Why Do Republicans Embrace Policies That Create Poverty, Death and Disease?

by | Jun 29, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by Leroy Skalstad

Why Do Republicans Embrace Policies That Create Poverty, Death and Disease?

by | Jun 29, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by Leroy Skalstad

Is there something in the GOP’s core beliefs and strategies that just inevitably leads to hating on their citizens and worshiping poverty, death, and disease?

Republished with permission from

Yesterday in my Daily Take I documented some of the horrors Red state governors and legislators are using stolen Blue state tax money to inflict on their citizens. They include specific policies intended to impoverish workers, subjugate women, increase gun violence, enrich local oligarchs, and make life miserable for racial, gender, and religious minorities.

But how did they get to this point?

It’s undeniably true (and documented with each hotlink below) that Republican-controlled “Red” states, almost across the board, have higher rates of:

But are all these things, along with widespread GOP support for foreign fascist autocrats like Putin and Orbán, happening because Republicans simply hate their citizens and worship poverty, death, and disease?

Or is there something in the GOP’s core beliefs and strategies that just inevitably leads to these outcomes?

It turns out that’s very much the case: these terrible outcomes are the direct result of policies promoting greed and racism that the GOP has been using for forty years to get access to hundreds of billions of dollars that they then use to influence media and win elections.

Using racism as a political strategy while promoting and defending the greed of oligarchs always leads to massive inequality: that, in turn, causes widespread poverty, pollution, illiteracy, and early death regardless of the nation it’s done in.

We’ve seen it over and over again around the world: it’s happening today in Russia, The Philippines, and Hungary, for example. And since the neoliberal Reagan Revolution (as I document in my book The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America) it’s been a steady trajectory for the GOP here in America.

Here’s how it happened here in America:

The GOP first openly embraced racism in 1964 when the party’s presidential candidate that year, Barry Goldwater, proudly refused to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It was a huge shift for the party of Lincoln, and when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, the South did a collective “what the hell?!?”

As LBJ told Bill Moyers, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come.”

Thus the newly-publicly-proclaimed belief in white supremacy became an official part of GOP ideology in the 1960s, leading directly to Richard Nixon’s explicitly racist 1968 “Southern Strategy” and “War on Drugs.”

It was later amplified by Reagan speaking about “states’ rights” at his first campaign speech near the scene of the murder of 3 civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi; George HW Bush’s Willie Horton ad campaign; and Donald Trump’s rants about Mexican rapists, telling Black members of Congress to “go back to where you came from,” and his open denigration of immigrants from what he called “shithole countries.”

But racism alone can’t explain the entire list above.  There had to be something else.

The second element embraced by the GOP that filled out the rest of the list above happened in 1980 when the party officially hooked up with religious grifters and morbidly rich executives and their dynastic families.

Prior to that election year, George HW Bush and his wife Barbara were big advocates for Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose an abortion.  Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, had signed the nation’s single most liberal abortion law and was also an outspoken supporter of Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood.

Similarly, the white evangelical movement prior to 1980 was largely supportive of abortion rights.  They were furious, however, when the Supreme Court banned preacher-led school prayer and in the late 1970s Jimmy Carter pulled the tax exemptions of segregated schools run by white evangelicals.

Jerry Falwell had started his “Moral Majority” in 1978 and uber-Christian Paul Weyrich (co-founder of The Heritage Foundation and the guy who famously said, “I don’t want everybody to vote!”) signed up for the Reagan campaign.

As Donne Levy writes for George Washington University’s History News Network:

“Weyrich and Falwell realized that the tax exemption issue based on racial discrimination had limited value, but opposing abortion was a moral issue cutting across racial and religious lines. That was their thinking on the eve of the 1980 elections.”

The election that year saw the first full merger in American history between a major political party and a religious movement largely run by grifters.

Republicans started talking about God (the word appeared in their platform in 1980 for only the second time since the Party’s formation in 1856), and preachers and televangelists began to openly push GOP candidates from the pulpit in defiance of nonprofit law and the IRS. (They still do, and the IRS still refuses to enforce the law.)

The GOP also adopted Falwell’s call for a return to school prayer, hostility to sex education, rejection of women’s rights, assertion of patriarchy, and open hatred of homosexuality.

Championing what today we’d call the “culture wars” and “war on woke,” Republicans fully embraced the anti-science perspective of Falwell and his colleagues, questioning for the first time the theory of evolution and scoffing at concerns about pollution causing cancer, global warming, and a wide variety of diseases.

Within a decade they were even claiming, as Mike Pence wrote in a 2000 op-ed, “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

As the GOP went deeper down their religion-fueled rabbit hole, their hostility to science was logically accompanied by a hostility to education and educated people.  George HW Bush and Rush Limbaugh began talking about “pointy-headed liberals in ivory towers,” openly trashing higher education as a schtick to bring blue-collar voters into the party.

That was followed by a sustained Republican attack on public education itself by pushing for-profit privatized “charter schools,” an ironic position in that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower had done more to advance public education than any president in the 20th century.

Thus was set up the GOP’s 2020 hostility to masks and Covid quarantines and their later attacks on vaccination and sex education.

The other big turning point for the GOP in 1980 was Reagan’s open embrace of America’s oligarchs.

Just four years earlier, in their Buckley v Valeo decision, the Supreme Court ruled that when a rich person showered so much money on a politician that that politician pretty much only voted the way the rich person wanted, that was no longer bribery but, instead, was First Amendment-protected “free speech.”

In 1978, in a decision written by Lewis Powell (of Powell Memo infamy), the Court extended that right to buy politicians to American corporations (it was extended to international billionaires and corporations in 2010 with Clarence Thomas’s tie-breaking vote in Citizens United.)

President Jimmy Carter had championed the average person and the rights of working class people: he even walked from the Capitol to the White House after his inauguration rather than take a limousine.  Reagan not only brought back the limousine, he turned his inaugural balls into a lavish celebration of wealth and economic power.

The Democratic Party was still, at that time, mostly funded by labor unions; the GOP, however, picked up the opportunity offered them by the Supreme Court four and two years earlier and put up a “for sale” sign, inviting into the party any wealthy person or corporation who’d put up enough money for a Republican candidate to win an election.

The result of this whole sad history is that Red states have been turned into sacrifice zones for Reagan’s racial and religious bigotry, outsourcing, and the neoliberal raise-up-the-rich and crap-on-unions economic policies he inflicted on America.

The TV preachers have become multimillionaires with private jets, their parishioners have slid deeper and deeper into poverty and addiction, and the unholy alliance of church and state that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton warned us about is now arguably — behind great wealth — the second most powerful political force in America.

Turns out that yesterday’s rant about how Red states are financing their bigotry, hate, misogyny, and low taxes on their oligarchs by essentially stealing tax dollars from Blue states is just the beginning, the foundational funding of their power.

While those policies also make the morbidly rich — from oil barons to trust fund babies to televangelists — vastly richer, and those rich people and their businesses and churches return the favor by recycling part of their profits back into the pockets of Republican politicians, they also cause the whole litany of social ills listed above.

So, now you know the rest of the story.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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