There’s a popular phrase that’s become a meme. Generally it’s sarcastic. It can be used when the price of gas goes up, when it goes down, when a football team loses, or when terrorists strike: “Thanks, Obama.” But the truth is for all the power of the Democratic presidency, the United States is an overwhelmingly Republican-run country.
Not counting any non-state US territories, Republicans control 35 state senates, 32 state houses, 31 state legislatures in their entirety, and 31 governor’s mansions. In the 114th Congress, there are 54 Republican senators to 44 Democrats and in the House of Representatives 246 Republicans to 188 Democrats. Twenty-three US states have Republican governors and legislatures compared to seven states under total Democratic control.
Much of this can change with a single election. Just three Congresses ago, the picture was almost the exact opposite. In addition to the presidency, Democrats had an even firmer hold on Congress than Republicans do today. But Republicans are the most powerful political force in the country right now, often wielding inordinate influence even when not formally in power. For all their talk of President Obama operating as a tyrannical socialist dictator, Republicans with political power have done enormous damage both in the Congress and in their own states.
Because of Roe vs. Wade abortion can’t be criminalized outright, but access to a quality provider is under steady assault from Republican legislators. Most states now have restrictions including waiting periods, consultations and parental notifications. At the federal level, Congress has waged a ruthless campaign against Planned Parenthood culminating in the passage of a bill in early December that not only defunds the organization but repeals Obamacare. It will be vetoed, but the country is just a Republican in the White House away from enacting such a bill.
Labor, too, has suffered under Republican leadership in many states. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the most famous example. His entire political reputation is based on the “courage” he showed in suppressing the collective bargaining rights of social leaches like teachers, nurses and firefighters. It was even a pillar of his doomed presidential campaign, as Walker claimed his experience taking on those unions prepared him to deal with ISIS.
Republican governors are not at all afraid of directly challenging the rule of law, either. Texas Governor Greg Abbott provides some particularly brazen examples. As the Texas attorney general, Abbott sued the Obama Administration 27 times and continues to balk at provisions of Obamacare like the Medicaid expansion. Abbott even denied the will of his own constituency in favor of his corporate masters, effectively overturning a ban on fracking passed by the city of Denton.
What Republicans in office can accomplish is bad enough, but what’s even more striking is what doesn’t get done. Burners of fossil fuels, polluters, and the gun industry all benefit enormously from right-wing protectionism. Congress enacts virtually no meaningful measures on any of these important issues even in the wake of disappearing Louisiana marshlands, super storms of increasing intensity, and daily mass shootings.
And all this is despite the fact that the country is actually left-leaning. Fifty percent are pro-choice, 55 percent support stricter gun control, and large majorities are in favor of regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and funding research into renewable energy sources.
Perhaps most alarmingly, Republicans have a stranglehold on the national conversation. Senator Bernie Sanders offers moral prescriptions to our problems, including stewardship of the earth and empowerment of working people. He’s also campaigning aggressively against ISIS. Yet the media covers Trump – who calls for banning all Muslims, considers global warming a hoax, and powers his campaign through rank bigotry and xenophobia – at least 23 times more frequently.
It would be a mistake to think it’s all about ratings. While Trump’s sideshow of a campaign definitely draws big numbers, there’s no reason to assume Sanders wouldn’t do the same. Google searches for him spike during Democratic debates and his ideas are igniting the passions of millions of grassroots Americans who hear them. He could draw ratings. His ideas just aren’t the kind that the corporate, for-profit media is comfortable with Americans hearing.
Despite this, it’s not at all uncommon for Republicans to play the victim. Remarkably, they accuse the media of having a liberal slant. No matter how venomous their vitriol, Republicans are always swift to cry foul on others and they routinely get away with it.
Even Charlie Rose, considered a great liberal interviewer, gave Hillary Clinton a hard time during a recent interview for saying, “We have a minority within the other party that doesn’t believe in compromise, doesn’t believe in reaching consensus.” Rose’s response was to admonish Clinton for “attacking” Republicans, telling her “that’s not the way to do it.” Not only was Clinton’s statement obviously true, obstructionism is openly a central part of the Republican agenda.
It isn’t just the president Americans should be “thanking” for our current predicament. He’s surely implicated in a lot of bad things, not the least of which are his coziness with Wall Street and his war on whistleblowers. But it’s the GOP who controls the majority of statehouses and both chambers of Congress. Both major parties are servants of big business. Next time we cast blame, it should be toward all the people who are really in charge.