Extremist Republican Party Policies will Cost Them in November

6-26-06, 9:42 am

As the November congressional elections approach, extremist positions adopted by the Republican Party are hurting that party’s chances of keeping control of both Houses.

Targeting Immigrants. Congressional Republicans continue to push extremist measures that target immigrants, especially from Mexico and Latin America. Refusing real immigration reform that treats working people with dignity and allows them basic workers’ rights on the job, Republican proposals seek to criminalize immigrants and those who may help them, to divide immigrant families, call for massive roundups and deportations, and to militarize of the US border with Mexico. Republican members of Congress, such as Rep. Tom Tancredo (CO) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), both of whom have pushed for the harshest policies, have characterized immigrants as likely terrorists and drug dealers. Their comments echo some of the extremists on the radio talk show circuit like Michael Savage who regularly characterizes immigration as an attack on 'white America.' Savage’s racial theories have become the unspoken code for the anti-immigrant factions in Congress. Many voters put off by extremist rhetoric and paranoid politics will come to the polls to demand a new direction for the country.

Turning Back the Clock on Civil Rights and the Right to Vote.Despite claiming to support renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided the tools to overturn racist voting laws that prevented African Americans from voting for most of the 20th century, Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert (IL) allowed a number of far-right Republicans to block the legislation. Mainly from the extremist anti-immigrant lobby and some who support passage of new poll taxes in their home states, these extremists want to dismantle federal authority protecting the right to vote. Some such as Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) opposed renewal of the Voting Rights Act because he supports a new law in Georgia that would require voters to pay for state identification cards before voting. Most commentators regard the Georgia proposal as a poll tax, and federal authorities using Voting Rights Act provisions declared it a violation of the Constitution. Westmoreland and his Republican allies in Georgia want to ensure that constituencies, mainly working class and African Americans who on the whole don’t support his party, have a harder time gaining access to polling places. This issue will compel many voters to cast votes for candidates who protect their rights rather than dismantle them.

Holding Back Fair Wages.Last week, Senate and House Republicans blocked Democratic proposals that would have raised the minimum wage, despite the fact that most Americans believe the minimum wage, at $5.15 per hour, is far too low. At full time, the minimum wage does not keep the millions of workers who earn it above the poverty level. In the House, Republican leaders blocked a Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage from going to the floor of the House, where they expected a majority (including a handful of moderate Republicans) would support its passage. Congressional Republicans have been well paid by the business lobby that finances their campaigns to block Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage every year for the last 9 years. Republican efforts will artificially hold down the wage, which has lost more than 31% of its purchasing power since the last raise in 1997, and will keep millions of minimum wage earners in poverty. On the same day, Republicans voted to raise their own pay by $3,300 per year, an amount that takes a minimum wage earner 16 weeks to bring home. Minimum wage ballot initiatives is several states including Republican strongholds of Missouri and Ohio will bring out many new voters who don’t share the Republican Party’s obsession for low wages for working families.

Out of Touch on Iraq.Congressional Republicans blocked Democratic proposals that called for timetables for troop withdrawal from Iraq. Many Republicans accused the Democrats, and the majority of Americans and US troops who want to be out of Iraq soon, of wanting to 'cut and run.' Their status quo strategy for continuing the occupation, which puts the lives of thousands of US troops at risk, simply doesn’t resonate with most Americans. Voters feel that enough has been done and that continuing to stay in Iraq is part of the problem. Turning security operations and the humanitarian mission over to international organizations and to the Iraqis themselves makes the best sense for peace and reducing violence. In an odd twist, Republican Sen. John Warner (VA) strangely described one Democratic plan calling for withdrawal as not unlike President Bush’s own views on the matter, but refused to vote for the measure. Ironically, Republican proclamations that timetables for withdrawal were the same as 'cutting and running' came just as the Pentagon announced its own 'cut and run' strategy of likely troop withdrawals this fall, probably in time for the fall elections. Congressional Republicans are also behind the curve on withdrawal in comparison to the Iraqi government, which this past weekend announced its own 'cut and run' call for US troop withdrawal.

What Climate Change?Despite an effort to 'take away' the climate change issue from the Democrats, the Republican Party continues to adopt the out-of-touch position that climate change isn’t real. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chair of the House Energy Committee and a oil lobby loyalist, hampered and harassed the backers of a scientific study made public this past week that proves recent temperature increases are real, caused by humans, and require immediate attention. Meanwhile, laws authored by Republicans and their oil lobby friends relating to energy policy passed in the last year turned billions in taxpayer funds over to the oil companies and provided incentives for these companies to hamper the development of alternative, eco-friendly energy technologies. Congressional Republicans have done absolutely nothing to move the country in the right direction when it comes to dealing with global warming. For oil profits, the Republicans are risking the future of humanity. Americans are learning that time is short for taking on climate change, and the do-nothing, pro-oil Republicans have no program for reversing the dangerous path we are on.

Constitution Schmonstitution.Congressional Republicans have refused to hold the Bush administration accountable for serious violations of civil liberties and human rights. They have refused to demand real answers for White House authored policies that clearly violated international conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war and the interrogation of detainees. Republicans blocked efforts to hold hearings on the subject of rendition, or turning suspects over to repressive governments less concerned about the use of torture. Democratic calls to investigate the NSA domestic spying scandal or the use of warrantless wiretaps of thousands of Americans went ignored. Some Republicans, like Sen. Pat Roberts (KS), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blatantly refused to uphold his committee’s obligation to protect the rights of Americans by checking the abuse of power by the presidency. Despite the administration’s record of dishonesty with the American public, Roberts chose to express faith in the administration over the public interest. Republicans have refused to investigate claims of abuses of the PATRIOT Act and its use to extract private information from libraries and private businesses. They have defended the Bush administration after revelations that large telecommunications and banking companies have turned over the private information of millions of customer to the government without warrants, probable cause, or the permission of their customers. Some even echoed the White House’s call for violating the Constitutional provision of a free press by investigating and prosecuting members of the media who report on what the administration conveniently labels as national secrets. Republicans in Congress have essentially defended 'big brother' spy programs either by misleadingly claiming they have produced 'results' in tracking down terrorists or by abdicating their legal obligation to demand the administration abide by the law when going after suspicious people. Congressional Republicans want Americans to believe that our system of government is so weak that terrorism can’t be fought without breaking the law. Indeed, they have as much faith in democracy as the 'evil-doers' they say are out to get us. This November, voters will come to the polling station with faith in the democratic process and a demand that Congress be more than a rubber stamp for the administration’s illegal policies.

--Contact Joel Wendland at