Do Republican Candidates Like Most Americans?

times squareI did not watch Thursday’s Republican debate as a liberal, an intellectual, a historian. I am all those things. But as I watched TV in my mother’s hospital room, I kept wondering, “What are these men saying to her?” Instead of seeing Republicans or politicians or media stars, I saw four men, some around my age, some younger, talking to Americans, but not to all Americans. I wondered, are they talking to us?

They were certainly talking to “Reagan Democrats”. Whoever this group might be now, the candidates offered love and an opportunity to vote for them. Nothing in particular, though, just the claim that if you liked Reagan, you’ll like us.

All four talked especially to veterans. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich asserted that veterans deserved special access when they leave the service to the most prized goods in our society: jobs, education and housing. Ron Paul was more hesitant; he doesn’t like special treatment for any group. The only veteran on stage made a very different offer – to drastically reduce the need for most of them, by ending foreign wars and foreign bases.

I was struck by how many kinds of Americans were ignored in the debate. Rick Santorum pointed out how the others, and the Republican Party generally, ignored working-class Americans. But if you belong to a union, or believe that workers have the right to be unionized, you would not have been happy on Thursday. Mitt Romney equated saving the 70,000 American jobs at General Motors with giving the company away to the UAW. He characterized the members of the National Labor Relations Board, who enforce the laws which protect workers, as “labor stooges”.

If you are gay, you might as well not have listened to the debate. Gay Americans were not mentioned, except to be permanently excluded from real marriages and real families. The candidates thus stuck with their previous negative statements about civil unions and the rights of domestic partners. None of them contradicted Gingrich’s statement in December to a voter who asked about gay issues: “You should be for Obama.”

If you liked the new national health care legislation, because it would cover the 30 million Americans without health insurance or because it allows young adults to stay on their parents’ policy until age 26, there was nothing for you. Romney carefully sketched a plan that would insure only those who already have insurance. Otherwise all four made it clear that it was wrong to change the way those groups of people are treated in the free market.

steve hochstadtIf you are black, or believe that racial stereotypes should not be the basis of public policy, then you might have hoped that somebody would distance themselves from Newt Gingrich’s insistence in the previous debate that it was conservative and patriotic of him to single out black food stamp recipients for a special scolding about their work ethic. You might still be upset that the audience hooted at the African American Fox News moderator, Juan Williams, when he asked about what Newt had said. The next day Gingrich went further, saying “the idea of work seemed to Juan Williams to be a strange, distant concept.” Apparently true conservatism means being able to criticize African Americans, without fear of being contradicted.

The Republicans were certainly not talking to the millions of poor Americans, without jobs, without proper housing, without insurance. When Gingrich taunted President Obama as the “food-stamp president”, he was also taunting those Americans who need food stamps to feed themselves and their families. All four promised jobs galore, but when? After they are inaugurated a year from now, then many more months until their policies supposedly take effect. Meanwhile, nothing but condescension for becoming dependent, for not having the proper work ethic, for being unsuccessful. Nothing different than their congressional Republican colleagues, who opposed extending unemployment insurance and continuing the payroll tax cut. Nothing at all but a rosy future.

The four would-be Presidents did talk to the 69 million Americans who voted for Barack Obama. We were told that we picked a man who does not share real American values, who is “taking away the rights of our citizens” (Romney), who is “the most dangerous President of our lifetime” (Gingrich). We are obviously stupid or un-American ourselves.

Steve HochstadtWhen you add it all up, it seems as if the Republican presidential candidates were talking to a minority of Americans, telling them they were the only true patriots. The rest of us, poor, gay, black, unionized, believers in science, supporters of a fair tax system, we were disdained. If you are happy that our government protects the voting rights of minorities, the environment we live in, and the safety of our products and jobs and food, if you are proud of the changes in American politics over the past 50 years, then the Republicans are not talking to you. So how will any of them be a President to all Americans?

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives 


  1. Annette says

    It’s true, the Rethugs aren’t talking to us. On the other hand, all we get from Obama is talk, talk, talk. Worse, he tells us one thing, then does the opposite. For example, see:
    1) Obama’s claim he’d give us transparency in government, then his sneaky secret meetings with the insurance industry to arrange for ObamaCare profits to be directed their way,
    2) Obama’s fake support of the public option that was mysteriously nixed in the final days before ObamaCare was passed,
    3) Obama’s sneaky extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich in December 2010 while everyone was busy with the holidays, and
    4) Obama’s recent theft of American citizens’ Habeas Corpus rights.

    Personally, I’d rather have a republican president enacting republican policies than a democratic one sneaking them through. At least progressives and liberals would FIGHT the republican president if he gave us what Obama has snuck through.

