Conservative “Populism”

Up From ConservatismEven before Washington conservatives like William Kristol repudiated the conservative populist strategy that the Republican right had pursued since the days of Nixon, conservative populism was revealed as a fraud by the deeds of Newt Gingrich and his allies in the Republican Congress elected in 1994. When they came to power, the Republican congressional leaders claimed they were leading a “revolution” against the rule of special interests on Capitol Hill. Within weeks, it was clear that nothing had changed apart from the substitution of Republican special interests for Democratic ones. Gingrich and other Republican leaders began a massive shakedown of Washington lobbyists, warning that if they did not fund the Republican Party they would lose access to Congress. When a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats tried to introduce campaign-finance-reform legislation, Gingrich sought to prevent the subject from coming quickly to a vote by turning the matter over to a commission.

The First Hundred Days of the Republican Congress turned into the greatest romp for business interests since the Gilded Age. A few conservative reformers, like House Budget Commission Chairman John Kasich, had promised to go after corporate welfare. Then corporate PAC money began pouring into Republican coffers, and the crusade against corporate welfare was put off indefinitely by the same method employed to thwart campaign-finance reform—a proposed independent commission. Instead of balancing the budget by getting rid of subsidies and tax breaks for corporations and the rich, the House Republicans concentrated on eliminating programs for the powerless poor. While leaving untouched $50 billion in tax breaks for big business, and subsidies like the $2.6 million the federal government pays to promote the products of the E & J Gallo Winery, the Republican “revolutionaries” saw to it that more than half of the $9.4 billion in cuts in the House budget proposal came from low-income housing programs. While proposing to increase the federal deficit by several hundred billion dollars through new tax cuts that would have chiefly benefited the rich, Gingrich’s Republicans posed as friends of wage-earning Americans by pointing to a “profamily tax cut” that would have given each American the handsome sum of an additional $9.60 a week. Even though full-time minimum-wage workers do not earn enough to reach the poverty line, Gingrich and Dole—each with an enormous salary compared with those of most Americans, and a generous government health care plan—argued that the economy could not afford an increase in wages for the poorest workers.

—Michael Lind
Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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