Whether they accept it or not, there is good cause for labeling the Republican Party the party of “no.”

For decades, large segments of the party have consistently stood in the way of legislation and public policy that strives for social, political, cultural or political progress.

“You name it, the right has opposed it: civil rights, school desegregation, women’s rights, labor organizing, the minimum wage, Social Security, LGBT rights, welfare, immigrant rights, public education, reproductive rights, Medicare, Medicaid,” asserts Arun Gupta, founding editor of The Indypendent, a New York-based newspaper dedicated to fostering grassroots media production.

Gupta, who is also completing a book on the fall of the American empire, further speculates that the reason Republicans are so obstructionist is because it’s a winning strategy.

While rightist ideologies are not without sophistication, many of them essentially boil down to good versus evil, us versus them.

By “demonizing and scapegoating politically marginalized groups, the right is able to define ‘real Americans,’ who are good versus those defined as parasites, illegitimate and internal threats, who are evil,” Gupta asserts.

Lately, conservative opinion has aggressively portrayed progressive policies as giveaways to the undeserving, taking wealth and rights away from more deserving Americans and institutions. They attack these policies in the guise of defending so-called traditional values and institutions.

But, what most right-wingers want is for the state to enforce social law and order and stay out of the business of trying to make our society more equitable in terms of wealth and power.

A poignant example of the demonizing of marginalized groups was when commentator Lou Dobbs characterized undocumented immigrants as “illegal,” going on to make spurious claims that they were responsible for crime waves, disease outbreaks and for stealing jobs and social services from U.S. citizens.

Feeding into fear and distrust, these actions are often the basis of the right’s tactic of divide and conquer.

And you can bet that this philosophy is an integral part of the tea party movement, whose presence began and has soared since President Obama’s inauguration.

As Gupta notes, since then the GOP has been all about fighting Democratic initiatives, including, but not limited to, the stimulus bill, jobs programs, unemployment benefits, aid to local governments, court appointees, labor rights, health care, financial regulation, and expanding programs such as food stamps and Head Start.

The history behind conservative and right-wing ideology is very telling.

For example, according to Gupta, in 1957, William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the conservative National Review, dismissed civil rights legislation because Southern whites were “the advanced race” and defended this position as “absolutely correct” on a 1989 National Public Radio interview.

Barry Goldwater, who lost his 1964 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, calling it “unconstitutional.”

He also fought against desegregation of schools and public accommodations, asserting that it “tampers with the rights of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of property.” He also railed against federal aid to schools, the minimum wage, Medicare and the entire welfare state.

“The right’s need for enemies is coded in its political DNA,” writes Gupta. “For Goldwater, it was the Communist menace, for (George) Wallace, integrationists and intellectuals, for Nixon, liberals, anti-war activists and black radicals, for Newt Gingrich and his cohorts, it was gays, feminists, welfare mothers and the Democrats, during the Bush years, it was Islam, immigrants, gays and abortionists; for the tea party, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, it’s all the above.”

According to a 2010 multistate survey conducted by the University of Washington’s Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality, identifying as a conservative or a tea party supporter was an accurate predictor of racial resentment.

Only a third of this group was opposed to the government tapping telephones and racial or religious profiling. Nearly 60 percent maintain that Obama is foreign-born or say that they aren’t certain.

An obstructionist agenda that mobilizes a hefty grassroots alliance has proven itself to be a scary American phenomenon. How did it come about? Part of the answer lies in the fact that most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about philosophical or ideological concepts when we decide what political party to align ourselves with.

Manipulating our conflicting instincts of frustration with the world and a need for solidarity, what Republicans often do masterfully is simplify our daily thoughts into neat categories, define our enemies for us, thereby giving us a unified target to lash out against.

According to Gupta, different segments of the right use this tactic differently. Economic libertarians chide the government about high taxes and over-regulation of business. Anti-immigrant proponents come down on government for allowing “illegals” to steal jobs and jack up our taxes.

What is essentially wrong about many of these right-wing political strategies is that they exploit legitimate anxieties about job loss, a perilous economy and cultural conflicts by making social victims out the marginalized and oppressed in our country.

 

Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer whose book, “The Written Song: The Antebellum African-American Press in the Northeast,” is due for publication this year. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]