A few months ago, in the heat of the primary season, there was a one day story about how Mitt Romney's website misspelled the word "America," as "Amercia." A good chuckle was had and the story quickly disappeared; however, the idea of a bizarro country called Amercia has become a quick shorthand for the broader policy objectives of the Republican party.
In Amercia, women can prevent pregnancy by "shutting the whole thing down," during a sexual assault, at least according to the Republican nominee for Senate from Missouri. What about birth control? Surely, women should be able to access the Pill, right? Not so, according to mega donor Foster Friess, who almost single handedly bankrolled the Super PAC supporting Rick Santorum. Contraception is unneeded, just a Bayer aspirin between the knees. And that regulation in the Affordable Care Act mandating that employers provide birth control options for women? Can't have that if it offends religious employers, even if 28 states already require it and, you know, the Constitution says so (see my blog post: http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2012/03/laws-of-general-applicability-or-why.html). In Amercia, Planned Parenthood is defunded and since embryos are human beings, lots of luck getting an abortion, though prosecutors will be kept busy putting doctors who perform abortions and the women who get them, in prison.
While Amercia may look dystopic for women, America is not much better right now. TRAP laws and regulations have essentially outlawed abortion in states like Kansas and Mississippi and in many other states, regulations have been enacted that severely restrict the ability of women to safely terminate their pregnancies. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is one retirement and one Republican replacement away from overturning Roe v. Wade (though it's so full of exceptions at this point, it's just a shell of what it originally was) entirely.
Fortunately for women, they have a lot of company in the back of the Amercia bus. Notwithstanding things like the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Republican legislatures around the country have spent the past two years passing Voter ID laws that require certain forms of identification if you have the temerity to exercise your Constitutional right to vote. But Scary Lawyer Guy, you say, we don't want people showing up to vote who are not entitled to vote, right? Well, of course not. The only problem is that it almost never happens. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University researched the number of confirmed cases of "in person" voter fraud (which is what these laws claim to protect against) since 2000 and found a whopping ten instances out of 146 million ballots cast - yes, you read that right, 1 out of 14.6 million votes in this country were believed to be improperly cast at the voting booth by someone claiming to be someone else (http://cronkite.asu.edu/node/2661).
While these laws will do little to prevent a problem that does not exist, they do a wonderful job of disqualifying otherwise eligible citizens from voting. Elderly people, who no longer have driver's licenses, but may not have access to confirming documentation like birth certificates, are one such class of people. Media reports are replete with stories like the one of a 96 year old woman in Tennessee who was initially denied the free voter ID card promised under that state's law (http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/oct/22/id-recipient-gains-national-attention/) and an 86 year old World War II veteran who was turned back at his voting location because his Veteran's Affairs ID did not have a current address, even though he'd been living at the same residence for 40 years (http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/03/06/439324/86-year-old-ohio-veteran-cant-vote-after-government-issued-id-is-rejected-at-poll/?mobile=nc).
And even though states that pass these laws are required to provide a free, conforming ID, as the Brennan Center has pointed out, in the 10 states with the most restrictive ID laws, hundreds of thousands of eligible voters do not have a means of transportation to get to the government offices that issue these IDs. Further, in many instances, the offices that voters must go to are either far away or have limited hours of operation, making it even harder to access this government service. Of course, even if a poor person can make it there, they must provide the proper documentation, and things like birth certificates or marriage licenses (two common documents states use) cost money to get copies of, in other words, a modern day version of the poll tax (for more from the Brennan Center: (http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/the_challenge_of_obtaining_voter_identification/).
The court challenges to Voter ID laws are flying fast and furious, with telling results. In Pennsylvania, where a lawsuit was filed challenging its Voter ID law, the state conceded, at the beginning of the trial, that not one instance of in person voter fraud had taken place in the state and it did not expect it to occur in the November election, yet a trial court judge bizarrely upheld this law, even though the lead election official also acknowledged she did not know the particulars of the law and that 750,000 people could potentially be affected by its enactment (for more: http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/07/pennsylvania_voter_id_no_in_person_voter_fraud.php). At a trial challenging Texas's law, the state conceded that some of its citizens would have to travel more than 100 miles to get the required identification yet argued with a straight face that this was not overly burdensome.
On top of Voter ID laws, states are also restricting early voting, limiting the ability of third-parties to engage in voter registration drives and seeking to purge voter rolls, all of which impact some combination of poor, minorities and/or the elderly. While earlier eras in American history were defined by efforts by the disenfranchised to gain access to the ballot, in Amercia, voting is a privilege, not a right and blithely denying it to (potentially) hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people is just par for the course.
