Letter from the US: Republicans move sharply right
Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate for the November presidential poll signaled the takeover of the Republicans by the Tea Party, at least through the election.
Ryan’s record as a Congressperson puts the representative from Wisconsin squarely on the far right of capitalist politics.
Ryan co-sponsored a bill with Republican representative from Missouri Todd Akin, who thinks that women cannot become pregnant from a “legitimate” rape. It sought to narrow the definition of rape to reduce the number of poor women who can get abortion through Medicaid.
Ryan has co-sponsored more than three dozen anti-abortion bills. He is on record opposing all abortions, including in cases of rape, incest or if a pregnancy jeopardises a woman’s health — or even her life.
Ryan has been a reliable voter against any measure promoting workplace equality for women. The House-approved budget that bears his name would end all government financing for Planned Parenthood while slashing spending on prenatal care and infant nutrition.
Ryan supports a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He even voted against a bill named after Matthew Shepard, who was murdered for being gay. The bill expanded the federal hate crimes act to include brutality based on sexual orientation.
On the extreme right of the Catholic Church, Ryan is opposed to all forms of birth control. This in face of polls that show some 90% of Catholic women in the US have used birth control at some point in their lives.
Ryan’s record on social issues was summed up by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, herself a practicing Catholic, as a “fresh face on a Taliban creed — the evermore antediluvian, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core”.
“Amiable in khakis and polo shirts, Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs.”
The recently concluded Republican convention adopted a platform echoing Ryan’s Tea Party positions, including banning abortion in all cases.
The platform also called for a double-layer border fence with Mexico, and the adoption of an electronic system that would require all employers to verify that all new hires have papers.
It also supported the raft of reactionary anti-immigrant laws passed by Republican legislators and governors in many states, the most notorious being Arizona’s.
During the primaries, Romney came out for employment laws so strict that immigrants without documents would find life so miserable they would “self-deport” in Romney’s words.
Ryan is best known for his proposed federal budget, which was passed by the House but stalled in the Senate. Romney has embraced the Ryan plan.
The plan would preserve one aspect of Obama’s health care act that was adopted into law. The Romney-Ryan budget would keep the cuts to Medicare in the law, to the tune of more than US$700 billion.
The Republican plan would go much further. It would privatise Medicare — in other words eliminate national health insurance for the elderly. To make this more palatable, those now over 55 would be exempted. But all future generations would be at the mercy of the market for health care.
The next target for privatisation is social security. This program for a national pension for the elderly is already miserly — I know because I'm on it.
The Ryan budget keeps the tax breaks for the very rich enacted under Bush, but goes much further. It drastically cuts present taxes for the1% and corporations, while raising taxes on workers.
So extreme are its cuts on the social wage that even the reactionary US Council of Catholic Bishops denounced it as an attack on the poor.
In Republican-controlled states there has been a concerted campaign to roll back voting rights won by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Laws have been passed in these states that make it much more difficult for workers who are in the lower wage bracket or unemployed to be registered to vote. Blacks and Latinos are way disproportionately represented in both categories.
Some liberal commentators attribute these restrictions on voting rights as just Republican attempts to disenfranchise voters who lean Democratic.
They are, but also represent something far more insidious that transcends the electoral campaign. They are a bid to whip up white racism in a push against the gains of the radicalisation of “The '60s” in the election and beyond.
An undercurrent in the election is the barely-disguised appeal to vote against Obama because he is Black. One aspect of this, which surfaced openly in the Republican primaries, is the assertion that Obama is not a US citizen, and does not have a US birth certificate.
While on the face of it the charge is false, its real message is that no Black is a “real” American, and should not be allowed to be president.
Romney recently made a “joke” about Obama’s birth certificate — a “wink-wink” to the racists.
A subtext to the opposition to any effort to provide health insurance for those who do not have it, even the deeply flawed Obama plan that solidifies the control of finance capital over health insurance, is that “we” don’t want to pay for “them”.
And we know what colour “they” are.
Two of the delegates to the Republican convention threw peanuts at a Black woman cameraperson for CNN, and said, “This is how we feed animals.” Embarrassed, convention officials ejected the two.
[Next week's letter will look at whether the Democrats the answer to the Tea Party Republicans. Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]