Yesterday some Senators attempted to eliminate a federal minimum wage entirely. Not just keep it at its current levels; they wanted to cut it loose and leave workers to the mercy of their states.
Talk about being on the wrong side of history; according to a recent Associated Press-AOL News Poll, 80 percent of Americans are in favor of increasing the minimum wage.
Just more proof the Republican Party ain’t workin’ for the people.
Along these lines — in his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman says the only way to rekindle true “bipartisanship” is to reverse economic polarization.
You see, the nastiness of modern American politics isnâ€™t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. Itâ€™s a symptom of deeper factors â€” mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that weâ€™ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when that economic polarization is reversed.
After all, American politics has been nasty in the past. Before the New Deal, America was a nation with a vast gap between the rich and everyone else, and this gap was reflected in a sharp political divide. The Republican Party, in effect, represented the interests of the economic elite, and the Democratic Party, in an often confused way, represented the populist alternative.
In that divided political system, the Democrats probably came much closer to representing the interests of the typical American. But the G.O.P.â€™s advantage in money, and the superior organization that money bought, usually allowed it to dominate national politics. â€œI am not a member of any organized party,â€ Will Rogers said. â€œI am a Democrat.â€
I wrote about the “Republican era” of the 1920s in A (Pretty) Short History of Wingnutism. The longer one looks at America in the 1920s, the more familiar it seems â€” corporate profits rising faster than worker earnings; a crackdown on immigration; culture wars led by an aggressive Christian fundamentalist movement; and tax cuts galore. If theyâ€™d had iPods back then, youâ€™d hardly know the difference.
As historian Eric Siegel wrote,
According to what came to be known as â€œconstitutional morality,â€ legislation supporting the right to unionize or limiting childrenâ€™s working hours was an un-American form of group privilege. Laissez-faire conservatism reached its intellectual apogee in the 1920s. A critic complained that by 1924 you didnâ€™t have to be a radical to be denounced as un-American: â€œaccording to the lights of Constitution worship you are no less a Red if you seek change through the very channels which the Constitution itself provides.â€
In Europe conservatism was based on hereditary classes; in America it was based on hereditary religious, ethnic, and racial groups. The GOP, a largely Protestant party, looked upon itself as the manifestation of the divine creed of Americanism revealed through the Constitution. To be a conservative, then, was to share in a religiously ordained vision of a largely stateless society of self-regulating individuals. [The Readerâ€™s Companion to American History, edited by Eric Foner and John Garraty (Houghton Mifflin, 1991), p.222]
But the accumulative effect of all this Republicanism was the Stock Market Crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression, followed by the New Deal, as explained in the (Pretty) Short History. But then, Krugman says,
It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by â€œmodern Republicansâ€ who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.
Eisenhower accepted the New Deal. Even Nixon accepted the New Deal. It was the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the GOP, which came to power in 1980, that opposed the New Deal.
The history of the last few decades has basically been the story of the New Deal in reverse. Income inequality has returned to levels not seen since the pre-New Deal era, and so have political divisions in Congress as the Republicans have moved right, once again becoming the party of the economic elite. The signature domestic policy initiatives of the Bush administration have been attempts to undo F.D.R.â€™s legacy, from slashing taxes on the rich to privatizing Social Security. And a bitter partisan gap has opened up between the G.O.P. and Democrats, who have tried to defend that legacy.
What about the smear campaigns, like Karl Roveâ€™s 2005 declaration that after 9/11 liberals wanted to â€œoffer therapy and understanding for our attackersâ€? Well, theyâ€™re reminiscent of the vicious anti-Catholic propaganda used to defeat Al Smith in 1928: smear tactics are what a well-organized, well-financed party with a fundamentally unpopular domestic agenda uses to change the subject.
Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship means Dems lose.
Krugman recalls something FDR said in 1936 about his struggles â€œwith the old enemies of peace â€” business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. … Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me â€” and I welcome their hatred.â€ And he concludes,
But politicians who try to push forward the elements of a new New Deal, especially universal health care, are sure to face the hatred of a large bloc on the right â€” and they should welcome that hatred, not fear it.
Now is the time. We’re seeing signs that the distractions are losing their power to distract; the threats of married gay people and wantonly unthawed blastocysts just didn’t seem to rally the voters in 2005 the way Iraq and economic fairness issues did. As Bob Geiger wrote,
Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), evidently convinced that he was beating a dead horse by continuing his quest to ban flag-burning and discriminate against gay people, announced this month that he would not seek reelection in 2008 and the thought of having so little time left to screw the working poor from a comfy U.S. Senate seat must have just been eating him alive.
Allard, who has voted against a minimum wage increase more often than Fox News smears Barack Obama, went for broke this week and introduced a bill that would have eliminated the Federal Minimum Wage entirely and left the wage rate for the lowest-paid workers to each state.
In Kansas, this would mean that workers would revert to the state-mandated minimum wage of $2.65 per hour, which is currently superseded by the federal minimum of $5.15.
This is the last, desperate growl of a dying animal. Now’s the time for the Dems to kick Joe Lieberman aside and mount an openly partisan attack on wingnutism. It’s the only way Washington will ever see bipartisanship again.
See also: Philosophers’ Playground.