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Robert Reich is Wrong About “Unpatriotic, Regressive” Republicans

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Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich penned an op-ed blasting Republicans for “substitut[ing] partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America.” He essentially argues Republicans are unpatriotic for seeking to dismantle government.

True patriots don’t hate the government of the United States. They’re proud of it. Generations of Americans have risked their lives to preserve it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve the U.S. government, not destroy it.

But regressive Republicans loathe the government – and are doing everything they can to paralyze it, starve it, and make the public so cynical about it that it’s no longer capable of doing much of anything. Tea Partiers are out to gut it entirely. Norquist says he wants to shrink it down to a size it can be “drowned in a bathtub.”

When arguing against paying their fair share of taxes, wealthy regressives claim “it’s my money.” But it’s their nation, too. And unless they pay their share America can’t meet the basic needs of our people. True patriotism means paying for America.

I’ll start by acknowleging that I am very sympathetic to many of Reich’s sentiments. Modern Republicans are, in fact, unprecedentedly antagonistic, uncompromising and regressive. They have relentlessly and unconditionally derailed the president’s agenda, even on legislation they had previously supported. Republicans have become substantially more right wing over the last few decades, even as Democrats have remained more or less ideologically constant.  This isn’t just my opinion; it’s literally scientific fact.

But Reich is wrong for equating liberalism with patriotism. He argues true patriotism is about “coming together for the common good,” which is liberals’ core justification for government involvement in the economy. While I agree that the interests of society are best met when we sometimes act collectively through government, I don’t believe those who disagree with me necessarily lack “love for or devotion to one’s country,” as Merriam-Webster defines patriotism. People differ on their interpretations of patriotism; some believe patriots must be unconditionally loyal to country, some express their patriotism through symbols and rituals, others believe true patriotism is achieved through constructive criticism and dissent of government. But no matter how one defines the concept, it is wrong to brand an entire ideology unpatriotic so long as it purports to protect and defend the best interests of the American people.

That said, there is a legitimate case to be made that modern Republicans don’t have America’s interests at heart, that they are intentionally sabotaging the economic recovery for political gain. Argues Michael Cohen:

For Democrats, perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence of GOP premeditated malice is the 2010 quote from Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Beyond McConnell’s words, though, there is circumstantial evidence to make the case. Republicans have opposed a lion’s share of stimulus measures that they once supported, such as a payroll tax break, which they grudgingly embraced earlier this year. Even unemployment insurance, a relatively uncontroversial tool for helping those in an economic downturn, has been consistently held up by Republicans or used as a bargaining chip for more tax cuts. Ten years ago, prominent conservatives were loudly making the case for fiscal stimulus to get the economy going; today, they treat such ideas like they’re the plague.

Traditionally, during economic recessions, Republicans have been supportive of loose monetary policy. Not this time. Instead, Republicans have upbraided  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for even considering policies that focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.

And then, there is the fact that since the original stimulus bill passed in February of 2009, Republicans have made practically no effort to draft comprehensive job creation legislation. Instead, they continue to pursue austerity policies, which reams of historical data suggest harms economic recovery and does little to create jobs. In fact, since taking control of the House of Representatives in 2011, Republicans have proposed hardly a single major jobs bill that didn’t revolve, in some way, around their one-stop solution for all the nation’s economic problems: more tax cuts.

Moreover, journalist Roger Draper’s recent book reported a prominent group of 15 senior Republican figures, including Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Pete Sessions, Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, Jon Kyl, Newt Gingrich and Republican pollster Frank Luntz, planned on the day of Obama’s inauguration to, in the words of McCarthy, “challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”

A slew of prominent Democrats have subscribed to this conspiracy theory, including Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHouse Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and Obama chief political strategist David Axelrod. Amazingly, nearly half of the country agrees, according to a recent poll

However, even if it is true that some Republican government elites are, in fact, unpatriotic, this does not prove that anti-government dogmatism is unpatriotic, as Reich suggests. It is likely that the majority of Republican politicians, and, of course, ordinary conservative Americans, have pursued their radical agenda out of sincere love for country, and are therefore genuine patriots. If true, the group of unpatriotic, and frankly treasonous, Republican politicians who are willfully sabotaging the country are not acting out of hatred of government, but out of rank selfishness, insensitivity and cruelty.

