From the “New Right” to the “Alt-Right”

What just happened this week American politics seems all too familiar to those who remember the past. Yet in another sense, we have never seen anything like this before.

Barry GoldwaterFifty-two years ago Barry Goldwater, backed by a populist grass-roots movement and skilled political operators, defeated his moderate rivals to win the Republican presidential nomination. It was a seminal turning point in American politics.

The Goldwater campaign took political ideals that until then had been promoted only by fringe groups like the John Birch Society and brought them into mainstream political discourse. It marked the creation of what soon came to be known as “The New Right.”

Goldwater’s campaign policies ultimately proved to be far too radical for the American public at the time. In the presidential election he carried only five states and suffered one of the worst political defeats in American history.

But activists for the New Right seized on the momentum that the Goldwater campaign had provided. A key handful of political operatives (notably Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, Morton Blackwell, Howard Phillips and Terry Dolan) worked tirelessly to perpetuate the new movement. They founded a host of conservative political organizations, publications, media outlets, and think tanks to promote their right-wing agenda, and branded it as a genuinely populist movement. By 1980 their chosen candidate, Ronald Reagan not only won the Republican nomination, but went on to win the presidential election as well in a landslide victory.

220pxPresident_Reagan_1981Over the next three decades Reagan served as the public standard-bearer for the New Right, so much so that the movement became synonymous with his name. Fiscal conservatism (small government & lower taxes) and a strong military were the original twin pillars of the new right.

Unmentioned in polite political discourse, but well established in fact, was the en masse defection of Southern Democrats opposed to the Civil Rights legislation of President Johnson who gravitated to the Republican Party. The Republican Party proved quite willing to accommodate the racist attitudes of many of these Southerners.

During the Reagan years activists like Paul Weyrich also sought to formally add a third pillar to the New Right’s platform – that of social conservatism. It focused extensively on anti-abortion legislation, opposition to gay rights, abstinence education in schools, and defeating the Equal Rights Amendment.

falwell_ht_timeThese efforts were ultimately successful, creating a strong alliance with the Moral Majority (which spun off into a separate short-lived political movement in 1989) and a more long-lasting alliance with the Christian Right that continues today. During this time most moderate Republicans were either forced out of the party or voluntarily left on their own.

Since 1964 The Republican Party has continued to shift rightward in its policies, making many of Goldwater’s and Reagan’s policy ideals seem moderate by comparison. By the 1990s Barry Goldwater was being ostracized by other Republicans for being too moderate in his views.

As I reported in a previous blog,

In 1996, Barry Goldwater sat in his Paradise Valley home with Bob Dole [the Republican nominee that year] and joked about his strange new standing as a GOP outsider. ”We’re the new liberals of the Republican Party,” Goldwater told Dole, who was then facing criticisms from hard-line conservatives in the presidential campaign. ”Can you imagine that?”

Tea-Party-Polls-Show-Importance-To-GOP-BaseSince the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008, the Republican Party has shifted even further to the right, as evidenced in the rapid growth of a new populist faction known as the Tea Party in the 2010 mid-term elections.

When Bob Dole was asked in a 2013 interview with Mike Wallace,

Could people like Bob Dole, even Ronald Reagan, could you make it in today’s Republican Party?

he replied,

I doubt it. … Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon couldn’t have made it.

Some have wondered what could be next in the Republican Party’s steady march to embrace ever more extreme right-wing policies.

Enter Donald Trump.

The New “Alt-Right”

donald-trump-1Since the beginning of his campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump has mounted a distinctively populist campaign focused on winning the support of what has turned out to be a core group of older white voters who feel that their economic livelihoods and personal security are being threatened by “others” – those who are not like themselves. Often resorting to crude and vitriolic attacks, Trump has singled out Blacks, Hispanic migrants, and Muslims as being at the root of America’s problems.

Trump’s Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, has repeatedly tried to get Trump to tone down his rhetoric and start acting “more presidential” to broaden his appeal. But this week Trump declared in an interview with station WKBT in Wisconsin,

Everyone talks about, ‘Oh, well, you’re going to pivot. … I don’t want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you.

Another regular object of Trump’s attacks has been “the Republican establishment” in general and the RNC [the Republican National Committee] in particular. Tensions have been growing within the RNC for some time over Trump’s frequently erratic behaviour, emotional outbursts, and outrageous statements. Many prominent Republicans have refused to support him, and some have even left the Party. Yet Trump’s populist message continues to enjoy strong support within his supportive base.

Last week there seemed to be a resolution to the feuding between the RNC and the Trump camp. On August 12 it was reported that the Trump team would be meeting with Republican Party officials in what was termed a “come to Jesus” moment for the Trump team to “patch up a rift that just keeps unfolding.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus personally introduced Trump at a rally later that day and even embraced him on stage.

steve-bannonThe RCN was subsequently taken by complete surprise with the bombshell announcement the following Wednesday that Steve Bannon, the Chairman of Breitbart News, had been recruited to be the new CEO for the Trump campaign. Two days later Paul Manafort announced his resignation as Campaign Chairman.

Under Steve Bannon’s editorship Breitbart News has savagely attacked the RNC and its leadership on many issues including failing to take a strong stance against Muslims and immigrants. One Republican House member was quoted as saying,

Breitbart has no credibility outside of the most extreme conservative wing of our party. … This would seem to signal that Trump is ready to go double-barrel against all of Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike.

