Last week, after Republican Sen. John McCain cast the deciding GOP “no” vote to scuttle the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, a reader emailed me. He said I owed an apology to both McCain and the American people.
My transgression? I dared to ask whether McCain’s procedural vote to advance the repeal process could have been driven by his desire for revenge after losing the presidential election to Barack Obama in 2008. Though McCain ultimately killed the GOP effort to snatch health care from an estimated 22 million Americans, he did so with the caveat that the ACA, which Republicans dubbed Obamacare, should still be repealed and replaced. So McCain - despite his soaring rhetoric about bipartisanship - still wants to erase Obama’s legacy, just not in a way that turns millions against the GOP.
Therefore, I’m not the one who owes the American people an apology. It’s McCain and the rest of the GOP who should apologize. Not just to American people in general, but to white, working-class Americans in particular.
Republicans owe whites an apology because they played to racial resentment in making Obama’s failure their No. 1 priority. They owe whites an apology because Republicans - including McCain - refused to negotiate honestly when Democrats spent months seeking Republican support for the Affordable Care Act. They owe whites an apology for repeatedly trying to take their health care.
But most of all, Republicans owe white, working-class voters an apology for pretending that the GOP is the party of white people. In truth, the GOP is the party of rich people. And it’s about time my white, working-class brethren realized that most obvious of truths.
Sadly, we have arrived at a point at which the White House, the political crown jewel that the GOP so ardently sought, is in disarray. That’s because the powerful conservative wing of the GOP worked hard to get a rich white guy - any rich white guy - to take the mantle of leadership after Obama. While doing so, they abandoned their stated principles.
McCain’s fellow Arizona Republican senator, Jeff Flake, says as much in his new book, “The Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.”
“It was we conservatives who, upon Obama’s election, stated that our No. 1 priority was not advancing a conservative policy agenda but making Obama a one-term president - the corollary to this binary thinking being that his failure would be our success and the fortunes of the citizenry would presumably be sorted out in the meantime,” Flake writes.
It’s a stunning admission. Not only because of the obvious racial implications of a powerful, rich, and overwhelmingly white segment of society plotting the failure of the nation’s first black president. It’s stunning because it reveals the GOP’s willingness to let the people fend for themselves.
This, my dear white, working-class reader, means you are not a priority. That’s because GOP politics is as much about class as it is about race.
Forget the propaganda about building a wall to keep out brown immigrants from Central and South America. Disregard the talk of banning black and brown Muslims who hail from countries in Africa and the Middle East. Eschew the rhetoric about a national stop-and-frisk policy meant to trample the civil rights of people of color.
All those things are designed to appeal to race-based paranoia, but most are not yet realities. However, the policies that have actually been implemented by the Trump administration, with the help of a Republican Congress, reflect a disdain for ordinary working-class Americans. And most of those Americans are white.
Shortly after Donald Trump took office, he and the GOP-led Congress used the Congressional Review Act to toss out or suspend numerous Obama-era regulations that were actually designed to support workers. This includes the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” rule, which kept companies from receiving federal contracts if they had repeatedly violated wage, labor or workplace safety laws.
The Trump administration, along with a complicit Congress, also sought to make it easier for companies to hide payments to foreign governments and to hide tax money overseas. But, hey, who needs billions in corporate taxes to fund American jobs and infrastructure growth when the people can fend for themselves?
But of all the GOP has done to show its disdain for the white, working-class voter, the attempt to take health care from an estimated 22 million Americans - most of them white - was the lowest.
Perhaps the most appropriate words for such a betrayal come from Malcolm X, who said of American blacks, “You’ve been had! Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”
In short, the Republicans owe all of us an apology. But they can start by apologizing to white folks.
Solomon Jones is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.