During the first debate among the Republican candidates for president, the moderator began a question to Rick Perry, the governor of Texas with this: “During your eleven years as governor of Texas, you have overseen 234 executions.” Before he could go any further, thunderous applause filled the Reagan library, lasting several minutes. At the next debate, co-sponsored by the Tea Party Express and CNN, the moderator posed this question to the panel of candidates: “Suppose a young man without health insurance is hit by a car requiring six months hospitalization. How could his expenses by paid for or should we just allow him to die?” Shouts of “Let him die!” filled the auditorium.
Those responses, one suspects, were not a reflection of a small minority of Americans. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare and Rick Perry’s attacks on Social Security have actually not affected public opinion as liberals have hoped. To the contrary, polls show a growing advantage for Republicans in a generic election for both houses of Congress. And the attacks on Perry from the other candidates have caused no slippage for him in the polls. If anything, they seem to have increased his lead.
What is one to make of this new culture of death that is sweeping America? It demonstrates a total lack of empathy, which means that individuals are concerned only when something affects them directly. I knew a Republican politician who opposed government involvement in health care until a close relative required round-the- clock dialysis. He then sponsored a bill in the state legislature to provide financial support for dialysis, making it virtually free in the state.
There is, one suspects, an element of racism in all of this. White people across the country increasingly resent paying for services provided to indigent blacks because they believe they are shiftless and responsible for their own situation. This goes largely unsaid, except by Hillary Clinton during the desperate hours of her losing candidacy when she went around the country shouting about “hard working white people.” It was a shameless appeal to race that almost pulled it out for her, and yet she remains an American liberal icon.
When Roosevelt was pushing for his New Deal legislation, one of his most important allies was the powerful racist senator from Mississippi, Theodore G. Bilbo, who would go on to argue for the deportation of all blacks in America to Africa. That proved too much even for a Senate that continually held up civil rights legislation and he was forced to leave the Senate. Still, Roosevelt found in him a useful ally because the alliance indicated to the white population that these programs were designed to help white people. Roosevelt never made any move towards civil rights and even his wife, the progressive Eleanor Roosevelt, kept saying that it was too soon to do anything about that. It is only when those programs start to benefit racial minorities that resistance arises.
The one policy of Rick Perry’s that is commendable and which could cost him support is his backing of the rights of children of undocumented immigrants to attend public schools and their further right to attend state universities at in-state tuition. When attacked for this, Perry countered by saying that these were “human beings who deserve to be treated as human beings.” But before one ascribes this to Perry’s munificence, it should be noted that Texas has a burgeoning Mexican population and that his policies are wildly popular with them. He also knows that for a Republican to win the presidency, he must be able to appeal to Hispanics, who are increasingly turned off by the Democratic Party. There is an element of race involved in this as well since many Hispanics resent the power of blacks in the Democratic Party, and choose to identify with the whites.
Adolph Hitler declared himself to be a socialist but he had an interesting spin on this term. He insisted that
socialism was fundamentally about race. If a country is made up of a “volk,” a homogeneous population in which everyone identifies with everyone else like a family, then socialist policies can succeed because the people will want to care for each other. His socialist policies of job creation, through public works, housing, free universities and medical care were highly popular because the German racial state was taking care of its own. In “Being and Time,” Martin Heidegger suggested that humans are different from other species because they have a sense of time, leading them to understand that their time on earth is limited. Because of this, he concluded, they care for each other. Heidegger also concluded that the best person in a nation was the soldier, because he was willing to sacrifice everything, including his life, for his people. When Heidegger bought into National Socialism and became a disciple of Hitler, it was because he shared the notion that caring is linked with race. If you got rid of all the people of color in America, the programs the Tea Party now is attacking would once again become popular. Racialism is at the heart of the Republican Party, notwithstanding several conservative blacks in the party who are treated like pets, tokens to show that Republicans are not racists. These are blacks that identify with the oppressor, much as Jewish Majority Leader Eric Cantor identifies with a party that is largely anti-Semitic. If this is the direction the nation is heading, the future will see much more of this as it becomes commonplace to abolish federal programs that were designed to provide a safety net for Americans. The Bismarckean compromise of Social Democracy to defeat Socialism, which Bismarck hated, is not appreciated in America, which lacks a Social Democratic tradition, so it should come as no surprise that there is support for abolishing the safety net. But it should be remembered that Bismarck invented Social Democracy for a racially pure Germany, a far cry from multi-racial America.
There are forty million people in America classified as poor, with over fifteen percent of the population living below the poverty line. Alas, America has no Jonathan Swift to write America’s version of “A Modest Proposal.” This country can’t even come up with brilliant satire.