While I am not a great believer in grand conspiracy theories, I have a serious conspiracy theory about what is going on behind the façade of U.S. politics.
It is a truism of politics that the reasons politicians, especially conservative politicians, give in public for the policies they advocate are not the same as their real reasons. Often they are just looking for a reasonable sounding excuse to sell constituents on anti-people policies.
Republican operatives, at least some of them, are not stupid. They can read the polls and the demographic projections as well as anyone else. They know that as more liberal, more open-minded youth grow into adulthood, their reactionary policies will get less and less popular, that they will have a harder and harder time selling their brand of hucksterism.
What can they do to hold back the tide of demographic shifts on issues like gay marriage, gender and racial equality, and climate change? How can they prevent the natural course of events from reducing them to an ever smaller role in government? How can they prevent the Occupy movement from permanently altering the national political conversation?
While all the efforts that Republicans make nationally and in the states have a veneer of right-wing justification, it is not pure coincidence that they all trend in the same direction.
Often coverage of politics in the media focuses on one issue at a time, or on “horse-race” coverage of electoral contests. It is only when we step back that we can see the connections between issues.
Here is my theory: The efforts of Republicans in the many states where they control the legislatures and governorships are part of a conscious, concerted effort to prevent the future from happening.
How can they hold back the tide? They are attacking all the institutional sources of organized opposition to their policies. These are not separate efforts on separate issues, they are part of a grand conspiracy.
They are attacking union rights, and the power of unions to oppose them. They attacked and destroyed ACORN, which was responsible for the registration of millions of low-income voters. They are attacking Planned Parenthood, trying their best to defund its existence, not just its abortion funding. They are passing bills to restrict voting rights and access to voting, from trying to eliminate same-day registration in Maine, to various voter ID laws. They are attacking the environmental movement, trying to convince as many people as possible that climate change is a phony issue. They have successfully attacked limitations on corporate and ultra-rich funding of elections.
All these efforts have one thing in common: they make it more difficult for opposition to reactionary policies to build structural and institutional strength.
If they can endlessly tap the money from corporations and the ultra-rich, if they can restrict the access to voting for youth and racial minorities, if they can put unions and women’s organizations on the defensive, if they can make voter registration difficult (in Florida, the League of Women Voters has suspended voter registration due to new Republican-sponsored laws), if they can make it more difficult for community groups to survive, the Republicans can actually turn the clock back for at least a few years.
For the conservative base, they offer reasons aimed at whipping up conservative frenzy, but those reasons are not the only, or even main, actual reason they are pushing these policies so aggressively. The Rovian schemers want to at least delay the changes in the electorate which have been coming for years, and which overwhelmed their strategy in 2008. “Republican strategists” got a glimpse of their future, and they decided to hold it back as long as possible
Ultimately, it is not mainly about the issues, it is about power-political and economic power.
If unions grow, and successfully fight back attacks on union rights, then unions will be a bastion of money and foot soldiers for progressive campaigns. If women’s organizations can keep from always being on the defensive, they can make the gender gap in favor of Democrats grow even more than it already has. If civil rights organizations (and good government groups) can continue to register racial minorities until their voting strength matches their percentage of the population, then it will be an uphill battle for Republicans to swing any swing states their way. If youth can be encouraged to vote rather than being discouraged by efforts to disenfranchise them, then shifts in the sentiments of registered voters will happen much more swiftly. If the environmental movement can clear the fog being spread by oil and gas companies to present the truth about global warming and other environmental challenges, then more and more voters will vote for politician and policies which will help preserve the health of humanity on our planet. And if all these organizations, movements, and issues are understood to have a common purpose, then massive coalitions can be built which will overwhelm the reactionaries.
And that is a specter that is haunting the Roves of the Republican political world. That is the meaning of the Kasichs, the Scotts, the McDonalds, the Palins, the Scott Walkers, and their minions in our state legislatures and in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Photo: DonkeyHotey // CC 2.0