He then added,

Breitbart takes a flamethrower to Washington and plays very loose with the facts. I would anticipate an even more bellicose, even less-connected-to-the-facts approach from the Trump campaign moving forward.

AltRightIt should also be noted that Bannon, who took over Breitbart News in 2012, has since then built the news service into a major voice for what is termed the “alt-right,” peddling a steady stream of “white identity, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and Clinton conspiracies.”

In fact, a former Breitbart News spokesperson (who has since resigned in protest) has complained to ABC News that Bannon “regularly disparaged minorities, women and immigrants during daily editorial calls” at Breitbart and that editorial meetings presided over by Bannon sounded “like a white supremacist rally.”

Meanwhile, white nationalists and white supremacists speak glowingly of Breitbart News. Richard Spencer, who heads a white supremacist think tank (the National Policy Institute), has proudly claimed that

Breitbart and Bannon have helped Alt Right ideas gain legitimacy—and, more importantly, exponentially expand their audiences.

Steve Bannon and Donald Trump see eye to eye on most matters. Trump has long depended on Breitbart News for many of the “facts” he quotes at his rallies and the conspiracy theories he embraces. It is expected to be an enduring partnership, even if Trump looses the presidential race. Bannon will be in an excellent position to expand his “news” network with the backing of Trump much as the now disgraced Roger Ailes did in creating Fox News after playing a key role in Ronald Reagan’s and George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

With Ailes departing the Fox Network, could Bannon become the new media voice for a newly branded Republican Party? That’s not such a far-fetched idea. We have already seen in the original “New Right” movement just how effective media outlets run by well-placed conservative operatives can be in creating a durable political movement.

In his own version of populist rhetoric, Donald Trump has repeatedly announced his refusal to be “politically correct.” He has made it acceptable at his political rallies to demean women, to denounce Hispanic migrants, to attack Muslims, to assault Blacks, and to spread conspiracies, lies and falsehoods at will.

Trump has campaigned on a platform of misogyny, xenophobia, hatred and bullying. He is directing his campaign toward a growing base of older white voters who share his racist, nativist views. He has become the new face of the Republican Party as he personally takes it into its next phase of right-wing extremism. Welcome to the Republican Party of the future.

Who would have imagined 52 years ago that it would come to this?

Photo credit: Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP

Trump, Sanders, and the Future of American Politics

crossroadsAmerica stands at a crossroads. The general consensus is that government is not working as it should. People are resentful. They are angry. They no longer trust the traditional solutions that their elected leaders have been offering them.

There is a powerful insurgency in the making. And it is not pretty. In fact, it has the potential to be quite dangerous.

donald-trump-1Observers around the world have watched in disbelief as Donald Trump, an inexperienced political outsider with outrageous ideas and inflammatory rhetoric, has captured the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency. His message is, in the words of Michael Enright, one of “populism, protectionism, and hostility toward immigrants, coupled with anger directed as mainstream” politicians.

And he is not alone. Insurgent candidates from the far-right of the political spectrum have fast been gaining ground in France, England, Austria, The Netherlands, and even Switzerland. Their movement is on the rise. But what kind of a movement is it? And why is it gaining ground at this time?

FrumThe conservative political commentator David Frum provided some helpful insights in an interview with Michael Enright on CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning program earlier this year (rebroadcast this past week on Ideas). Frum stated,

There’s an old saying that every election presents a choice: More of the same or something new. When times are good, people vote for more of the same – whatever you guys are doing, please keep doing it. But for most Americans, times have been very grim now for the past seven or eight years, and have been troublingly oppressive for close to fifteen.

Even today, after six years of economic recovery the typical American household makes $4,000 a year less than it did in 2007, there’s a lot of evidence that upward mobility has slowed down, and pessimism is overwhelming. And that is especially true among white Americans …

Frum went on to explain,

When you are doing well, people value experience. But what is the experience now? What has happened over the past fifteen years from the point of view of an American voter [when all the things] recommended to them by clever people [turned] out to be a calamity for most people – from investing in dot.coms to the Iraq war…, to the housing bubble, to the Wall Street catastrophe, to the stimulus that produced such disappointing results for so many people?

The result has been that

the people who are the accustomed and self-expected leaders of American society have just consistently failed to deliver results that were beneficial to the voters. And of course, and unsurprisingly, the voters no longer accept that leadership.

This certainly helps to explain why, at one point in the Republican race for the presidency the three leading contenders at that time – Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina – all had absolutely no political experience. They were complete outsiders who rejected the proposed solutions of the political establishment and put forward their own distinctive ideas instead. And they had a considerable following. People didn’t want to hear the ideas that the career politicians and political insiders were offering. They carried no weight. People were looking for fresh answers – for different solutions.

Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist who has been running for the Democrats on the left, is also a political outsider. Although he is a career politician, he has always until this point run as an independent, unaligned with and unbeholding to the party establishment. And Bernie too has denounced the traditional establishment thinking of his adopted Democratic Party.

To nearly everyone’s amazement, Bernie Sanders has mounted a groundswell electoral campaign that has seriously rivaled that of the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. He has captured people’s imagination. His rallies have enjoyed enormous turnouts. His followers are every bit as enthusiastic and engaged as are those of Donald Trump on the right.

