Progressive views from Rattlesnake Holler - Rural people like so-called ‘socialist’ benefits

by Sue Hagan

 

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention issued an apology for its former support of slavery and segregation. If Southern Baptists can embrace such liberalism, can the GOP be far behind?

For much of the 20th Century, Missouri was considered a strongly blue state, but more recently it has been colored red. That’s not because the Democratic Party abandoned the people, it’s because the Party abandoned its racist roots. I am convinced its core liberal values - support for families and workers, social benefits based on principles of kindness and charity, patriotism - all these are exactly the values most Missourians embrace.

The Democratic Party’s decline began when Lyndon Johnson, a southern Dixiecrat, signed the Voting Rights Act and sighed, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” Many red-state Democrats did not take kindly to the end of Jim Crow laws: some left immediately, some hung on until a black man became president.

Meanwhile, Republicans did not oppose civil rights directly, but instead opened its doors to former Democrats by opposing affirmative action, supporting homophobic resolutions, falsely depicting support programs as “handouts to Welfare Queens,” and embracing laws that would effectively lessen voting by minority groups. Today, the white supremacy movement has risen strongly in support of Donald Trump: he says he is not a racist, but white supremacists believe he is and they vote Republican.

Another factor in the decline of the Democratic Party in rural areas has been the destruction of unions and employment opportunities. Ronald Reagan broke the backs of unions and promoted cut-throat capitalism, policies very hurtful to rural economies; shoe factories were shuttered; hardware and grocery stores were out-competed by big box stores; even the town movie theater was driven out of business. Mega chicken and hog operations replaced the family farms. To get ahead, sons and daughters left for higher education and city jobs. But Republicans did not announce they were going to destroy rural lifestyles; they just promised a “trickling down” of economic prosperity if their agenda was enacted. That, of course, never happened and since the 1980s income inequality has worsened.

In Missouri, we saw the GOP attitude towards unions and workers in full force when legislators in Jefferson City enacted the phony ‘right to work’ law which voters tossed out last year. And what does the GOP think of workers getting a decent wage? When St. Louis tried to enact a minimum wage the state legislature stopped that from happening. And of course, the GOP refused to expand Medicaid to the working poor: had they done so, you can bet there would now be strong opposition to Trump’s efforts to destroy the ACA. Just like what will happen nationally if Republicans regain full control and try to tackle the huge deficit their tax reform has made by gutting Medicare and Social Security. Rural people really do like those so-called “socialist” benefits brought to them by Democrats and will most definitely vote against those who want to cut these programs.

The Missourians I know are not racist, they are not anti-union, and they really would like to see poor people and sick people given a helping hand. So why are Democrats faring badly at the polls in Missouri? Gerrymandering, Fox News, and the Citizens United ruling that have favored Republican coffers are three major factors. Social media are also having an impact. And I will add one more factor: a third of eligible voters don’t even vote.

Trump defines what the GOP stands for today: deregulation, anti-environmentalism, homophobia, tax policies favoring the wealthy, and a slow destruction of the social safety net (Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, public education, to name just three). But if Southern Baptists can change some of their hard-core practices, can the rest of Missouri be that far behind?

Stay tuned for the 2020 election!

Sue Hagan is retired and lives in rural Reynolds County. When not caving or birding, she shares her opinions.