The Rise of the Regressive Right and the Reawakening of America

cantor and boehnerA fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward. 

We are going to battle once again.

Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together: We all benefit from public investments in schools and health care and infrastructure. And we all do better with strong safety nets, reasonable constraints on Wall Street and big business, and a truly progressive tax system. Progressives worry when the rich and privileged become powerful enough to undermine democracy.

Regressives take the opposite positions.

Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the other tribunes of today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards.

They’d like to return to the 1920s — before Social Security, unemployment insurance, labor laws, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid, worker safety laws, the Environmental Protection Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, and the Voting Rights Act.

In the 1920s Wall Street was unfettered, the rich grew far richer and everyone else went deep into debt, and the nation closed its doors to immigrants.

Rather than conserve the economy, these regressives want to resurrect the classical economics of the 1920s — the view that economic downturns are best addressed by doing nothing until the “rot” is purged out of the system (as Andrew Mellon, Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, so decorously put it).

In truth, if they had their way we’d be back in the late nineteenth century — before the federal income tax, antitrust laws, the pure food and drug act, and the Federal Reserve. A time when robber barons — railroad, financial, and oil titans — ran the country. A time of wrenching squalor for the many and mind-numbing wealth for the few.

Listen carefully to today’s Republican right and you hear the same Social Darwinism Americans were fed more than a century ago to justify the brazen inequality of the Gilded Age:  Survival of the fittest. Don’t help the poor or unemployed or anyone who’s fallen on bad times, they say, because this only encourages laziness. America will be strong only if we reward the rich and punish the needy.

The regressive right has slowly consolidated power over the last three decades as income and wealth have concentrated at the top. In the late 1970s the richest 1 percent of Americans received 9 percent of total income and held 18 percent of the nation’s wealth; by 2007, they had more than 23 percent of total income and 35 percent of America’s wealth. CEOs of the 1970s were paid 40 times the average worker’s wage; now CEOs receive 300 times the typical workers’ wage.

This concentration of income and wealth has generated the political heft to deregulate Wall Street and halve top tax rates. It has bankrolled the so-called Tea Party movement, and captured the House of Representatives and many state governments. Through a sequence of presidential appointments it has also overtaken the Supreme Court.

Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts (and, all too often, Kennedy) claim they’re conservative jurists. But they’re judicial activists bent on overturning seventy-five years of jurisprudence by resurrecting states’ rights, treating the 2nd Amendment as if America still relied on  local militias, narrowing the Commerce Clause, and calling money speech and corporations people.

Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble; sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action.

robert reichLook at the Progressive reforms between 1900 and 1916; the New Deal of the 1930s; the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s; the widening opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities, and gays; and the environmental reforms of the 1970s.

In each of these eras, regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on which America is built. The result was fundamental reform.

Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.

Robert Reich
Robert Reich’s Blog

Republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. Jay Levenberg, Esq. says

    I am currently reading a book on the 1944 Presidential election. For those of you too old to remember (even I wasn’t born yet), it was Roosevelt’s last term against Dewey. What is amazing is that the arguments concerning our country haven’t changed much. Roosevelt believed the Republicans were reactionary and were only out for the rich. Dewey and the Republicans believed that FDR and the New Deal would destroy and bankrupt the country and that spending was out of control. There is nothing radical about these Republicans nor is there much change in the Democrats either concerning fiscal matters. The point that I am making is that we haven’t progressed very far in our thinking. Perhaps it’s time to see where we are headed as a nation. On the one hand, we are losing our middle class which was always the backbone of America. On the other, we are losing our competitive edge in the world making matters worse and building up a huge deficit year after year. What is happening in Italy and Greece should be a warning for what may happen here. How we deal with our ability to compete and our ability to restrain the excess amount of spending has greater implications for the future than were true in 1944 even though the arguments haven’t changed all that much. If we don’t get leaders soon, who are willing to tackle these issues and not leave it up to others, our country will not survive as we know it.

  2. Jack says

    All we’re lacking is a leader to pull us out of this mess. What are you waiting for, Mr. Reich? Surely you don’t think Obama has the nerve to take on the Masters of the Universe. How about teaming up with Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, perhaps one of the few remaining honest politicians in Congress. Primary Obama and give him the chance to prove he’s a hero of the common American, or take him down as the stealth Republican his actions have shown him to be so far.

    We’re waiting…

  3. Ray Bishop says

    Hopefully common sense will somehow prevail. Considering the state of our environment and the economic inequality it does not appear to have played a role in our society lately. Jerry Drucker stated to the Tea Party, We really do want our Country back”
    It is not only our Country but the health of our planet and the money lost to greed and coruption.
    Hey Jerry – I will drink to that, even if it is tea.

  4. Jerry Drucker says

    Thank you Robert Reich! Your analysis is righ– uh, progressively spot on. Many of we the people are finally taking to the streets that we own and letting the regressive right know we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. The occupying of cities and towns is catching on.

    If this current new movement were looking for a name, I would call it the Reality Party. That name might be too close to the Tea Party name, but then we could as a nation, go back to our Constitution’s fairness and morality instituted by our founding fathers.

    When the activist Supreme Court started making new laws instead of our Congress regarding a corporation becoming a person, with huge money advantages not given to we the people, that was the straw that broke the camels back.

    Hey Teaparty, We the People really do want our country back.