Something important is going on here – something that may even signal the demise of the old political process.

Seeking New Answers

When asked last month by Michael Enright what lay behind this serious rift between established politicians and voters, Freddy Gray, the deputy editor of the conservative British magazine, The Spectator, explained,

I think we’re living in a time of tremendous change – technological change, social change – and political parties and the political centre both on left and right are struggling to comes to terms with this change, and they are struggling to adapt to what their voters want. And we see a lot of angry people who feel that there is a sort of elite who is getting richer, … and their country has been left behind. And this is affecting the right more than the left ….

He then added,

it used to be said that the left won the cultural war, the right won the economic war, and the centre won the political war. I don’t think any of those things are true any more. I think the right is losing the economic argument in many ways. The left is probably still culturally dominant, but with issues like free speech we are beginning to see things changing. And the centre – the politically central parties or neo-liberal parties that have been so dominant for the last twenty years (we think of Bill Clinton and Tony Blaire as the great examples of that) they are breaking down.

If the solutions being promoted by the traditionally “centrist” parties no longer have credibility, what will gain their trust? As David Frum reminds us,

The job of political professionals is to pay attention to what the non-professionals are worried about, and to compete to find solutions. When the political professionals don’t do that, they open the door for hucksters and flim-flam men of all kinds.

donald-trump-2Enter Donald Trump.

As I stated in a previous blog, Donald Trump, in his own audacious way,

single-handedly swept aside the carefully constructed coalition of conservative interests that have defined Republican ideology for the past 40 years.

The prevailing Republican strategy since the Nixon presidency had been to craft an alliance between a hard-core anti-communist faction, those opposed to new civil rights legislation, and those promoting a governmental “hands off” approach to economics.

This “three-legged stool” of core Republican principles, as Josh Barro refers to them, namely militarism, social conservatism and libertarian economics, has now been replaced by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric focusing on immigrants, Muslims, and the very rich.

As David Frum noted in his interview with Michael Enright,

Donald Trump either intuited or discovered, that he could put together a new kind of message that was appealing to many of the people who had voted Republican, and it turned out that that so-called conservative base was not ideologically conservative in the way the inner party had assumed it was.

So if conservative ideology is not determining the political message, what is? The answer according to an increasing number of commentators is – Anger. Anger with the political establishment. Anger with the political and the economic elite. Anger with those who are seen as threats to traditional social and economic security.

Donald Trump has tapped into this widespread – and until now largely unvoiced – seething mood of anger against “the others” – those who are different, either culturally, economically or socially.

Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants, Muslims, women and minorities, has been frequently been linked with racism and xenophobia. And there is certainly that dimension to it. But these, I believe, are expressions of a yet more fundamental grievance underlying everything else.

neil-macdonaldNeil McDonald, senior correspondent for CBC and formerly CBC’s chief Washington correspondent, put his finger squarely on this fundamental grievance in a CBC Radio national news broadcast this past Thursday. He said,

We’ve all heard of the angry white male. The angry white male thinks that he is somehow being deprived – which is a bit ridiculous because really white males still run everything. But it’s not just angry white males. It’s angry males and females. In fact, it’s class rage. And they feel that the ground is shifting under them. They are losing agency and they are losing power, and it’s the blacks and the Mexicans, and gays and transgendered – it’s all these people that are clamoring for a seat at the table that was previously populated by them.

One proposed solution taken by many, then, is to attack those “others” who seek a place at the table, who demand to be included and who, in doing so, subvert the privileged status of the dominant group that is accustomed making all the rules.

These formerly privileged individuals now see themselves and their traditional values as being under attack. They complain of a supposed “war against Christian values.” They claim that immigrants are taking away their jobs, that whites are being discriminated against in the workplace, that women should keep in line, and that homosexuals and transsexuals somehow threaten heterosexuals’ own identity.

We have seen these attitudes at play over many decades in the case of African-Americans. As Carole Anderson, the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, stated this week in an interview with Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC Radio’s The Current,

When African-Americans advance, you begin to see an incredible movement to undercut that advancement. … [T]his white rage is in fact very methodical, very clinical, and it cloaks itself in the language of democracy. Protecting democracy, valuing justice, valuing the ballot box. But in fact, doing just the opposite.

The well-documented phenomenon of “white rage” must now be extended to the broader issue of “class rage” that McDonald speaks of. Donald Trump has harnessed this class rage and has made it the cornerstone of his election campaign. It is potent. It is divisive. And it is extremely dangerous.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has harnessed the power of a very different kind of anger. It does not target those who are already marginalized and merely asking for fair treatment and some degree of inclusion. It instead focuses on the various special interest groups that seek to maintain their privileged status – the careerist establishment politicians, the influential power brokers and political insiders, and the Wall Street elite along with their highly paid lobbyists.

Although this week Hillary Clinton secured her nomination as the candidate for the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders has pledged to continue to his efforts to focus

on social justice, on economic justice, on racial justice [and] on environmental justice,


that will be the future of America.

Two paths thus lie before the American people. In rejecting the policies of the past and mobilizing this new mood of public anger and even rebellion, they may take one of two courses of action: They may to attempt to retain the old lines of privilege, or they may work to ensure that all parties have representation at the table to hammer out new policies that will be of benefit to all.

