What’s really behind Republican obstructionism?
The party of 'no' is back. | AP

Later Thursday, before senators could even begin debate on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue plan, they had to sit through a nearly 11-hour reading by the clerks of the entire 620-page bill.

It was only the first step in Republican moves to delay a vote on an economic package that millions of Americans so desperately need. In the time it took clerks to read the bill, meanwhile, another 900 Americans died of COVID-19.

Under the arcane rules of the Senate, allegedly the world’s “greatest deliberative body,” the GOP can now delay indefinitely a vote on the bill by introducing amendment after amendment, even though they have no intention to back the bill regardless of the amendments being introduced.

Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republicans in the Senate are determined to block any progressive legislation. It may look like they’re behaving irrationally by keeping needed help out of the hands of their own voters, but it’s all part of a perverse plan to take back power. | Bill O’Leary / Pool via AP

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday morning that the bill would “saddle our grandchildren with debt.” He had no such concerns when he pushed through a multi-trillion-dollar tax break for the rich when he was in charge of the Senate.

If Republicans succeed in delaying a vote on the rescue package until March 14, millions now receiving $300-a-week in federal unemployment benefit supplements will see those checks vanish.

It doesn’t matter to the GOP that its obstructionism translates into continued massive amounts of human misery. When they are not obstructing and creating more misery, they are complaining and airing grievances on television about issues that are of no importance in the lives of the people.

They are condemning Democrats for allegedly banning Dr. Seuss books for children, for example. Democrats, of course, did no such thing. The company in charge of Dr. Seuss books itself decided to no longer publish several titles on its own because they found the racist images in those titles embarrassing.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who helped lead the white supremacist charge on the Capitol Jan. 6, is making angry charges about alleged Democratic and so-called “cancel culture attacks” on Mr. Potato Head. Attempts to broaden the gender identity of Mr. Potato Head by its owner, the toy manufacturer Hasbro, are another crime allegedly being committed by progressives.

The nation faces the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression, millions more each week are claiming jobless benefits, the pandemic still rages, and the Republicans are busy either leading insurrections at the Capitol, charging that the election was stolen, or stalling recovery legislation—while distracting attention with irrelevant issues.

Reasonable people are concluding that Republican refusal to do anything to relieve the suffering of the broad majority of the American people and the constant negative GOP attacks on anyone trying to do so will backfire against them.

It is dangerous, however, for us to expect that this will be the case. Republicans are not in the business of sabotaging their own quest for power or damaging their ability to front for the ruling class. They know how to work the system, and with their attacks and obstructionism, they could well succeed in coming back to power.

Democrats in the House are passing sweeping bills that would rectify many of the nation’s big problems. These bills overhaul the electoral system, making it fair and open to everyone. They reform labor law, putting the right to organize in the hands of the workers. They finally legislate permanent protection against discrimination for LGBTQ persons and others. And, of course, the House just passed the almost two-trillion-dollar rescue package.

If they can overcome the Republican obstructionism underway now in the U.S. Senate, the rescue plan will become law.

Have they gone mad?

When that happens, millions of Americans will soon see $1,400 checks in their checking accounts or mailboxes. For all too many, these checks will be a lifesaver.

Millions will see $300 federal add-ons to their state unemployment checks continue until the end of September rather than end as originally scheduled, in the middle of this month. Millions who were not eligible for any state jobless benefits will get these federal checks.

Many children will go back to school because their school districts will have the money to reopen safely.

Millions will get vaccinations that never would have come if Donald Trump was still in the White House. We may even be able to put the COVID nightmare behind us by the end of the year.

Almost 100% of the Republicans in the House and Senate will be on record as having opposed all of these great things. So, what’s the deal? Have they all gone mad? Won’t the voters hold all of this against them?

Graffiti reading, “Where’s my money” is seen on Mitch McConnell’s front door in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 2, 2021. | Timothy D. Easley / AP

They have made a conscious decision to oppose all of this progress and to engage in a multi-layered strategy of attacks on all Democratic plans, a racist campaign to “save” American culture which they say is under attack, a plan to pose as the new “working-class party” protecting us all from liberal elites, a plan to continue pushing the notion that the election was stolen from the people, and a plan to top it all off with a healthy dose of voter suppression.

They can win this way, they believe, without ever having to do a damned thing for the working class majority in the country. What they are doing essentially is cooking up a program of Donald Trumpism, only on steroids. It’s an approach, they hope, that eventually may not even need Trump himself. It is their hope that this strategy will result in gains for them in 2022 and perhaps a total comeback in 2024.

Their first step is to try to convince the country that they are the new party of workers. The Democrats are the party of the elite, the party of intellectuals trying to cancel the culture loved so much by the working people, the GOP and its right-wing media empire claim.

They are good at turning reality on its head. The heavy National Guard presence in Washington, D.C., for example, the barbed wire, the razor wire, and high fences are a disturbing sight to most people. It is costing hundreds of millions and draining resources away from other needed areas. But all the enhanced security is needed precisely because of the right.