So Amercia is not particularly welcoming for women who want to use birth control, sentient human beings who think rape is rape or minorities, the elderly or young people who can't scrounge up a Republican gold-plated ID to exercise the franchise, who else is part of the "untouchable" caste in Amercia? Well, of course, as Ann Romney vaguely referred, it's "you people." Who are "you people?" You people include anyone who doesn't collect most of their income from capital gains or carried interest (don't know of (or have) one or both of them? You might be "you people"). In Amercia, the wealthy are over-taxed and the poor are free loaders who pay no taxes and cruise on the heady wave of capitalism produced by the Bain Capitals of the world. The wealthy cannot be asked to help pay down our debt and deficit, but rather, the bite must come entirely from programs and services that help provide people with the bare minimum necessities of life.
Another feature of Amercia is the pillaging of the social safety net. Anyone silly enough to pay into our benefits system (Social Security and Medicare) expecting them to be there when they retire are simpletons who do not understand the fiscal realities of having spent trillions in unfunded tax cuts, wars and benefit extensions. In Amercia, Social Security gets privatized, diverting your automatic FICA deductions to Wall Street instead of allowing FICA to be collected on income above $106,800, which would make the program solvent for the next 75 years.
Back in America, that big bad Obamacare slows the future growth of Medicare by limiting reimbursement to medical providers in order to encourage best practices and insurance companies who offer supplemental insurance coined "Medicare Advantage," takes those savings and (1) closes the "donut hole" in Medicare D (the so-called "donut hole" was a creature of cheap Republican legislative drafting. In order to hold down the total cost of the program, Medicare helps pay for your prescription drugs up to a total cost of about $2,600, but from that point until the cost reaches roughly $6,154, the individual must pick up 100% of the cost. From $6,154 beyond, the split is 5%/95% (individual/Medicare). The Affordable Care Act phases out the "donut hole") and (2) provides free preventative care for seniors. The only "cuts" that will be experienced will be to providers and insurers who offer "Medicare Advantage," not a penny is taken away from seniors.
In Amercia? Republicans take those same "savings" and pump them into tax cuts for the wealthy while converting Medicare into a voucher program that, when effective, will cost the average senior more than $6,400 out of pocket for private insurance coverage. And no, in Amercia, there is no irony that Republicans think that able bodied adults should not be forced to purchase this same insurance as part of an "individual mandate," but are perfectly fine with leaving seniors to the predations of the private sector (can't wait for United Health to estimate the premiums on policy coverage costs for senior citizens!).
Of course, if you're poor, forget it. While President Obama sought to expand medical coverage under Medicaid by offering to have the federal government pick up 100% of the tab the federal government pays for Medicaid if states expanded coverage up to 133% of the poverty line (the federal "co-pay" slowly goes down and hits a floor of 90%, in 2020), Paul Ryan's budget would toss roughly 17 million people off Medicaid, block grant it to the states and take those savings to, you guessed it, "redistribute" to the wealthy. While the working poor in our country have access to food stamps to provide needed aid, Amercians will have no such luck because the thrifty Mr. Ryan thinks it would be a great idea to cut food stamp coverage by more than 15% over the next 10 years to … you guessed it .. oh, never mind. In Amercia, the "welfare queen" is alive and well, brought to you by people like Paul Ryan, who has collected a paycheck from the federal government uninterrupted since the mid-1990s, used Social Security survivor's benefits to pay his way through college and has lifetime medical coverage thanks to his 13 years service as a Member of Congress.
And why is there so much enmity for the poor and disenfranchised. Beats me. Something to do with freedom and liberty, I'm a bit unclear. But what I am clear on is that the beneficiaries in Amercia are rich people. Rich people, you see, leave the few crumbs of wealth and prosperity they do not keep for themselves for the rest of us, but to be a rich person in Amercia is to not have to worry about things like high taxation or regulation. Keep as much of your money while turning a profit in the most irresponsible ways possible, just keep cutting those checks to the GOP. One hand washing the other. No mountain top is too large to be flattened, no hole in the ground too hallowed to be exploited (drilling near the Grand Canyon? Why not! http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/2011/07/26/20110726grijalva27.html) and of course, no regulation too mild that it should not be repealed (financial regulation, for example).
Amercia is actually not a new concept. It does, in its way, synthesize earlier eras of political thought, a kind of perfect storm of domestic policy insanity converging to threaten all "you people" who would not benefit financially from Republican reign. Its economic doctrine is firmly rooted in the "robber baron" era of the late 19th century with a touch of 1920s Gilded Age laissez faire and a splash of Ayn Randian philosophy. Rolling back voting and civil rights is to pretend that seminal laws and Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s do not exist and casual disenfranchisement of African-Americans would not look foreign to Jim Crow era southern politicians. As for Social Security and Medicare, each has been a bete noire of the right-wing for decades and their fundamental alteration or elimination would represent a long held dream of erasing both the New Deal and Great Society of FDR and LBJ. The decades-long struggle to repeal Roe is well documented, but the level of misogynism expressed in today's Republican party represents a newer and uglier level of sexism that is truly alarming. Mix this witch's brew together in a Romney Administration with a Republican Congress and ours will be a country most Americans will no longer recognize.