At this point in time, however, it is not clear which path American voters will take.


Photo credits: Charlie Neibergal/AP; Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Imag

Republican Party Splintering?

Is there a crack developing in the Republican block? Do I detect signs of it splintering?

The recent Republican primaries provide some fascinating insights into dissent within the Republican ranks. The Tea Party was greatly emboldened when their relatively unknown candidate defeated the high-profile “establishment” candidate, Eric Cantor, in the recent Virginia primary. Then this week the Tea party was sent reeling by the come-from-behind win of the establishment candidate Thad Cochran over the anointed Tea Party candidate in Mississippi.

mcdanielIn his rousing non-concession speech, Chris McDaniel distanced himself from the current Republican Party, saying.

The party I was born with, the party I joined when I was 13 years old, was the party of a former actor from California named Ronald Reagan. … That’s the party I joined. That’s the party I’ve always been a part of.

He then went on to say about the majority who voted for his establishment opponent, “This is not the party of Reagan,” and added,

there are millions of people who feel like strangers in their own party.”

His words express the sentiment of many.

The animosity between Tea Party/Libertarian Republicans and mainstream conservative (or “establishment”) Republicans has been growing throughout the primary season. The Center for Public Integrity documented that in the first two months of this year

conservative groups spent more than $2.3 million on negative ads targeting Republican candidates.

And it adds,

That’s more than the $2.1 million conservative groups spent overtly advocating against the election of Democratic candidates.

Meanwhile, they report, liberal political groups didn’t spend a dime opposing Democratic candidates.

The struggle for dominance in (and thus control of) the Republican Party seems to have come down to a battle between the purists and the pragmatists. As McDaniel complained in denouncing the establishment element within his party,

So much for principle. I guess they can take some consolation in the fact that they did something tonight, by once again compromising, by once again reaching across the aisle, by once again abandoning the conservative movement.

The basic problem with ideological purists is that they treat compromise as a moral evil. One cannot trust or work with those who view compromise as a pragmatic necessity. To reach across the aisle is to abandon one’s purist convictions. One is either with you or against you – an ally or an opponent.

As disagreement with the establishment wing of the Republican Party intensifies, some of the purists feel they have no choice but to renounce their ties with this reprobate majority. Talk of third party candidacies in the Fall 2014 elections continues to surface.

palinThis week Sarah Palin appeared on Hannity and suggested that she might consider joining a third party saying,

If Republicans are going to act like Democrats, then what’s the use in getting all gung ho about getting in there? [that is, getting them elected to Congress].

When far-right conservatives feel they cannot support establishment conservatives – or decide to openly campaign against them – it spells trouble for the Republican Party as a whole. A fragmented party filled with rancorous infighting will be in a poor position to defeat the Democratic candidates in the upcoming election.


Photo credit: AP

Republicans Reverse Stance on Climate Change

coal-electricity generator

A year ago President Obama pledged to take effective action against climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with developing regulations to limit carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, and this week they released these new rules. The cap-and trade system would require power plants to cut their carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030.

mitch_mcconnellLeading Republican spokespersons almost immediately condemned the measures. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a press release stating that, “Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.”  John Boehner called it “a sucker punch for families everywhere.”  And the Republican National Committee posted a lengthy list of links on its “Research” website claiming that Obama is launching a “war on coal,” that the new regulations will kill jobs, and that coal plants across the country are already being forced to shut down.

What Republican in their right mind would support such regulations?

john-mccainWell, as reported today on, back in 2008 while campaigning in Oregon, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain unveiled a cap-and-trade plan to limit emissions not only from power plants, but also from transportation, manufacturing, and commercial businesses. It would reduce emissions by 66% by the year 2050. It was much more ambitious than the plan just announced by the EPA. [See details here] Several months later Sarah Palin joined MaCain’s ticket, and when asked if she supported this cap-and-trade plan, she announced, “I do.”

Even George W. Bush was worried about climate change. As his biographer, Peter Baker, records

george-w-bush,property=poster[Bush] found the science increasingly persuasive and believed more needed to be done. The end of his presidency loomed, and he did not want to be known as the president who stood by while a crisis gathered. … [He] cited the danger of climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time, convened a conference of major world polluters to start working on an international accord to follow Kyoto, and signed legislation cutting gasoline consumption and, by extension, greenhouse gases.

Back then many politicians- both Republicans and Democrats – were concerned about climate change. Do you remember the famous bi-partisan political ad featuring Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi sitting side by side calling on Americans to take action against climate change? [Watch it here:]

So what has changed? Climate change denial remains strong in some conservative circles, and perhaps the politicians are simply catering to that segment of their base. Perhaps it is politics, with Republican leaders trying to firm up their support in coal producing states. Or perhaps it is that these latest measures come from a Democratic administration, and therefore must be denounced whether they have merit or not.

Whatever the politics, climate change itself remains real. Does Obama’s plan go too far? As notes,

The power plant regulations [of] the Obama administration … are far less ambitious than the proposal McCain offered in Oregon in 2008. They’re less ambitious than the proposals Newt Gingrich championed.

Bloomberg calls the new measures announced this week “historic but modest.” At one time we were prepared to do much more. It’s time to remember where politicians used to stand on climate change.