The troops and fences were necessitated by the Republican-backed attempt to destroy democracy on Jan. 6 and the ongoing threats of right-wing terrorism. But we see GOP leaders today condemning Democrats for it. It’s all unnecessary, GOP Sen. John Kennedy says. “The Capitol belongs to the people, the fences should come down,” he thunders. The Democrats are keeping the people out of the House that belongs to them.

What people is he talking about? Is he saying the insurrectionist Trumpites who broke in and killed people are among “the people” being kept out by the Democrats? Kennedy questions all the fences in response to what he calls “a few nut jobs.” Those “few nut jobs” killed people and threatened the functioning of democracy.

Kennedy opposes Biden’s rescue plan, but that’s not the important thing, he says. Instead, it falls to people like him to stand up, to be a hero fighting for the rights of the people to take back their Capitol building!

The New York Times noted recently that the GOP’s obstructionism just might work for them. They wrote about how Republicans such as Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas are pushing the idea that the GOP is the working-class party now, and they wrote about how Republicans are using posturing on cultural issues to try to claim that mantle.

They do this even as they carefully avoid uttering support for a single pro-working-class agenda item because they support no such agenda.

The fake “workers’ party”

The Times pointed out that at the recent CPAC convention, neither Hawley nor Cruz came out in support of even one single pro-worker idea. No one else did, either

What they did do was stoke grievances about the alleged “cancel culture” of the Democrats. They tried to sound like angry workers by bashing bit tech companies, but they were bashing them for their alleged attacks on Trump, not for their monopolies or their attempts to stop workers from unionizing.

They claim big tech—companies like Google and Facebook—helped steal the election from Trump. Thus, the two most fascistic U.S. senators spent last weekend posing as supposed champions of the workers, opposing Big High Tech for undoing Donald Trump.

The so-called “culture wars” have ebbed and flowed in the past, but Republicans across the board today appear to have mastered Trump’s time-tested practice of grabbing hold of cultural issues and stoking anger around them. Like Trump, they top it off with racist, homophobic, and transphobic propaganda in hopes of confusing and attracting support from large numbers of white voters.

They offer these same white voters nothing at all when it comes to economic help, though. What they offer instead is a refined and improved version of Trumpist division and hatred. To some extent, they are even out-trumping Trump, hoping this will be their path to victory in the coming elections.

A few Republicans think this approach will backfire and that people will have to see the GOP doing something real for them if the party is ever going to return to power. There is no guarantee, however, that the GOP base will penalize Republican lawmakers for voting against the rescue package.

Even as Republican voters cash or deposit stimulus checks and get their vaccinations, right-wing media like Fox will not be crediting the Democrats. They will be telling people it was a good thing the GOP lawmakers allowed those benefits to come through but that they, thankfully, fought off non-existent socialist schemes that the Dems were also trying to slip in. Fox’s evening programming will focus on the leading role of Republicans in the continued fight against Kamala Harris, for instance, who it claims backs the burning of American cities. It will spotlight champions like Rep. Jim Jordan, who defends Mr. Potato Head’s non-existent genitals and leads the fight against Democrats allegedly trying to ban the books loved by your children.

The Republicans’ opposition to everything is part of their decision to continue manufacturing complaints about the horrors of socialist-leaning Democrats trying to take away everything up to and including our very humanity.

By keeping this up, they hope that the fake horrors will matter more to voters than who it was that really put money in their pockets and shots into their arms.

The approach of the Republicans is to do whatever possible to convince people that they need in office people who will fight to protect them from “illegal” immigrants, to protect them from Democrats who want to disarm the police, to protect them from Democrats who want to inflict more economic pain by raising taxes, and to protect them from liberals and from a media determined to take away everything they love—whether that be the books they love, the cars they drive, the gas in the tanks, or the hamburgers they eat.

We can’t say for sure whether this will work for Republicans as well as they hope, but it’s that’s the direction in which they are going.

And, unfortunately for the working-class majority, they have a back-up plan that they are running with simultaneously. That plan is the plot to suppress voter rights all around the country.

Suppressing votes to retake power

New voter suppression efforts are happening in numerous states. Republicans are bragging about how they will retake the House in 2022. Halting Biden’s agenda and positioning the GOP to win the White House in 2024, they admit, will be easier as the result of new gerrymandering schemes.

A Republican lawyer defending vote suppression moves by the GOP before the Supreme Court actually admitted that without the measure becoming law, Republicans would be unable to win any more elections.

To ensure the GOP obstructionism plan flops, Democrats are going to have to deliver for the people. They will have to shed their reluctance to be firm and resolute in defeating the GOP delay and sabotage tactics. There is no getting around that.

They are going to have to eliminate the filibuster. Unless they kill it off, they risk seeing all their legislative agenda going down to defeat. That same fate awaits the problematic “centrist” Democrats, too, including Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. They can be assured that they are also eventual targets of the Republicans.

If the Democrats can prove it’s possible for government to defeat the pandemic, fix the economy, rebuild the country, and lift workers out of some of their worst misery, the GOP obstructionism machine could start to sputter and perhaps fail. No promises it will be a sure thing, but it’s the best chance we have.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.