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People have been amazed at the Republican reactions to the stimulus packaged proposed by Obama and supported by most Democrats. It's one thing to have differences of opinion about where stimulus spending would be best directed and how to best manage a stimulus effort, but it's another to deny that we should have any stimulus spending at all. The Republican decision to almost unanimously support dropping all spending provisions in favor of nothing but tax cuts which benefit primarily the rich has been described as "insane," but that's wrong I think.
This move makes plenty of sense in the context of contemporary Republican principles and values and is in fact entirely consistent with a wide variety of Republican positions. Everything should come into focus if you look at one fundamental, underlying principle: fear. Specifically, it's all about creating, promoting, and sustaining fear in what's left of America's working and middle classes. A general, ambiguous, amorphous sort of fear is great because it can be directed in just about any direction which politicians need, but the particular fears which are at issue here are the fear of losing one's job and income, fear of losing health insurance, fear of losing one's home, fear of losing one's social status, etc.
Why is it important to create and sustain fear? Well, part of it is simply a matter of taking advantage of a good opportunity: the economic crisis is putting a lot of people out of work, cutting a lot of wages, and making the those left with any work worried about the future. This fear makes people with work and seeking work far more submissive to any demands imposed on them by the owners of capital who now have far more options about how to fill the few remaining job slots. If you want too much money, too many days off, or too much health insurance, then you can be more easily replaced now than you could have been a year or two ago. If the owners of capital want to siphon off more profit for themselves from your labor, this is the perfect opportunity.
This will have long-term potential because once people are afraid, they will remain afraid for a while after the reasons for fear have changed. Workers can be kept in a more subservient position even after the economy has recovered and they can be paid more. What Republicans therefore need is to ensure that the recession or even depression lasts long enough — if it's too short, people won't be as afraid and won't remain afraid for as long. The economy will probably recover eventually one way or the other, but if Obama's stimulus package has any hope of helping soon, it has to be opposed. In the interim, tax cuts for the wealthy owners of capital are necessary to ensure that they weather the storm well enough to keep up their campaign contributions to Republicans.
Of course, it's not enough to just ensure that our economic problems last long enough. Several other positions which the Republicans have been holding on to fit in nicely with the above.
Health Care: Opposition to any sort of single-payer or universal health care is necessary because it would allow people to change jobs without worrying about transferring health benefits. Right now, businesses can hold people to poor-paying jobs by providing them with mediocre health benefits which they are afraid to lose. Even though many businesses are straining under health care costs, not all will be willing to lose this particular bit of leverage over workers.
Unions: Obviously if the workers are going to be kept in fear, they can't be allowed to organize. Unions might encourage them to compare notes, learn how much they have in common, and use their collective power to achieve their goals together. This is why it's a priority of the Republican Party to prevent passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. This measure would allow unions to organize much faster, denying corporations the opportunity to sabotage unionization through even more fear.
Mortgages: Fear of losing one's home is one of the strongest and probably most unexpected tools which Republicans have right now. All the other fears have existed to one degree or another for a while now, but this one is relatively new and proving very useful. People never expected to have to worry about not being able to pay their mortgages and can be induced to accept almost any terms from employers and government in order to secure their home. This is why it was important to prevent bankruptcy judges from changing the terms of mortgages for regular home owners, but allow the practice to continue for wealthy property speculators.
Regulation: Government regulation may seem onerous at times, but so much of it creates a safer environment where we don't have to worry about what might be in our water, food, or air. Not worrying about such matters frees up time for other matters, like organizing against those who would deny people freedom and equality. It might be dangerous to eliminate all regulation, but poorly enforced regulations ensure that there is always a certain minimum level of fear in the background, distracting people from more important matters.
Immigration: Dark-skinned people from abroad are always a good source of fear. Workers are more likely to submit to corporate demands if they are afraid that an immigrant might come along and take their job for less pay — or that their job can be sent abroad for even less pay. Republicans may appear to be fighting immigration, but in reality they ensure that fears about immigration — stolen jobs, disease, foreign languages, etc. — are stoked on a regular basis.
Terrorism: Republicans have invested a lot of time and effort over the past eight years to encourage fear of terrorism and terrorists, but they might have a harder time keeping it up under an Obama administration. Obama is even dropping the "War on Terrorism" label, removing a clever bit of rhetoric from the mainstream news. Just because it's more difficult, though, doesn't mean that they won't keep trying — just watch out for what they say in the coming months.
Contraception: I covered this in detail last week, but it bears bringing up again in this context. If people don't have easy access to contraception and other family planning services, they are more likely to be afraid of pregnancy in the future — and this means fear of being able to provide for one's family in the future. Discouraging sexual behavior also means keeping people apart, preventing them from connecting with each other and thereby indirectly encouraging distrust, fear, and suspicion of each other.