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Party of No: How Republicans and the Right Have Tried to Thwart All Social Progress

You name it, the right has opposed it: civil rights, school desegregation, women's rights, labor organizing, the minimum wage, LGBT rights, welfare, immigrant rights.

As much as they may grumble, there is a legitimate reason why the Republicans have been labeled the “Party of No.” For decades, the party’s kneejerk stance has been to oppose any legislation or policy involving social, economic or political progress.

You name it, the right has opposed it: civil rights, school desegregation, women’s rights, labor organizing, the minimum wage, social security, LGBT rights, welfare, immigrant rights, public education, reproductive rights, Medicare, Medicaid. And through the years the right invoked hysterical rhetoric in opposition, predicting that implementing any such policies would result in the end-of-family-free-enterprise-God-America on the one hand, and the imposition of atheism-socialism-Nazism on the other.

Republicans are obstructionist for one simple reason: it’s a winning strategy. Opposing progressive policies allows the right to actualize the ideals that both motivate and define their base. Rightist ideologies are not without sophistication, but right-wing politicians and media figures boil them down to a crude Manichean dualism to mobilize supporters based on group difference: good versus evil, us versus them. By demonizing and scapegoating politically marginal groups, the right is able to define “real Americans,” who are good, versus those defined as parasites, illegitimate and internal threats, who are evil.

There is a critical paradox at work. The Republicans have deftly turned being the “Party of No” into a positive stance: They signal to their base they are working to defeat an alien ideology while defending real Americans and traditional values and institutions.

Ideologues and opinion-makers spin any redistributive policy as a zero sum game; progressive policies give to undeserving groups by taking wealth from or denying rights to deserving Americans and institutions. Since Obama took office, the rise of the Tea Party has made the Republicans even more strident in their opposition. The GOP fights against every Democratic policy – including the stimulus bill, jobs programs, aid to local governments, court appointees, more labor rights, health care, financial regulation, net neutrality unemployment benefits, expanding access to food stamps and Head Start, action on global warming and immigrant rights – because it claims some sort of theft of money or rights is involved.

Sara Diamond neatly summarizes the politics behind the right’s obstructionism in her book, Roads To Dominion . She writes, “To be right-wing means to support the state in its capacity as enforcer of order and to oppose the state as distributor of wealth and power downward and more equitably in society.” (emphasis in original) These principles, in turn, flow from four interrelated political philosophies that animate the modern right: militarism, neoliberalism, traditionalism and white supremacism.

The heart of the right’s agenda is neoliberalism, which is the rule of the “free market” above all else. It demands that everything be a commodity, all actions be judged according to cost-benefit analysis, every realm be opened to capital’s predations, all human needs subjugated to those of finance. If neoliberalism is left unchecked, argues David Harvey in A Brief History of Neoliberalism , it would result in market anarchy and the dissolution of social solidarities. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously summed it up in her view, “There is no such thing as society but only individuals.”

Faced with market nihilism, “some degree of coercion appears necessary to restore order,” writes Harvey . Enter the neoconservatives, who play a crucial role resolving the contradictions between neoliberalism and traditionalism through militarism. Harvey explains that they “emphasize militarization as an antidote to the chaos of individual interests. For this reason, they are far more likely to highlight threats, real or imagined, both at home and abroad, to the integrity and stability of the nation.”

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