It’s time to take effective action.



What’s Stephen Harper’s Next Move?

HarperThe Canadian Parliament resumes sitting today as Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns from his state visit to Israel.

Reaction to Harper’s trip to Israel has been mixed. Many commentators have noted our Prime Minister’s refusal to publicly criticize any of the Israeli government’s policies even though Canada’s official position is that the new settlements being built in Palestinian territories are illegal. Others have publicly lamented the loss of Canada’s role as an impartial broker in Middle Eastern affairs.

With Parliament resuming the focus will now return to Canadian domestic issues. The ongoing Senate scandal will be high on the list of issues to be dealt with. So also will be safety and environmental issues surrounding the increasing transport of oil by rail and pipeline.

Economic issues are bound to come to the fore as well, with the Finance Minister rumored to have a new budget ready for release sometime in February. Jobs and employment figures will certainly be on the table, as will the future of Canada’s Health Care system with the current Federal-Provincial Health Accord expiring next year.

Canada_votesmallThe Conservative government will no doubt be talking up its accomplishments as it positions itself for the upcoming 2015 federal election. Next month marks the beginning of the ninth year of the Harper government’s rule, an exceptionally long time for Conservative rule in Canadian politics. The only previous Conservative governments in the last half-century were under John Diefenbaker (1957-63), Joe Clark (1974-79) and Brian Mulroney (1984-93).

Harper’s first two terms as Prime Minister were as head of a minority government. He won a majority in the 2011 election, but with only 39% of the popular vote thanks to Canada’s multi-party system. A poll conducted last November showed only 29% of Canadians favoring the Harper Conservatives. One cannot help but think of Brian Mulroney’s disastrous final election bid in 1993 that saw the Conservatives suffering the worst defeat ever for a federal governing party.

Stephen Harper’s policies since becoming Prime Minister have been driven more by ideology than by practicality. He represents the most conservative faction of the Conservative Party (his roots are in the Alberta based Reform Party), and his policies have been strongly criticized by former Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark.

NCC logoBefore becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance Party (the precursor to the Conservative Party of Canada), Harper served from 1998 to 2002 as president of the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative think tank which has actively campaigned against the Canada Health Act, the Canadian Wheat Board, closed-shop unions, the mandatory long-form census, and electoral laws that limit third-party spending. It has promoted increased privatization, tax cuts and cuts to government spending.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has worked steadily to accomplish many of the goals promoted by the NCC. In 2011 the Conservative government announced that the long-form census questionnaire would no longer be mandatory. In October 2011 the Harper Conservatives introduced legislation to scrap the Canadian Firearms Registry; it was passed in February 2012. In August 2012 the Conservative government ended the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on wheat and barley purchases. Most recently, Bill C-377, which would place increased restrictions on labour organizations, has been reinstated in its original form in the current session of Parliament after being softened through amendments by the Senate in the previous session.

Health Council of CanadaEven more serious are the changes envisioned by Harper for Canada’s system of health care. The Harper government has announced that it will stop funding the Health Council of Canada which coordinates national approaches to Canada’s provincially operated health systems. The Health Council basically provides the ‘glue’ that holds the nation’s health care system together. According to a report in the Toronto Star,

The vacuum in federal leadership will fragment the health care system into 14 separate systems operating independently from each other. This fragmentation undermines the core principles of the Canada Health Act, especially comprehensive coverage and portability between provinces and territories.

Lack of federal coordination and guardianship means that more and more Canadians will lack access to comparable health services in primary care, prescription drugs, home care, rehabilitation and longer-term care.

This latest move follows other actions taken to undermine Canada’s national health care system.

First the Harper government derailed the national pharmaceutical strategy contained in the 2004 Health Accord. … Then the Harper government unilaterally announced major cuts to federal transfer payments for health as well as fundamental changes to equalization payments. The cumulative effect will be to take more than $60 billion out of health transfers and equalization payments in the decade following 2014. … Now the Harper government is saying when the 2004 Health Accord expires next year, it will not be renewed.

EI ProtestLast month the Toronto Star provided an extensive listing of other programs that are being targeted by the Harper Conservatives. It reports that since taking power eight years ago, “the federal Conservatives have chipped away at programs that helped define the compassionate, caring Canada built over the course of several generations.” In particular, “Social programs long valued by Canadians are in the Conservatives’ crosshairs.”

Federal health-care spending is to be reined in. Canadians in future will have to work two years longer before receiving old age security — a measure Harper said was meant to address Canadians’ disproportionate focus on “our services and entitlements.”

And at a time when 1.3 million are without jobs, the federal government has toughened the criteria that employment insurance recipients must meet to hang on to their benefits. In all, only 37 per cent of jobless Canadians are eligible for EI benefits.

The Star reports that

Dozens of groups dedicated to improving human rights or the wellbeing of the most vulnerable citizens have also seen their funding reduced or eliminated as Ottawa redraws its priorities and budget allocations.

At least 10 aboriginal organizations and more than a dozen environmental groups, including the Experimental Lakes Area research site and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, were hit. Groups working on child care, rights advocates, health-care researchers, numerous immigrant support organizations and women’s groups … received less support from Ottawa.

These moves have been going on since the Conservatives formed their first minority government in 2006. That year, having inherited a $13 billion budget surplus, the Conservatives still eliminated $1 billion in spending.

