that is literally throwing our money down the liberal welfare state toilet. Professor Reich and those who think like him have absolutely no understanding or compassion for people like myself.

    The Tea Party Rocks!!

  8. Sadly our economic system has become extractionist.LOOTING the core of
    American base way of survival( at all levels )this post may be off subject
    however, this is so important I need the heavy weights to speak up !

  9. Does it really serve the interests or dignity of UC Berkeley to link to such vitriol from its home page? Reich’s opinion piece is a classic variation on the obnoxious leftist meme that Republicans are evil racists. The unifying theme of the Tea Party is fiscal responsibility. With a debt at over 100% of GDP, their concerns should find resonance with most Americans. This essay is a hateful ad hominem attack, writ large. And Godwin’s Law is even demonstrated in the comments. Awful.

  10. You are talking about these radical whites as Republicans. During the Civil Was up to the 1990 Most of these States were Democratic States, not Republican. Democrat were the slave owners and were against the Civil Rights Act. You need to specify that some of the things you are saying pertains to Democrats, not Republicans. Mississippi, Alabama and Lousiana were Democrat States during most of the time you are writing about.The Teaparty also has quite a few Minorities in it membership, so I guess they are white racists also. This is another Liberal trying to change History to support Liberals. Most of these Southern State became Republican, because the Democrat Politicians were wasting all the States money.

  11. Well said, Mr. Reich. Very keen analysis. What is scarrier still is that historically, these radicalized wings of the GOP don’t recede until the economy picks up again. Let’s hope current efforts forstall a US “lost decade”.

  12. My questions are very simple, and respectfully submitted: How is our democracy working?

    I wonder, is it the illusion of democracy that the two-party system is trying to perpetuate? (As in form without substance.)

    Now that corporations are ‘people’, why do they have so much power over our government? Isn’t it supposed to be “One person one vote?”

    Why is being a ‘socialist’ a bad thing? Why has self-interest been elevated over altruism? How can our democracy work without a sense of ‘community’ (or commonwealth)?

  13. The number one fact of life that dominates this post is that the American system of education is failing faster than we may be improving it.

    We must find a much better way to improve public education than we have been experimenting with by trial and error so far, like university professors becoming engaged in education in the real world outside their Ivory Towers by using modern communications like Professor Reich is doing.

    Otherwise American Democracy shall most certainly go from the decline phase to fall phase very soon, if it hasn’t already.

    On the other hand even the Father of the Rule of Law, Athenian Archon Solon decreed that anyone who caught an adulterer in the act was allowed to kill him there and then.

    With Gingrich wanting to drag judges he disagrees with before an inquisition by the likes of Boehner and Cantor, condemning gays, and God knows what next he brings back memories of the Rise of the Third Reich.

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