By Marshall Auerback, AlterNet
Romney and Ryan envision an anti-woman economy and society, but women are increasingly key to winning elections.
Missouri GOP senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s absurd comment that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape” is disgusting. It also points to a deeper problem within the GOP.
Plainly, this is a party that hates women. And given the huge gender gap opening up in favor of President Obama over the presumptive GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, this has important implications for economic and social policy going forward. Because if they win, the Democrats are less likely to embrace the draconian fiscal austerity proposals now advocated by Romney’s advisors, along with the party’s regressive social agenda.
The current Republican Party is a perverse coalition of the top 1 percent and the socially conservative right. The latter are not well off for the most part. The Koch brothers (and others of that ilk) have managed to convince the have-not religious fundamentalists to vote against their own economic interests and support their internal colonialism through economically regressive policies which are exacerbating the country’s mounting economic inequality.
This is untenable over the long run. Skewing income distributions by shoveling money to the top always ends in a big political upheaval. The social conservatives are older and aging and becoming less of the total electorate. Someday the GOP’s infernal combination will blow apart because the top 1 percent will be rejected by the masses and the numbers of the social conservatives will dwindle too much.
Why? Largely because of today’s new generation of women who, although they represent varying degrees of economic progressivism to conservatism, is largely rejecting the social conservatism of the Creationists and hardcore fundamentalists on the right. President Obama continues to outpoll Mitt Romney by substantial margins among women voters. I would guess that this will more than offset the appeal Romney holds among angry white males, increasingly alienated by a country that is becoming less white, more socially diverse, a veritable rainbow coalition of different ethnicities rather than a Caucasian-dominated nation. An older generation of women who saw no other way than to be dependent and kept and sexually repressed is dying out.
This will change the economic landscape. Why? Well, take a look at the latest bit of “economic wisdom” from the Romney campaign (I owe this observation to economist Bill Mitchell), which has just put out an economic paper, The Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth, and Jobs, written by Stanford’s John B Taylor, Harvard’s Greg Mankiew, Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard, and Kevin Hassett from the American Enterprise Institute. These men make the following claims:
America took a wrong turn in economic policy in the past three years. The United States underperformed the historical norm shown in the administration’s own forecasts, and its policies are to blame …These short-term stimulus packages were ineffective, leaving the nation with higher debt, which acts as a drag on long-term growth because households and businesses understand that the administration must raise taxes significantly to pay off that debt.
Romney’s economic team also claims that “uncertainty over policy” (i.e. the large deficits and the private fear of large tax hikes) is preventing a sound recovery in private spending. This has been a common theme among the conservatives since the governments decided to deploy fiscal stimulus.
True, President Obama also retains an unhealthy obsession with “long-term fiscal sustainability” and “entitlement reform” (i.e. shredding the social safety net). But for the most part, he has avoided the worst of the excesses of the fiscal austerity fanatics in Europe and those of the Tea Party in the U.S. As a consequence, the U.S. economy has continued to grow. True, it is below trend, but it is still growing and generating some jobs, in marked contrast to what is occurring on the other side of the pond.
Mainstream economic theory claims that that private spending is weak because we are scared of the future tax implications of the rising budget deficits. But the overwhelming evidence shows that if you own a business, you’re not going to invest while consumption is weak. And households will not spend because people are scared of becoming unemployed and are trying to reduce their bloated debt levels. Above all else, businesses need sales to encourage them to hire workers. A restaurant doesn’t lay anyone off when it’s full of paying customers, no matter how much the owner might hate the government, the paper work, and the health regulations; A department store doesn’t lay off workers when it’s full of paying customers; and an engineering firm doesn’t lay anyone off when it has a backlog of orders.
And guess what? Women are not only more than half of the electorate, but they are a huge part of the overall aggregate demand for goods and services. Under the Republican agenda, women could well revert to a kind of economic serfdom, whose labor expended can be considered surplus to that required to maintain the survival of the man and his family.
In fact, if Romney’s plan were to be introduced now or, worse yet, the automatic budget sequestration cuts proposed in the Budget Control Act from last fall were actually implemented, (which mandates across-the-board cuts to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years), then we’d likely experience a double-dip recession in the U.S. next year. Support for this view has been expressed by no less than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which argued in a report the other day, that the U.S. economy would slide into recession in fiscal 2013 if Congress fails to act to maintain current tax rates and avert deep cuts to federal spending.
Austerity advocates like Romney and Ryan are obsessed with putting the squeeze on public spending, especially broad social welfare and education. Their plans mean that workers get trapped in a low-skill, low-pay circle of disadvantage. The increasingly casualized labor market is reinforcing that pathology, particularly for women.
As strange as it sounds, the worst of these effects may well be thankfully nullified by the GOP’s ongoing war on women voters – the probable difference-makers in the upcoming election. Nat Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog is the ultimate wonk pollster, and the best guestimates now are that President Obama today is only ahead by around 3 to 4 percent. I think it is a little more. I think Obama will do better as Romney’s tax issues bring more revelations and the GOP war on women becomes center stage. Given the desultory state of the economy today, if the president wins by anywhere near the same margin as in 2008, the handwriting will truly be on the wall for the party of social conservatives, angry older white men and the 1 percenters themselves.
The changes that are occurring in the overall population as the next generation – particularly women – takes over will be death to the past Republican coalition. The GOP will eventually realize that its anti-choice stance and all that goes with it is a huge problem. The party will find that its viscerally anti-feminist rhetoric and policies will be even more of a killer in the future. And a byproduct of that will be that the corporate predators who comprise so much of the top 1 percenters will also realize that they can no longer govern with the support of social conservatives who vote against their own interests.
I think this election will make everyone realize that the future of the U.S. has already begun.