Gone were the Court Challenges Program, which had funded legal actions by gays and rights activists, and the Law Commission of Canada, a respected federal law reform agency. At the same time, the Conservatives took aim at Status of Women Canada, closing regional offices and barring the federal organization from funding women’s groups involved in advocacy and research. Also among Harper’s first moves was cancellation of the $5-billion, five-year national child care program set up by the Liberals.

But, the 2012 budget, announced once the Conservatives finally won a majority government, revealed the broader scope of Harper’s agenda.

[It] cut the Canadian International Development Agency’s budget by $319 million; trimmed spending in the Aboriginal Affairs Department by $165 million and reduced Environment Canada’s budget by $88 million. It also scrapped the independent National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy … .

The budget legislation overhauled environmental protections established over many years, weakened equal pay rules meant to protect women, aboriginals and others working for federal government contractors, and launched a crackdown on charities, including environmental groups, suspected of doing too much political advocacy.

But it was changes to the EI system that sparked some of the angriest responses to the Conservative agenda. The new rules require laid-off workers to take jobs they might previously have considered unsuitable, possibly with up to 30 per cent less pay. If not, they could lose their EI benefits.

Stephen Harper’s conservative agenda for Canada shows close parallels to the regressive policies advocated by conservative Republicans in the United States. But these moves are not broadly supported by the Canadian public.

The vast majority of Canadians want their national health care system to be preserved. They want environmental regulations to be rigorously enforced. They want the rights of aboriginals, women and minorities to be protected. And they want the elderly, the poor, and the unemployed to receive adequate support.

Stephen Harper has been steadily dismantling Canada’s social contract ever since his party took power. He is causing irreparable damage to “the compassionate caring Canada built over the course of generations.” We need to make this his last year to govern.

It’s time for Canadians to show Stephen Harper the door.

Stephen Harperphoto credits: Chris Wattie/Reuters; Adrian Wyld/CP

Republican Party’s Shift to the Right – Part 2

As previously reported, the Republican Party once embraced a broad variety of political positions; it contained both conservative and moderate wings. During the 1950s the moderate faction held the reins of power with Dwight D. Eisenhower serving as one of the most popular presidents of all time. But with the rise of the New Right in the 1960s the moderates came under increasing attack. In recent years the moderate wing of the Republican Party has all but disappeared.

GeoffreyKabaserviceSMGeoffrey Kabaservice traces these developments in his recent book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press, 2012).

In the opening chapter Kabaservice describes how the Republican Party used to represent a broad coalition of differing political views. He amplifies this discussion in a recent interview with Sagar Jethani for PolicyMic.

In 1960 there were four main factions within the Republican Party: the conservatives, the moderates, the progressives, and a new upstart faction known as the New Right.

1. The Conservatives

Robert TaftThe largest political faction, long forgotten now, was known as the “Tafties.” It was largely concentrated in the mid-West and reflected the traditional conservative values of Middle America. The Tafties were wedded to the policies of Robert Taft, the Republican Senator from Ohio from 1939 to 1953. Robert Taft was the eldest son of William Howard Taft the 27th President of the United States (1909-1913) who later served Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His name was well respected, and his personal influence on the Republican Party was immense. By 1950 he had become “the acknowledged national leader of the GOP’s conservative faction.” He campaigned for (but failed to win) the Republican nomination for President in 1940, 1948, and 1952.

Robert Taft was a long time opponent of FDR’s New Deal, and is best remembered for the Taft-Hartley Labor Act (passed in 1947) limiting the power of labor unions; it defines basic labor law to this day. On other domestic issues, however, Taft pursued policies that would mark him as socially progressive today. As Kabaservice reports,

[Taft] recognized that parts of the New Deal were legitimate responses to real needs, and he tried to offer social welfare alternatives more in keeping with Republican ideals of small government, sound finance, and local responsibility. He supported government-funded old age pensions, medical care for the indigent, an income floor for the deserving poor, unem­ployment insurance, and an increased minimum wage. … [H]e advocated urban slum clear­ance and public housing. Because he believed that all children deserved an equal start in life, he … called for federal aid to education. Because he did not believe in deficit financing he was willing to raise taxes to pay for these needed measures. (Rule and Ruin, p. 6)

On international policy

he preferred that the country stay out of World War II rather than accept the large activist intrusive government that total war would require. … He became sharply critical of the military buildup, increased political power, and overseas involvement accompanying the conflict, which to Taft smacked of imperialism. … He voted against the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), tried to cut funding for the Marshall Plan for post-was European reconstruction, and blasted what he called the “tendency to interfere in the affairs of other nations … .” (Rule and Ruin, pp. 5-6)

Taft even questioned the constitutionality of the Korean War. Kabaservice notes that his strong anti-internationalist stance was the primary factor in his defeat at Republican moderates at the Republican presidential conventions of 1940, 1948, and 1952.

