Thursday, 6 September 2012

Republicans, Community and Hypocrisy

Last week I dedicated three evenings to watching the Republican National Convention. Like many Americans and Canadians, I was appalled.
One theme of the Convention was achieving the “American dream” by your own hard work, without help from anyone else. Another theme was how small business is the backbone of the American economy. Speaker after speaker recounted stories of immigration, hard work, building a small business without relying on any government help. The Convention’s theme was “We Built It,” in reaction to President Obama’s reminder that in fact, no one can build any business in America without government-provided infrastructure such as roads and bridges (and, I would add, sewage systems and clean water, responsible for much North American prosperity).
The first speaker I watched was an African-American woman whose parents immigrated from Haiti, and who by dint of hard work—or so she said—had built up her own business. To me, it seemed that the implied message to African-Americans was “I succeeded, why can’t you: Get off your butts (welfare) and work hard like me.”

Sher Valenzuela speaking in Philadelphia, 4 April 2012
Retrieved from
Another speaker was one Sher Valenzuela, who talked about how she and her husband had built up an upholstery business that now employed 70 workers. No information about how her workers felt about her, how much they were paid, whether they can bargain collectively, etc. Valenzuela implied that she and her husband had built up their business entirely without government aid. But Nicholas Kristof reported in the New York Times that in fact, the Valenzuelas received $2 million in loans from the Small Business Administration, and another $15 million in noncompetitive government contracts. Valenzuela herself mentioned that some of her business was to build unspecified equipment for the Israeli army, leading one to wonder what kind of upholstery the Israelis need. So in fact, taxpayers paid Valenzuela and her husband $17 million to help their small business.
Back in 1995 I wrote a book, Human Rights and the Search for Community. I argued that there was a significant social trend in the US toward what I called “reactionary conservatism.” Reactionary conservatives look backward to a mythical past, stressing the values of family, religion, and community. I’ve  wondered since then whether I exaggerated, but it turns out I was too charitable. Republicans appear to be interested in family but not community. Families are supposed to hang together to help each other out in times of trouble: It’s OK to draw on your religious community too (although in the Republican world, the only religious communities worth mentioning are Christian or Jewish). But those who can’t make it on their own, the poor, the downtrodden, the ill and the troubled, are responsible for their own fate. If their families and their religious communities can’t help them out, too bad.
Two speakers at the convention, both members of Mitt Romney’s Mormon congregations, talked about how generous he had been to them when they had sick and dying children. I have no doubt he was. But his generosity did not extend to all those people whom his own company, Bain Capital, put out of work. Nor does his, or Republicans’, sense of community seem to extend to anyone outside their own narrow circle.
Paul Ryan (L) and Mitt Romney (R)
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, retrieved from
There are lots of reasons to oppose Republicans. As a woman who took part in Canada in the 1960s and 70s in the struggle for access to birth control and abortion, I am appalled at their attitudes to these fundamental rights, without which women are slaves to their own bodies. The Republican “community” excludes not only sexually-independent women, but also gays and lesbians, non-striving immigrants, the unemployed who can’t get back on their feet, and all those who aren’t blessed by good fortune, good health, or everything else you need to “make it” in a competitive society.
I used to joke that given its imperial influence, the entire world should be allowed to vote in US elections. Then, I was thinking about protecting non-Americans from the US, but now I think everyone in the world should be allowed to vote in US elections to protect Americans from the Republicans.  

Nicholas D. Kristof, “The Secret Weapon: All of Us”, the New York Times (distributed by the Hamilton Spectator, Canada), Sept. 1, 2012, p. 15.
Rhoda E. Howard, Human Rights and the Search for Community, Boulder: Westview Press, 1995, pp. 176-81.

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