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About Andrew Casso

  • Baronius

    I’m not sure what this article is supposed to be. A parody of civility, maybe?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Andrew –

    An extremely conservative friend of mine (most of my friends are quite conservative) once told me that “it’s all about power”. ]

    When the Republican elite got together after Obama was elected, they decided they would stop whatever he did, regardless of whether it was something that Republicans had strongly supported in the past (like, say, the individual mandate and cap-and-trade). Why did they do this? The Great Depression happened on Hoover’s watch, and Roosevelt came along and the economy (eventually) got better. We were in a recession when Clinton got elected, and a few years later the economy was booming and we had a surplus. Then Dubya royally screwed the economy (and the nation)…and the GOP elites knew that if Obama was in any way able to make things better for the economy, the people as a whole would start to see a pattern here, and it woud be that much more difficult for the GOP to regain power in the future.

    At least to the GOP elites, it was all about power. It was more important to them to stop Obama from whatever he did whether or not it was good for the nation (remember when they filibustered health care for 9/11 responders, which would have been paid for by taking tax breaks away from corporations that were outsourcing jobs overseas?) than it was to bring the nation out of recession, for if they worked with Obama to bring the nation out of the recession, then the public would have seen the pattern I described above.

    It was all about power.

  • Clav

    Of course!! We all know that Democrats are selfless, giving patriots who will gladly give the rich people’s money to the poor and downtrodden.

    It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clav –

    If you’ll notice, I did not blame Republicans as a whole – I blamed the Republican elite who lead the rest.

    But you’re free to refute me any day with logic and fact instead of just posting faux contrition.

  • Baronius

    This article refers to that McConnell quote twice. Here is the context:

    McConnell In the last 100 years, three presidents suffered big defeats in Congress in their first term and then won reelection: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and the most recent example, Bill Clinton. I read a lot of history anyway, but I am trying to apply those lessons to current situations in hopes of not making the same mistakes.

    NJ What have you learned?

    McConnell After 1994, the public had the impression we Republicans overpromised and underdelivered. We suffered from some degree of hubris and acted as if the president was irrelevant and we would roll over him. By the summer of 1995, he was already on the way to being reelected, and we were hanging on for our lives.

    NJ What does this mean now?

    McConnell We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

    NJ What’s the job?

    McConnell The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

    NJ Does that mean endless, or at least frequent, confrontation with the president?

    McConnell If President Obama does a Clintonian backflip, if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.

    NJ What are the big issues?

    McConnell It is possible the president’s advisers will tell him he has to do something to get right with the public on his levels of spending and [on] lowering the national debt. If he were to heed that advice, he would, I image, find more support among our conference than he would among some in the Senate in his own party. I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change. So, we’ll see. The next move is going to be up to him.

  • Igor

    Unfortunately, it appears to me that the republicans have taken on the old “beggar thy neighbour” principle, by which one concludes that anything that injures others will help oneself. Never give an inch. Take whatever you can. We all know people like that, who will shoplift stupid things in a store because they just KNOW that somehow it will benefit them, etc.

    Maybe you had an ex-spouse like that, who defamed you among friends and relatives, and they just knew there must be some benefit going to come from degrading you.

    It becomes a monomania, a psychosis. They lose all track of their own course, of their own futures, of their own long range gains. Everything is sacrificed to the monomania of damaging others.

    And at first it works: acquaintances are eager to gossip and welcome scandals. They fool the authorities (the first time or two) and gain unwarranted confidence. But at the slightest obstruction they have to increase the ante: charges become more extravagant, accusations more sensational.

    Finally, maybe about the time they accuse someone of secretly murdering a spouse, their salesmanship starts to falter. Old companions and partisans and fellow-travellers fall away.

    They end alone and miserable.

    When confronted with the lies they told years ago that damaged other people, they may say “but it could have been true!”

  • Baronius

    I checked into the research that this article calls “scientific fact”. Poole and Rosenthal have modelled political behavior – that is, voting – and solely on economic issues. They haven’t modelled ideology. So when they say that Republicans in Congress are more rightward than they’ve ever been, they’re not talking about a shift in beliefs. It’s a movement toward greater partisan voting, or if you want to really sugarcoat it, party unity.

    What Glenn might find interesting is that they used to use a two-axis model, representing voting on economics and race, but they’ve found that the racial axis has become irrelevant over the past 30 years. To put it simply, votes on racial matters can be fully explained by reference to the small government/big government divide.