  5. says

    Yes Robert, you are correct with this analysis, but why don’t we have any progressive candidates from which to choose for President? Wars abroad and the drug war at home? Big pharma and fake marijuana pills, pain relievers which are deadly? Declaring war on medical marijuana users? No consequences for the banksters or Bush and Company who tortured prisoners? That is not progressive behavior. Today’s youth doesn’t want a prison and war monger in charge of our country. The raiding of dispensaries in California and other states taking place right now is political suicide for Obama. Someone had better put him in touch with his (former) base who want an anti-war, pro legalization, anti big pharma and anti prisons president. Gary Johnson, who isn’t allowed to debate seems to be the most progressive candidate and he’s pro choice too. What a shame.

  6. Rupert Harwath III says

    We have been mislead by Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama, and nearly every other public figure. Economic growth, job creation, and actual prosperity are not necessarily a package deal. In fact, the first two are horribly misunderstood. Economic growth/loss (GDP) is little more than a measure of wealth changing hands. A transfer of currency from one party to another. The rate at which it is traded. This was up until mid ’07′ however, has never been a measure of actual prosperity. Neither has job creation. The phrase itself has been thrown around so often, and in such a generic political manner, that it has come to mean nothing. Of course, we need to have certain things done for the benefit of society as a whole. We need farmers, builders, manufacturers, transporters, teachers, cops, firefighters, soldiers, mechanics, sanitation workers, doctors, managers, and visionaries. Their work is vital. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that we need politicians, attorneys, bankers, investors, and entertainers. In order to keep them productive, we must provide reasonable incentives. We need to compensate each by a fair measure for their actual contributions to society. We need to provide a reasonable scale of income opportunity for every independent adult, every provider, and share responsibility for those who have a legitimate need for aid. In order to achieve and sustain this, we must also address the cost of living and the distribution of wealth. Here, we have failed miserably. The majority have already lost their home equity, their financial security, and their relative buying power. The middle class have actually lost much of their ability to make ends meet, re-pay loans, pay taxes, and support their own economy. The lower class have gone nearly bankrupt. In all, its a multi-trillion dollar loss taken over about 30 years. Millions are under the impression that we need to create more jobs simply to provide more opportunity. as if that would solve the problem. It won’t. Not by a longshot. Jobs don’t necessarily create wealth. In fact, they almost never do. For the mostpart, they only transfer wealth from one party to another. A gain here. A loss there. Appreciation in one community. Depreciation in another. In order to create net wealth, you must harvest a new resource or make more efficient use of one. Either way you must have a reliable and ethical system in place to distribute that newly created wealth in order to benefit society as a whole and prevent a lagging downside. The ‘free market’ just doesn’t cut it. Its a farce. Many of the jobs created are nothing but filler. The promises empty. Sure, unemployment reached an all-time low under Bush. GDP reached an all-time high. But those are both shallow and misleading indicators. In order to gauge actual prosperity, you must consider the economy in human terms. As of ’08′ the average American was working more hours than the previous generation with far less equity to show for it. Consumer debt, forclosure, and bankruptcy were also at all-time highs. As of ’08′, every major American city was riddled with depressed communities, neglected neighborhoods, failing infrastructures, lost revenue, and gang activity. All of this has coincided with massive economic growth and job production. Meanwhile, the rich have been getting richer and richer and richer even after taxes. Our nation’s wealth has been concentrated. Again, this represents a multi-trillion dollar loss taken by the majority. Its an absolute deal breaker. Bottom line: With or without economic growth or job production, you must have a system in place to prevent too much wealth from being concentrated at the top. Unfortunately, we don’t. Our economy has become nothing but a giant game of Monopoly. The richest one percent already own nearly 1/2 of all United States wealth. More than double their share before Reagan took office. Still, they want more. They absolutely will not stop. Now, our society as a whole is in serious jeapordy. Greed kills.

  7. Rupert Harwath III says

    Its all a sham. Nothing but tax deductible PR crap. Make the people love you. Take their money. Convince them that you’re making the world a better place. Take more of their money. Be nothing but a greedy sell-out hypocrite pig with a fake commercial personality and a fake cause to pose for. Concentrate even more of the world’s wealth and resources and lead the ignorant masses to believe that you’re doing the opposite. I can’t stop them and I can’t punish them but I can tell you that their bogus promises to make the world a better place will not be kept. Any ‘humanitarian’ progress made in one area will always be lost in another with a net loss for the majority. There will be more poverty. More starvation. More conflict. Meanwhile the rich will keep getting richer and richer and richer. They will always dumb us down and divert our attention from one area to another. Just like they have been for at least 25 years. Ethipoia (still bad), Darfur (even worse), Malawi (still bad). As they concentrate more and more of the world’s wealth and resources, they will cause more inflation, more poverty, more starvation, and more conflict on a global scale. In order to divert our attention, they will adopt another cause to pose for. and another. and another. and another. Each time, putting their fake humanitarian stamp on it and jet-setting the world in the name of ‘humanity’. Actually charging their private jet rides and 5 star hotel accomodations to their own bogus ‘foundations’. Pleading with us to buy more of their products and support more of their ‘good will’. Taking more of our money and throwing a few crumbs back to the poor along the way. With another photo-op and worldwide publicity for each and every crumb. Like I said, its all a sham. Nothing but a giant marketing gimmick and a cheap excuse to keep getting richer and richer and richer. These people are actually causing the same problems they pretend to care about. It is the greatest scam of all time. I will not forgive them for it. I will expose as many as possible for the hypocrite pigs that they are. Thats my cause. Its the ugly truth. Someone has to tell it.

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