For Progressives, the greatest achievements of the 20th century were the New Deal, theVoting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Republicans have spent most of their time since working to undo them. They attack our economic stability, our democratic foundations, our very status as citizens, all in an attempt to return us to an era when a few people prospered off the exploitation of the rest.
The New Deal was a direct response to the Great Depression. A detailed explanation of all that transpired would be the subject of a lengthy text in its own right, of which there are many available. Pertinent to this topic are the bank reforms: the Glass-Steagall Acts, the Securities Act of 1933, and the creation of the SEC. As a result of Glass-Steagall, commercial and investment banks had to be separate businesses and their leadership could not serve across companies. Along with the regulatory power of the SEC, the more hazardous forms of investment schemes were now either outlawed or well regulated. Combined, these acts helped to stabilize and grow America’s economy for the next 4-5 decades.
The 2nd New Deal (a division noted by historians) created Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and Welfare benefits for the disabled. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act granted workers the right to collectively bargain, and in 1938, the Fair Labor Act limited the work week to 44 hours, created a minimum wage, and outlawed child labor. As result of these acts, the large working poor class was able to grow into the largest middle class in the world during the next 4-5 decades, and the wealth disparity in America shrank to the smallest it has ever been.
It has been the mission of conservatives in the country to undo these reforms, and the associated benefits, ever since.
The Regressive Agenda
In 1999 they succeeded in passing the Gramm-Leach-Biley Act, AKA the Financial Services Modernization Act, which repealed the majority of Glass-Steagall. As a result, the conditions now referred to as “too big to fail” were once again legalized, leading to a rush of bank mergers. In 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act effectively removed derivatives from regulation, thus undoing a significant aspect of the Commodities Exchange Act of 1936 and unlearning another lesson of the Great Depression. Both of the acts were passed by Republican Congresses and signed into law by President Clinton. During the 2001-2008, Bush era, significant deregulation of the housing/mortgage marketplace led to a massive bubble of bad housing investments. When all of these bad decisions led to the crash of the great recession, our government ended up bailing out the banks. However, 2009, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston proposed bailing out the people with bad mortgages instead. This would have cost only $50 billion (10% of what did spend), still stabilized the banks (because the failed mortgages were the first domino), and kept millions of Americans in their homes. Instead, President Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, decided to go with the TARP program that gave $700 billion to the failing banks with almost no strings attached. Thus increasing the wealth and power of the banks while weakening the financial strength of the average citizen.
As they increased their financial power, they also worked to undermine the political influence of individuals. Utilizing “gerrymandering”, redistricting of voting regions to benefit one political party, they managed to freeze access to House districts they already held in 2010. A view of the current political district map of Ohio would demonstrate to even the most politically naive observer that something bizarre is afoot. The next step, in advance of the 2012 election cycle, was for numerous Republican controlled states to limit ballot access to the poor, minorities, and college age voters, traditional Democrats, by constructing barriers that would affect them more often; such as voter ID laws and eliminating early voting statutes.
Supreme Court decisions have also been used to attack the Voting Rights Act and voting access in general. After repeated losses in the popular vote, the Republican party pursued a strategy to undermine its influence. Citizens United (a Koch Bros. funded group) V FEC, 2010, removed legal barriers to wealthy people and organizations funding political campaigns without limit or public knowledge, thereby altering our system from “one person, one vote” to “one dollar, one vote”. Their most recent victory was the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County V Holder, in which they struck down a key element of Voting Rights Act that required historic violators to have new voting law changes approved by the US Attorney before being enacted. Several states on the list immediately enacted changes to their voting laws which negatively impact minorities. Combined, these efforts demonstrate an effort to remove influence from the citizen and increase it for the wealthy few.
Couple these attacks on voting and financial stability with the attacks on middle class workers and the trend becomes unmistakable. As documented, in detail, in a 2013 report from the Economic Policy Institute; between 2011-2012, in Republican controlled state governments, 4 states restricted the minimum wage, 4 lifted child labor restrictions, 16 imposed unemployment benefit limits, 15 restricted public union bargaining rights, and 19 introduced “right-to-work” acts. The majority of this work sponsored by conservative “think tanks”, ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce, as part of a stated national agenda to undermine unions, limit government influence on the marketplace, and eliminate the minimum wage.
At the federal level, the “do nothing congress” has actively worked to stop legislation that would have put people to work rebuilding roads, bridges and schools. They have attempted to undermine food stamp and unemployment benefits, and have repeatedly tried to take the funds from SS and Medicare and hand them over to the private sector where they would be subject to every rise and fall of the market while lining the pockets of bankers. The majority of their time has been spent trying to undo the ACA, because providing American workers with independent health care makes them less dependent on private business, as documented in a recent CBO report. Freedom from dependency on business is obviously antithetical to an agenda of corporate control.
In recent months, the federal republicans have fought minimum wage hikes, blocked unemployment insurance extensions, cut food stamps from the farm bill, while at the state level refusing to accept federal money to expand medicaid to those working poor who are uninsured. All as part of an agenda to making the working class more desperateand therefore pliable to the demands of potential employers.
Where does this end?
The New Deal of FDR and the Great Society of LBJ combined to stabilize our economy, grow the middle class, empower the worker, and expand citizen rights to women and minorities. Those who lost some measure of wealth and influence as a result have spent the intervening years attempting to reverse our course, with far too much success. One would have to be naive indeed to look at all of this and believe they simply have a different philosophy on getting to what is best for America. The only logical conclusion from reviewing the combined efforts as the work of a small group of leaders within the party, is that they are working towards a specific set of goals. Goals which they have made no real secret of; they wish to increase their own influence and wealth by removing it from everyone else. They do not care about a better America for everyone. They only care about themselves. This is not a war on the poor, or minorities, or women, or any other demographic… it is a war on us all.
At some point those who are being pushed will push back, that is just political physics.