2. The Moderates

ThomasDeweyOpposing the conservative faction were the moderate Republicans led by Thomas Dewey, the Governor of New York (1943-1954). Dewey was chosen as the Republican candidate for President in both 1944 and 1948, but lost both elections. Kabaservice states that Dewey’s “primary appeal was to middle-class professionals attuned to the need for social reform and an internationalist foreign policy.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 7)

These moderates represented the Eastern establishment, and were sometimes referred to as “Wall Street Republicans.” As such, it was felt that they “could be trusted to keep a steady hand on the economy and be responsible on foreign and domestic policy.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 22) Republican moderates supported many of FDR’s New Deal policies, but criticized the way they were managed, promising to run them more efficiently. They opposed the isolationist policies of the conservative faction, and strongly supported the United States’ involvement in international conflicts.

On social policies the Republican moderates were even more progressive than the conservative Tafties. As Governor of New York, Dewey personally

put forward social programs that included unemployment insurance, sickness and disability benefits, old age pensions, slum clearance, state aid to education, … infrastructure projects, … and pathbreaking anti-discrimination legislation. (Rule and Ruin, p. 8)

By the early 1950s Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (1936-1944 & 1946-1952) had become the main spokesperson for this moderate internationalist faction of the Republican Party. Other important moderates within the Republican camp during the 1950s were Michigan Governor George Romney, the father of the 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, the father of George H. W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush.

3. The Progressives

In addition to these two main wings of the Republican Party, there was also a small group of progressive Republicans who harkened back to the progressive policies of Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican President in 1901-1909. Roosevelt is remembered for supporting union causes, breaking up monopolies like Standard Oil and the financial trusts, regulating interstate commerce, and his policies of conservationism. Internationally, Roosevelt championed a vigorous U.S. interventionist policy.

Nelson RockefellerThese political progressives saw themselves, like Roosevelt, as “willing and eager to use government power to promote economic growth and social development.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 20) The movement found its strongest support in the New England States and in the Pacific Northwest. By 1960 its main representative was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Soon Senator Jacob Javits of New York (1957-1981) also came to prominence. Javits saw himself as “a political descendent of Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Republicanism.” He had a strong commitment to social issues, supporting the 1957 Civil Rights Act, and was soon regarded as “the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress.”

4. The New Right

Joseph-Mccarthy-1The final faction within Republican circles was the smallest of the four, and is the most recent in origin. Whereas Taft did not regard Communism as much of a threat to America and so did not emphasize it, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy mounted a vigorous anti-Communist campaign in 1950 that drew considerable attention. As Kabaservice explains,

McCarthy’s movement constituted a new political force within the Republican Party, one that was very different from the Old Guard faction around Taft. (Rule and Ruin, p. 9)

McCarthy is remembered for his abrasive, populist and anti-intellectual rhetoric. His campaign sharply divided the Republican Party, with him drawing much of his support away from the conservative Old Guard. But eventually McCarthy’s grandiose conspiratorial claims were discredited, and he died a rejected and broken man in 1957.

buckley-williamFive years after McCarthy’s initial rise to national prominence, William F. Buckley Jr. and William Rusher founded the National Review magazine (in 1955) and gave the new conservative movement McCarthy had spawned a more rigorous intellectual foundation. In an early interview, Buckley described himself as “a revolutionary against the present liberal order. An intellectual revolutionary.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 16)

Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (1953-1965 & 1979-1987) was the one who brought this new political movement to prominence. He presented a political stance that appealed to “militant economic, social, and cultural right-wingers.” It was also strongly “anti-government in rhetoric if not always in practice.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

Barry GoldwaterGoldwater actively campaigned against the Soviet Union, labor unions, and what he called “the welfare state.” He and likeminded conservatives “considered the New Deal to be wholly alien to the American tradition and aimed to eradicate it.” They also claimed that “liberalism led inexorably to socialism and Communism, and that the smallest government effort to provide for the general welfare constituted the first step on ‘The Road to Serfdom’.” [The phrase comes from the title of the 1944 bestselling book by the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

Kabaservice notes that many moderates saw this new conservative movement as “a totally new element” within the Republican Party that had nothing in common with the established Taft conservatives. They therefore rejected them out of hand.

The conservatives in turn saw the moderates and progressives not as misguided brethren, but as traitors to be destroyed. (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

In 1960 Goldwater published his own political manifesto, The Conscience of a Conservative, which garnered enormous attention and made him a hero in the eyes of many fellow conservatives. He soon had attracted a considerable following throughout in the American South and the Southwestern States.

As Kabaservice reports,

Goldwater and his followers believed that a “hidden” majority of Americans were conservative; the reason that Republicans usually lost elections was that they put forward moderates who were too similar to the Democrats to inspire the conservative majority to turn up at the polls. (Rule and Ruin, pp. 18-19)

According to this view, if a Republican candidate came forth who presented a clear alternative to the policies espoused by the Democrats, the conservative majority would turn out in large numbers to provide a Republican victory.

This political movement known as the New Right had one important advantage over the other factions within the Republican Party at the time. As Kabaservice notes,

[They] had a sense of themselves as an ideologically coherent group [united together] in a movement. … [They] were also the sole faction calling for an ideological realignment of the American political system. They argued that converting the GOP into a party of pure con­servatism would bring in some previously unrepresented groups such as white South­erners and working-class white ethnics, including many Catholics. (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

During the 1960s, the New Right would continue to gain strength within each of these demographic groups. In the 1964 presidential campaign this newly ascendant faction would take control of the Republican Party and put forward the name of its hero Barry Goldwater for the office of president.

That story will be told in the next blog.


