I frequently post the cartoon image above to make the point that much of the Republican Party base is being played for fools (mostly by playing on their racism and bigotry) and convinced to vote against its own best interest. But the problem goes far beyond foolishly supporting tax cuts for the rich and the slashing on regulations that protect citizens from vulture capitalism. It goes to cheering the dismantling of social safety net programs and the right's refusal to put America's healthcare system on a par with that of other advanced industrial nations. The irony, however, is in the fact that many angry white voters are rallying to support Republican candidates who, if allowed to do so, would make the plight of these individuals and their families even worse. A column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon and the way in which right wing policies are literally killing portions of the GOP base. Here are highlights:
A couple of weeks ago President Obama mocked Republicans who are “down on America,” . . . . He had a point: With job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s, with the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance hitting record highs, the doom-and-gloom predictions of his political enemies look ever more at odds with reality.
There has been a lot of comment, and rightly so, over a new paper by the economists Angus Deaton (who just won a Nobel) and Anne Case, showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. This deterioration took place while death rates were falling steadily both in other countries and among other groups in our own nation.Even more striking are the proximate causes of rising mortality. Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other times and places – for example, in the plunging life expectancy that afflicted Russia after the fall of Communism. But it’s a shock to see it, even in an attenuated form, in America.Yet the Deaton-Case findings fit into a well-established pattern. There have been a number of studies showing that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation.
But what’s causing this epidemic of self-destructive behavior? If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals.. . . . But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon – yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden’s middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America’s.Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.
Most notably, Hispanic Americans are considerably poorer than whites, but have much lower mortality. It’s probably worth noting, in this context, that international comparisons consistently find that Latin Americans have higher subjective well-being than you would expect, given their incomes.
So what is going on? In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.
I’m not the only observer who sees a link between the despair reflected in those mortality numbers and the volatility of right-wing politics. Some people who feel left behind by the American story turn self-destructive; others turn on the elites they feel have betrayed them. No, deporting immigrants and wearing baseball caps bearing slogans won’t solve their problems, but neither will cutting taxes on capital gains. So you can understand why some voters have rallied around politicians who at least seem to feel their pain.
But while universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans in trouble, I’m not sure whether they’re enough to cure existential despair.