  2. says

    Ryder seems to think that progressives made up these categories of people. Categorizing people is inherent in our Constitution and in our history. African Americans, Native Americans, women, gays, and Jews were separated out by laws and government practices, which did not allow them/us to do what white Christian men could do. That hasn’t prevented white Christian men from pretending that they represented all Americans. This history is too well known to have to repeat, but people like Ryder insist that it doesn’t exist, that “The notion that Americans should be thought of as collective groups is the ugly side of progressivism.” Progressives have fought for more than a century to end this separation, the distinction in rights and treatment.

    The only way to do that is to talk about how blacks were prevented from going to public school, how Jews were excluded from clubs and universities, how women were harassed when they tried to compete with men in the work force. Pretending that everyone is equal has been a tactic to prevent everyone from being equal, and it continues.

    It is sad, as Don Duitz writes, that Republican candidates for President continue to say that every attempt to bring fairness to groups of people that American history has treated unfairly is divisive. Yet they appeal to their “base” by disdaining minorities. Gingrich is the one who brought up black people as needing a better work ethic.

    Radhika worries that many Americans are willing to hate the other. Too many are, because they are taught to do that by politicians, who seek their votes by using a “Southern strategy”, a “Willie Horton” strategy, a “food-stamp President” strategy. I hope that the gamble that Mark Halfmoon identifies in Republican Presidential strategy backfires. We can help by identifying every time conservatives promote divisiveness by ignoring the real differences that conservatives have been fighting for decades to preserve.

    Steve Hochstadt

  3. Joe Weinstein says

    None of these Gops has to talk to a majority of Americans because none of them seriously believes – other than in moments of deliberate self-delusion – that he has a chance of winning the office.

    They can thank Boehner and the tea-party types for implacably and irreversibly positioning the Gops as the party that is not only especially FOR the 0.1% but also AGAINST the 99.9% and several other things: our economy, our environment, our sustainability, our common-sense, our heed to science – in short, our future.

    By blaming Obama for imaginary offenses, while ignoring his very real and serious ones at home and overseas, the Prez-Gops are simply abetting the incredibility of the Cong-Gops.

    They seem to have three motives (in whatever mix of relative importance I know not): (1) ego tripping, (2) political kamikaze urges, (3) desire to please big-corp sponsors. Motive (3) includes insuring a second term for DINO Obama, who – by stages – gives the big-corp guys all they could realistically wish for.

  4. says

    The answer to your question Steve is that none of them intend to be a President to all Americans. That’s what they’re running on. They are making clear to their backward looking fans that they will *not* be the President of the rest of us poor, gay, black, unionized, believers in science, and supporters of a fair tax system. They are appealing to an irrational emotional fear of all those things.

    They are gambling that:

    1) there are enough of these frightened non-poor, non-gay, non-black, non-unionized, non-believers in science, and non-supporters of a fair tax system to actually vote – or perhaps for the first time – to register and vote to ‘end the Obama nightmare.’

    2) there are enough unsatisfied, disappointed and disgruntled leftists and liberals who are already swearing to either not vote, or to vote for Ron Paul or some other candidate with a snowball’s chance in hell, to ‘send a message’ or because they ‘won’t be fooled again’ or because there’s ‘no difference between Obama and Santorum or Gingrich.’

    The very fact that any of those four men talking to you and your mother seem to have a realistic chance to become President of the United States in 2012 is indeed a sad and tragic testimony of how large of a group is willing to choose a leader who will most certainly act against their interests. Why?

    I have my theories. I’ll leave everyone else to ponder the question and come up with their own.

  5. Ryder says

    That *anyone* is talking about what the GOP can offer in the context of an entire population that needs love is frightening as h*ll. Love and government should never, ever appear on the same page, let alone the same thought. The distribution of love, in *any* form from the machine that is government is a most hideous notion.

    Let’s leave love to people.

    Show some love… help someone today. Don’t put that off to some government agency. The notion leaves me ill.

  6. Ryder says

    This article leads with a presumption that Americans be divided up… sectioned up into groups to be aligned with or attacked, helped or destroyed, loved or hated.

    The notion that Americans should be thought of as collective groups is the ugly side of progressivism… where a political debate can only be worthwhile if “gay Americans” (as if that has relevance), if gay people are specifically mentioned…

    The voting rights of minorities (as if there are a different set of rights for them) are to be protected, but one must infer that the “voting rights of majorities” is to be ignored?

    Why not have voting rights for Americans and then enforce them? Because progressives don’t think of people as people. People are just the little members that when taken whole are a group… the individual held in greatly diminished regard.

    This is formula pandering and simple divisiveness… and it is no better from an author than it is from the politicians that practice it.

  7. Radhika says

    This approach seems to work, electorally. I maintain that a strong plurality of Americans are completely happy to disparage and hate ‘the other’. Recent decades have quashed any illusions that the generic American is kind, fair and reasonable.

  8. don Duitz says

    Mr. Hochstadts article should bring sadness to most Americans. It illustrates, to me, that most of us have never felt love. What is offered by the modern “gop” shows a lack of empathy that somehow has been transmitted to people that don’t understand the words, let alone the music, that cripple their lives and their families.

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