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My Point of View: The Republican Party is not a working class party like it claims

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

In the GOP column in this space last week, Brad Kramer articulated the elitism of the Republican Party. Socialism is for the rich and business-minded, free market capitalism is for everybody else.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

According to him, health care in our country is a privilege reserved for those who can afford it. Universal health care would just be a “participation trophy.”

Do we think of our public schools as participation trophies? Or our public roads and bridges? Or our public libraries and fire stations?

These are all state funded because we recognize them as social goods that help society prosper. Health care is a vital service that would be in the same category if not for decades of Republican obstruction.

Think about Kramer’s “participation trophy” mindset and apply what it means — if everybody has something, it’s not valuable.

If everybody has access to college or technical training, it’s not valuable? If everybody can use a water fountain or a seat or a park, it’s not valuable?

If everybody can vote, it’s not valuable?

This is an attitude based on exclusion and social castes. It has a shameful history in our country — think “Whites only” or “Jews not allowed” or “No dogs Negroes [or] Mexicans” or “No Irish need apply.”

The challenges of our time, especially the climate emergency, demand more open-minded thinking if democracy and liberty for all is to flourish.

Kramer also described the softer landings that our country gives people who struggle or fail at business. Loss write-offs and bankruptcy protections can prevent people from losing everything when they take the risk of starting a business.

This is not a big point of contention, nor is it “free market.” It’s more like a safety net, i.e. socialism, for businesses.

There’s a flip side to this issue that Kramer doesn’t discuss. If people succeed in business, they should then pay higher marginal tax rates. Taxes are the price of a stable government, a good transportation system, a skilled workforce and a cushion against bottoming out from failure. Taxation rates on the highest levels of income and wealth is thus where Democrats and Republicans have a major ideological departure.

Our state Rep. Peggy Bennett is similarly positioned to Kramer on these issues. She wants to repeal the estate tax for the extremely wealthy (whatever mix of fortunate birth, hard work and luck is involved), and she doesn’t think people should have universal health care.

These are not conditions for upward social mobility. These are policies aligned with increasing wealth inequality.

Choose your parents well, kids. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

The Republican Party is brazenly trying to rebrand itself as the party of the working class. Does this mean it supports raising the federal minimum wage that has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009? No.

Does this mean the Republican Party now supports collective bargaining and union membership? Also no.

Does this mean the Republican Party wants to increase worker safety protections for industries like meat-packing? Still no.

What it does mean is that Republicans think working people care most about hot button issues that don’t materially improve their working conditions, wages, benefits and access to public goods. It’s about “lifestyle” and “identity” as defined by rightwing media outlets like Fox News.

In other words, this Republican attempt at rebranding is a contemptuous, calculated illusion.

A party, including Peggy Bennett on her personal Facebook page, that rallies behind a plastic potato’s imaginary sex has lost its relevance. I grew up on a potato farm and saw millions of potatoes, and I never once saw a potato with a penis. Were Mr. Potato Head sentient, though, it would be horrified by what spring planting entails.

A party that keeps its base enraptured and enraged with a steady stream of these examples of “cancel culture” is a degraded farce.

“Participation trophies” and “cancel culture” are rhetorical pit stops on a dead end trail for a party that is increasingly morally and intellectually bankrupt and unable to meet pressing, immediate challenges. It is dialed in to exploiting fears rather than producing solutions for clean water, breathable air, livable climate, child care, health care, workforce housing and job training. For all.

Instead of meat and potatoes issues, the GOP fixates on Mr. Potato Head. It is not a working class party. It’s for socialism for the rich, and roughshod capitalism for the rest.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.

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