Republican Party’s Shift to the Right

The Republican Party of today had gained a reputation for being dogmatic, ideological, intransigent and combative. It takes positions far to the right on most major issues. It has become dominated by a faction that until just a few decades ago represented only a small minority position within the Party as a whole. That vocal faction now seeks to define the entire party in its own image.

GeoffreyKabaserviceSMWhat accounts for this wholesale shift to the right, and what does it portend for the future of the Republican Party? These issues are addressed in the recent meticulously researched book by the respected Yale historian Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press, 2012).

In the Preface of his book, Kabaservice provides an overview of the events that produced this ideological shift within the Republican Party. He explains that

The form of conservatism that now wholly controls the party did not even exist until the 1950s, and remained a minority faction for many years afterward. … It is only in the last decade or so that movement conservatism finally succeeded in silencing, co-opting, repelling, or expelling nearly every competing strain of Republicanism from the party, to the extent that the terms “liberal Republican” or “moderate Republican” have practically become oxymorons. [p. vxi]

How did this transformation take place? Kabaservice explains,

During the 1950s a new breed of conservatism, which became known as the New Right, developed in reaction to President Dwight Eisenhower’s brand of political moderation which, at the time, appeared to dominate the GOP. [p. vxii]

Frustrated by the moderates’ influence on Republican Party politics, the New Right sought to bring together conservatives in a well-defined counter movement.

The immediate goal of movement conservatism was to seize the GOP’s presidential nomination by taking over party organizations and the forums in which national convention delegated were chosen. The longer-term goal was to transform the Republican Party into an organ of conservative ideology and purge it of all who resisted the true faith. [pp. vxii-xviii]

This process would take decades, and it would suffer some early early setbacks. But in the end the New Right triumphed over the moderates and redefined Republican Party politics as a whole. Kabaservice explains,

Barry GoldwaterThe history of the struggles between moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party opens with the 1960 GOP national convention, which marked the first time that the New Right entered the Republican political scene in a significant way. It was also the last moment when moderates exercised anything close to dominance of the party. … [T]he period from 1960 to 1964 witnessed the conservatives’ capture of most of the Republican Party machinery, culminating in the nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as the 1964 presidential candidate. Goldwater and his supporters set the tone for the conservative movement ever after by mobilizing a base of right-wing populists, refusing to compromise with moderates, and pursuing a Southern strategy aimed at attracting civil rights opponents to the GOP. [p. vxiii]

These events set the stage for what Kabaservice calls a “civil war between the party’s moderate and conservative factions.” [p. 30] In a recent interview Kabaservice states that the 1964 Republican nominating convention was a brutal affair. At the convention,

[The Goldwater camp] gave absolutely no quarter to Republican moderates, no voice whatsoever. Conservatives stood behind Goldwater’s rejection of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and they ripped up a lot of what the Republican Party had stood for through the previous several elections. Barry Goldwater’s statement that if you’re not committed to our cause you should leave, and that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice — these were messages to the moderates that they were not wanted in the Republican Party. That they needed to go.

The New Right triumphed at the 1964 nominating convention, and Goldwater’s supporters saw this as their “golden moment.” But when it came to running against the Democratic nominee, Lyndon B. Johnson, Goldwater suffered a humiliating defeat, with Johnson winning the election by a landslide.

In response, moderates within the Republican Party “staged furious efforts to retake control.” They organized around causes such as civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. They formed publications and think tanks to counter the New Right ideology promulgated in William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Volunteers and party workers promoted the presidential candidacy of moderates like Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney. They had to contend with dirty tricks by a new breed of activists like Karl Rove within the Young Republicans organization. Republican feminists went head to head with Phyllis Schlafly and the National Federation of Republican Women. The gains were only temporary. Some of the talented young moderates of that era like Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Rumsfeld would later change sides and become prominent figures representing the New Right. [p. vxiii]

A critical mass of moderate Republican politicians remained in office after 1970, although their numbers dwindled, and moderate ideas continued to have some influence on the GOP’s positions. [p. xix]

220pxPresident_Reagan_1981The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, however, marked a resurgence of conservative ideology within the Republican Party, ushering in a nearly mythical “golden age” in the collective memory of the New Right. Moderate Republicans have never recovered. Kabaservice states that

In the years after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 … the moderates did not simply die out, but were killed off by conservative enmity from within their own party as well as Democratic opposition and their own failures. The first decade of the twenty-first century witnessed the final decline and virtual extinction of moderates’ power and representation in the Republican Party. [p. xix]

Kabaservice concludes the introduction of his book by noting that

There remain millions of voters who define themselves as moderate Republicans, and millions more who would vote for moderate Republican candidates if they could find them. But the complete domination of the conservative infrastructure in party politics, and the absence of moderate efforts to counter grassroots movements like the Tea Party, means that the GOP has for all intents and purposes become a uniformly ideological party unlike any that has existed in American history. It has also become a party that has cut itself off from its own history, and indeed has become antagonistic to most of its own heritage. This unprecedented transformation of one of our major parties is likely to change our entire political system in ways that ought to concern all Americans.

Rule and Ruin presents a fascinating study of the rise of the new conservatism that thoroughly dominates the Republican Party today. Kabaservice provides a great deal of historical detail in tracing these developments, and I will report more of his findings in future posts.