Rick Perry and the Return to the Gilded Age

If the George W. Bush administration was neo-conservative, are the Tea Party “Gilded Age” retro-conservatives? That’s the way it seems. It was only a few years ago that the neo-conservatives of the Republican Party who, unlike traditional conservatives, made the government bigger and increased spending, while also pushing for an aggressive military strategy. With the election of Barack Obama, the neo-conservative movement seemed to be replaced by the Tea Party movement, which decided to attack Obama for everything possible, from questioning his birth certificate, his religion, his radicalism, and blamed him for the economic collapse that happened under Bush’s regime. The Tea Party decided anything the government does is bad, and while I oppose the government getting involved in every minute detail of our lives, the unfortunate reality is that the government is needed in a capitalist society to protect the people from the power of corporations. Traditionally, conservatives are reactionary: they want to protect the status quo; the neo-conservatives were unusual in that they wanted to change the status quo, but without progression; the Tea Party conservatives are simply bizarre in that they seem to want to return to the laissez-faire capitalism of the late nineteenth century (known as the “Gilded Age”).

We saw what unrestricted capitalism did during the Gilded Age: with the rise of industrial capitalism, the few who owned the means of production gained an extreme amount of wealth by exploiting laborers, forcing them to work excessive hours in unsanitary and dangerous working conditions, paying them below the necessary amount to survive, and refusing to recognize or negotiate with any labor union that tried to protect the workers; meanwhile, the capitalist elite then used their wealth to influence politics and essentially gain control of the government as the majority of Americans and the working class suffered at the hands of it. The latest poll that I saw among Republican presidential candidates has Rick Perry leading all candidates, and Perry is someone who criticized all the government reforms of the twentieth century that attempted to curb the power of the capitalist elite over the American majority.

The Republican Party in the late nineteenth century, like the Republican Party today, favored big business, and the Republicans won almost every presidency in the late nineteenth century. The Party practiced a laissez-faire attitude that allowed businesses to run rampant, leading to large amounts of corruption and bribery. In essence, the capitalist elite — including millionaires such as John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie — were left unchecked, and when laborers organized unions to protect themselves and earn better rights, the government continually took the side of the capitalists against the unions, which often led to violence as the government forcefully broke up strikes. It was not until the Progressive Era that the government decided to limit the powers of corrupt corporations. Republican president Theodore Roosevelt broke his party-line in the early twentieth century and was the first president to realize that unchecked capitalism provided: unsanitary conditions and unfair labor practices for workers; that food and drugs went un-inspected and had no standards to them — making them unhealthy and dangerous; that as corporations grew they became monopolies that swallowed up all competition; that corporations had no concern for the survival of the environment; and that the rich did not equally share in the burden of taxes. As a result, the government under Roosevelt began to break up monopolies (“trustbusters”), regulate large businesses, protect the environment, extend rights to workers and unions, create the Meat Inspection Acts and the Pure Food and Drug Acts, and Roosevelt first introduced the idea of federal income tax and inheritance tax, which both targeted the rich, although they did not pass until after his presidency. Roosevelt had plenty of faults during his presidency, especially in his foreign policy, but he was the first president to recognize the inherent problems that come from the excesses of capitalism and the need to regulate them. His cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, would go further regulating capitalism during the New Deal, but it was during the Progressive Era that Americans finally saw reforms in capitalism.

Now Rick Perry wants to overturn everything the Progressive Era and the New Deal accomplished, essentially letting corporations go unchecked and return to the practices of the late nineteenth century. According to Perry’s book, as detailed here, Perry believes “Ever since the dawn of the so-called Progressive movement over a century ago, liberals have used every tool at their disposal — including notably the Supreme Court — to wage a gradual war on the Constitution and the American way of life.” As a result, Perry calls into question the Constitutionality of: Social Security, Medicare, federal laws on food safety, ban on child labor, minimum wages, and environmental protection laws (again from the story linked above). Perry literally wants to return to the laws of the Gilded Age with a “hands off” government that does nothing but serve as a military. Oh, and I assume provide us morality too, since he’s a Christian fundamentalist; he claims gay marriage should be decided by the state and there should be a federal amendment banning it. Way to be consistent, Perry. Anyway, capitalism is too corrupt to not have a government regulate it; Perry wants to revoke over a century worth’s of reforms that have tried — and only with limited success, but better than before — to protect the American people from the power of corporations. If the government cannot enforce a minimum wage or safe working conditions, what is the motive for corporations to enact them on their own? They won’t because it costs them extra money. If the government cannot prevent corporations from dumping toxic wastes into the ocean, do you trust that corporations will properly dispose of it out of their own good will? Perhaps the scariest thing is that corporations continue to have a major influence on American elections, and someone like Perry will appear very attractive to corporations because of his hope to remove the government from the economy altogether. America, we tried that before, and it failed. Let us not go down that road again. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to vote for this guy; revisiting the Gilded Age would only benefit about 1% of Americans, and harm the other 99%.

I never thought I’d say this before, but Texas, I almost kind of liked your previous governor better. Did I really just say that? This is depressing — I need a drink.

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2 comments on “Rick Perry and the Return to the Gilded Age

  1. chwwhi31 says:

    Good post EP. Not that I agree with everything but thought provoking and well written.

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