WITH A VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS, Republicans have never cared much about poor people. They’ve been the party of the rich and powerful at least since the Civil War.
True, the party was formed by those opposed to the further expansion of slavery. But once that was settled, the GOP became the party of big business and of rich people wanting to make sure they got richer, paying as little in taxes as possible. Even good old Abe Lincoln was not above taking a fee from some railroad barons to ensure they got the rights to the property they wanted.
Oh, sure, there have been exceptions. Hazen Pingree, the legendary mayor of Detroit in the 1890s, was one who really cared about the common man. William Milliken, governor of Michigan throughout the 1970s, was another. But mostly, Republicans have been all about the rich.
There have been times when some of the more enlightened elephants recognized that it made sense to do something for the workers. When socialism in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, still looked like a possible alternative to our way of life, it made sense to give everybody some stake in our system. A few Republicans with high-wattage IQs used to recognize that millions of jobless, desperate, hopeless people were not good insurance for their own long-term prosperity.
However, today’s right wing is far stupider. Mostly, their strategy is to try to distract the poor by focusing on social issues, or to get the poor to blame people who have even less than they do. Sadly, this has been pretty successful.
Today’s Republicans basically can be divided into two camps. First, pragmatists like Gov. Rick Snyder. He knows that, thanks to the collapse of muscle-based industry and the ascension of right-to-work, many of our new serfs will no longer be paid enough to afford a car; but they are going to have to get to their minimum-wage jobs somehow. That’s why he has been a big booster of the planned Rapid Transit Authority, which will build the region’s first fast and efficient bus service, if voters in metropolitan Detroit choose to tax themselves more.
Incredibly, that sort of thinking is not all that common among today’s Republicans, at least those in the state legislature because, as the Free Press’s Nancy Kaffer noted in a column a few weeks ago, the male-dominated GOP senate despises the poor, taking almost a fiendish glee in making their lives harder. The latest bill passed by the senate requires recipients of welfare payments to perform community service in order to receive benefits.
“Yes, it’s just that simple,” Kaffer wrote. “A few hours of community service and, boom, you’re back in the game. Unless, of course, you’ve got children — and the only people eligible for cash assistance are pregnant women and families with minor children.”
Kaffer’s right, by the way, about the only people getting any cash assistance these days. The man who sponsored the legislation, state Sen. Joe Hune, a farmer, of sorts, from Livingston County — who has been in the legislature since he was 22 — doesn’t have the faintest idea what the life of a single parent with kids is like. On the average, those qualifying for assistance get a whopping $350 a month. Try surviving on that.
What are they supposed to do with their kids while they perform “community service?” Hune likely neither knows nor cares. He has a degree, by the way, from something called Cleary College, originally the Cleary School of Penmanship, in Livingston County. My guess is that sociology wasn’t big in the curriculum. Meanwhile, the state house of representatives is working hard on a law to deny unemployment benefits to anyone who refuses employer-required drug tests.
Part of the point, of course, is to remind us that the poor are subhuman. The Tea Party knows that if those mongrels were morally fit, Christ would have made them prosperous.
Yes, there is a bunch of inconvenient crap in the Bible, such as when ol’ Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, that whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.” (But only Communists quote stuff like that.)
But forget the puny efforts of the Michigan Legislature. The news media have wailed a lot over the fact the government shutdown has closed the national parks and vacationers in Washington, D.C., can’t visit the Smithsonian.
Yet, for the poor, the shutdown may soon offer another inconvenient little problem: starvation. State Budget Director John Nixon (no relation to the original Great Satan) is not known as a bleeding heart liberal. Gov. Rick Snyder imported him from Utah to get spending under control.
But even Nixon is now worried. The shutdown ended authorization for food programs and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Last week, Nixon said that while the state had enough food assistance to make it through October, cash assistance would begin to run out by the middle of the month.
“In two weeks, we really start to feel the pain. In a month, we’ve got a lot of problems,” the budget director added.
The problems will get steadily worse. Thousands have been thrown out of work by the silly shutdown, something that, if not soon remedied, is certain to topple the economy into recession again fairly swiftly. Michigan, of course, has never really recovered from the last recession.
No matter what happens, it is important for all of us to remember that the Republicans who shut down government are fighting for an important principle. They want to prevent poor people from having health care. They hate that there is now a law requiring them to buy it in the marketplace from a private insurance company. They are men and women of principle.
They don’t care that Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, or that the U.S. Supreme Court said it was constitutional. They don’t care that, in a presidential election last year, a solid majority of the American voters chose to re-elect the man who vowed “Obamacare” was here to stay.
No. Today’s Republicans have vowed to stop the one thing they hate most of all: democracy. Rule of the People.
Remember that, will you, if you are ever tempted to vote for any of them — for any office — ever again.
TRUE, MOST MEMBERS of the president’s party don’t want to deny poor people health care. However, some Michigan Democrats are happily willing to vote for something that will kill more people on the roads.
State Sen. Virgil Smith of Detroit is an interesting piece of work. If he senses that taking sides on an issue could mean some money for him, he’s there. He refused to vote for the new Detroit River bridge two years ago — and took campaign money from Matty Moroun. Now he has a new cause:
He’s introduced a bill to allow downtown bars and restaurants to keep serving liquor till 4 a.m. — just what we need to make sure there are more drunk drivers on the road for morning rush hour.
Nico Gatzaros, owner of Fishbone’s, loves it. “In Detroit, we have so many things going on this could help,” he told a state senate committee. “Casinos, hotels, limousine and taxi industries.” (Not to mention his well-lubricated wallet,)
For some reason, he forgot the funeral industry. Michigan had “only” 255 drunken driving deaths in all 2001. We can kill more of our loved ones than that, and if our lawmakers listen to Virgil and the liquor lobbyists, I just know we will.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]