  • http://andrewcasso.wordpress.com Andrew Casso

    Clavos –

    What do you have to say for the low-income conservative who, out of moral principle, votes against his economic interests? I could just as easily mock him as a “selfless, giving patriot” who rejects decent health care, education, nutrition and housing because he doesn’t want “rich people’s money.”

    I have little patience for hackish comments such as yours that deceptively imply wealth redistribution is this foreign, communist-like moral evil. You can be against wealth redistribution, but that would also make you against any government support for orphans, seniors and the disabled – all human beings without economic value. Do we spread the wealth around or let them starve? I recognize that my hypothetical is extreme, but it exposes either the moral depravity or the intellectual laziness of those who bemoan “giv[ing] the rich people’s money to the poor and downtrodden.”

    Baronius –

    You’re right that better sorting is partly responsible for greater polarization. But there must also be a shift in beliefs, otherwise there would be more polarization on the Democratic side as a counterbalance. Even as all the moderate Southern Dems have left the party, the average Democrat hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. The average Republican has uniquely become more conservative.

  • Baronius

    No, not more conservative. More reliable in his voting. A Republican who voted for a small increase in Medicare would be seen as less conservative in the study than one who votes against a big increase in Medicare a few years later. That has nothing to do with sorting. It’s about how they vote on the bills that come up for votes during their years of service.

    And bad news about Clavos: as near as I can figure it, he would actually favor letting the poor and elderly starve.

  • Clav

    What do you have to say for the low-income conservative who, out of moral principle, votes against his economic interests?

    Oh, I dunno…perhaps that he/she at least has principles??

    We have the most divisive president in generations, and you have obviously swallowed his class warfare shtick hook, line and sinker. Hate the rich as he does, but he still cheerfully accepts campaign cash from Soros, Buffett and every Hollywood asshat who’ll give it to him.

    I have little patience for hackish comments such as yours that deceptively imply wealth redistribution is this foreign, communist-like moral evil.

    Nothing “deceptive” about it; wealth redistribution is/was the cornerstone of every Communist regime in history.

    You can be against wealth redistribution, but that would also make you against any government support for orphans, seniors and the disabled

    Not surprisingly, an illogical conclusion; I said nothing about being against government support for those who are truly (and verifiably) in need of such support, but don’t just steal from the rich to do it – steal from the elected officials and the bureaucrats, with their fat salaries and even fatter retirement plans. Make everyone pay, including the not-rich but comfortable middle class families making $200K a year; the rich are already paying the bulk of income taxes. Cut the Defense budget, stop paying farmers NOT to grow crops — run the effing government sensibly and in accordance with good accounting principles — stop bloating the federal bureaucracy. From Politifact:

    “”America’s wealthiest 25 percent pay 86 percent of total income taxes. Wealthiest 5 percent pay 60 percent of total income taxes.”
    U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., in an April 13, 2011 Twitter post.

    When tax time rolled around last year, Georgia congressman Tom Graves began posting messages on Twitter about the current tax system.

    This one got our attention.

    “America’s wealthiest 25 percent pay 86 percent of total income taxes. Wealthiest 5 percent pay 60 percent of total income taxes,” the message said.

    His spokesman, John Donnelly, directed us to a report by the Internal Revenue Service that was completed this past winter, based on 2008 data. The report shows that the top 5 percent of taxpayers paid 58.7 percent of federal income taxes. The top 25 percent of taxpayers paid 86.34 percent of total income taxes. (emphasis added)

    Graves was off by a percentage point in relaying the figure for the top 5 percent, but both of his numbers are very close to the IRS data. And while using only the federal income tax as a stand-in for the total federal tax burden paints a somewhat skewed picture, Graves was careful to make his words in the tweet accurate. So we rate his claim as True.

  • http://andrewcasso.wordpress.com Andrew Casso

    Baronius –

    I think I understand the distinction you’re making, but I don’t see why it matters. Republicans aren’t really more conservative than they were 30 years ago, they just vote more conservative? Is that what you’re saying?

    Clavos –

    Let’s get this straight. You’re against “giv[ing] the rich people’s money to the poor and downtrodden,” which, of course, is Soviet-style Communism. But you’re okay with taking from elected officials, bureaucrats and middle class families making $200K a year and giving their money to “those who are truly in need”? Please explain why one is communism and the other isn’t.

    I get that you think the rich are paying too high a proportion of taxes, and that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion to have. What I take issue with is demagoguery against “wealth redistribution” from supporters of medicare and public schools.

  • Igor

    What’s wrong with Wealth Redistribution, anyway?

    We’re all in favor of it. That’s why we were silent when the financial system found a way to deprive millions of Americans of their wealth in home value and 401ks and Redistribute that Wealth to the bonus babies at the top of the financial system.

    The winners just contrived some faux moral principles to create convenient excuses for bystanders to blame it on the losers. And we all ate it up, right?

    It’s just a question of who does it to whom.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    If there was no wealth redistribution at all, which is what those who oppose it seem to want, what kind of nations would we see?

    In countries such as the United States, which have a small number of very wealthy people and a large number of relatively poor people, there would be more homelessness, more hungry people, less medical care for the poor and far more begging going on right across the country. The country would become a far more dangerous place than it is now.

    Surely the sight of all this extreme poverty on a very large scale would blight the daily lives of the privileged and fortunate? The public defecation, the rubbish, the smell, the ugly vistas created by the impoverished masses…

    Furthermore, what would the prospect of a mass revolution by these impoverished masses cause the lucky ones to fear and do?

    It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the risk of a popular uprising would be massively increased, with the concomitant loss of democracy and culture we have seen in other countries.

    Although wealth redistribution does take from the wealthier members of a society, it also makes their lives far better in quality and safety, to say nothing of being the compassionate thing to do…

    I say wealth redistribution is the lesser evil for the greater good of all.

    Until such time as nations manage to create a state of abundance for all, and the prospects for that through advances in technology are rising, wealth redistribution is the wisest, self preserving thing to do.

    Pay your taxes and give thanks…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    “America’s wealthiest 25 percent pay 86 percent of total income taxes. Wealthiest 5 percent pay 60 percent of total income taxes,”

    And if you give the wealthiest 100% of the money and slash their taxes to 1%, they’ll still pay 100% of the taxes. Why don’t you look at the proportion of the nation’s wealth that the wealthiest 25% and 5% own?

  • Baronius

    Republican lawmakers don’t vote on the same piece of legislation every year. Let’s say that my ideal is a welfare program for the bottom 10% and a corporate tax rate of 20%. I serve in Congress in the
    Bush I years. I vote for legislation that raises corporate taxes slightly while closing loopholes, against most of my party. I’m more liberal according to Poole and Rosenthal.

    Instead, I serve in 1995. I vote with my party on welfare reform. That makes me more conservative.

    Let’s take another example. This one’s a little more clear cut, but it involves social issues, and I’m not sure how Poole and Rosenthal rank those. But let’s say that I have no problem with gay rights, but oppose gay marriage. Back in the 1990’s I may have against my party in support of civil unions. This year I voted with my party against gay marriages. Did I change? No. The issue on the table changed.

    Does this distinction matter? It does on something like health care. The proposals we’ve been dealing with over the past few years are more progressive than the ones of the 1960’s. And what about unemployment insurance? It used to be a temporary aid, but during this recession it’s become something more like the old welfare program used to be. On the other hand, you could argue that individual tax rates are less progressive than they’ve ever been. (I think it’s more complicated than that, but you can make the argument.) The point is, comparisons of Congressional votes on different issues over time can only measure consistency of party loyalty, not ideology.

  • Clav

    Casso:

    …supporters of medicare and public schools.

    Thanks for the setup. As anyone who’s been on BC for a while can tell you, I support neither.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Chris, I don’t know if your prediction in #13 would actually happen.

    There exists right now a country where things are very much as you describe: a small number of very wealthy people living in close proximity to the extremely poor masses. Yet that country, although there are a few isolated lawless and/or insurrectionist pockets, is by and large reasonably stable.

    That country is India.

    Of course, India’s history is somewhat different from the US’s. Though it is theoretically a democratic republic now, its history is monarchic and caste-structured. That probably works to indoctrinate people that their situation in life is preordained and just, and to suppress potential rebellious sentiment.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Maybe, Doc, maybe, but even in India there is significant wealth redistribution going on, not least in the form of aid from the UK and other countries and social unrest has been growing steadily for decades.

    I wouldn’t rule out revolt anywhere in the world personally; all it takes is the right combination of circumstances and, as we have seen everywhere from Eastern Europe to North Africa and Arabia, no amount of state power can withstand these forces.

    Even if revolution is unlikely in the USA right now, wealth redistribution raises the quality of life for the rich as well as the poor.

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