“Just Say No” Is Not a Governing Strategy: A Word on Voter Suppression

For almost 30 years, the GOP governing strategy has been “Just say no.” This makes for good sloganeering, but not alternative policies. As the GOP tries to regain power, they need voter suppression laws, because they are now a party without a platform.

Does anybody remember Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign from the 1980s? It had a slogan, “Just Say No.” I was in elementary school and clearly remember our teachers warning us about drugs and how to say “no” to dealers. I remember this very picture and similar images of “Just Say No” from television commercials that ran during my after-school cartoon shows (My favorites were Shera and Thundercats, by the way).

And who can forget this commercial?

And here’s another unforgettable one.

I remember all of these from my childhood. And I can say, that since I am now in the 40+ club, they were effective. I’m drug-free, tobacco-free (well, I do have the occasional cigar behind my husband’s back, but don’t tell him, Reader!), and aside from an occasional glass of wine, alcohol-free. All of the PSAs, my parents’ chiding, and the example of more than a few people who fried their brains from cocaine use in the 1970s convinced me to never, EVER do a drug. Tylenol PM is as strong as it gets for me.

While “Just Say No,” was an effective public service announcement tool, it does not make for good governing strategy. For almost 30 years, that has been the strategy of the nation’s GOP.

Before I go on to finish writing this essay, Reader, I need to set the record straight here. I may be writing about the GOP, but I am in love with no political party. Before casting any ballot, I read policy platforms, hear what each politician has to say, then decide who I am going to vote for. I gave money to the Obama campaign and may occasionally donate to other campaigns. In order for me to donate to any politician, I have to know what that politician stands for and how he/she votes. And for the record, I have read Burke and Paine. It was like watching paint dry!

Since I follow policy and politics, I can say definitively that the GOP does not have a platform and they have not had one since the days of Bill Clinton. And they have banked on that notorious American amnesia in order to keep skirting by doing the hard work of preparing one. I am going to take all of us, Reader on a trip down history’s lane so that we can cover what the GOP used to pride itself on. Oh, I know some Republican politician somewhere believes in small government, balancing the budget, and strong foreign policy measures against those totalitarian governments that work to destroy American democracy. As a lifelong Mississippian (aside from the few years that I lived in Memphis) and a member of the 40+ club (don’t let my youthful good looks fool you. I just know that I don’t look a day above 25, but those days are long gone), I have never met this Republican.

The Deficit. For most of my life, Republicans have campaigned on keeping the deficit low. Yet, for most of my life, their legislative policies have always EXPLODED the deficit. This explosion of the deficit has occurred at the national and state levels. The tax cuts to the captains of industry with simultaneous increases in taxes for middle-class families do not balance a budget. And this has been the Republican strategy for the past 40 years. No matter how many times this strategy has proven to be a deficit nightmare, they keep it. The last time a Republican President actually balanced America’s budget was 68 years ago when Army General Dwight Eisenhower was elected in the early 1950s.

The 34th President balance the budget and invested in infrastructure. In those days, investing in infrastructure was a matter of national security! Infrastructure as national security, a product of Cold War thinking, produced the national interstate system as we know it. When we hear lawmakers of any party claim that our thinking about infrastructure is from the 1950s, they ain’t lying. That was the last time America did something innovative concerning infrastructure, job creation, and deficit reduction. If we could do all of those things nearly 70 years ago without the benefit of modern technology, why cannot we do them now? Well, whatever happened to the Midwest Republicans who were the adults in the room? They rolled up their sleeves and paid the bills. They were tepid to cool on Civil Rights, but strong on deficit reduction and infrastructure planning. I am thinking of a young Bob Dole here. Anybody remember? He was dubbed, “The Gentleman from Kansas.”

Before the previous Republican president was elected, many GOPers held on to the image of Reagan, turning “The Great Communicator” into some kind of saintly economic genius. Sadly, many of them DID NOT know that Reagan never balanced the budget and his economic strategy was condescending (“trickle down” implies that the fish at the top are fed first and those of us at the bottom receive their crumbs) at the least and disastrous for many Americans at best. Reagan was a union-buster. And when the unions went away, so did most secure, high-paying manufacturing jobs) at the most.

Strong Foreign Policy Stance. Since our country seems to have shaken hands with Russia, foreign policy is a joke. Sometimes, I do not even know who these modern-day Republicans are. Have they forgotten this iconic moment?

The Republican president after Reagan had a relatively strong foreign policy, but the new adversary was not Russian, but a Middle Eastern dictator. As a child, I could not understand the vagaries of how Saddam Hussein, a man who presided over a sand kingdom a million miles away from America on the other side of the world, threatened us, but the president said he did, so we went to war. This president, George W. Bush, the 43rd president, remained strong on policy and passed this legacy to his son, George H.W. Bush, who would go on to become elected president twice.

Reader, I am not attempting to patronize you, here. I know that my tone may sound as if I am writing to a bunch of pre-schoolers. However, bear with me. Because something happened to the Republican Party that would cause them to discard everything they had previously stood for. Most African American Studies scholars write that this event was the failed presidential bid of Barry Goldwater in the 1960s. Yes, Barry Goldwater essentially forced the party to swap places with the notorious Dixie Crats. I admit that.

But something even more earth-shattering happened to the Republican Party after George H.W. Bush. Something that would cause a metamorphosis of epic proportion, something that changed the GOP from rational adults who believed in paying the bills and that all politics stopped at the water’s edge, into over-paid adolescents who believe in grabbing and maintaining power at all costs, something that forces them to vote “no” on bills that they approve of, something that is as titanic as Godzilla versus Mothra. And that something, Reader, was the coming of William Jefferson Clinton.

A young man who was the two-time governor of Arkansas and a Democrat with a progressive, populist agenda beat out George H.W. Bush in the fall of 1992, becoming the 42nd President and presiding over the country’s longest period of peace-time economic expansion.

Though this record of peace-time economic expansion is indeed impressive, do any of us remember how unpeaceful the two-term Clinton presidency actually was? It was during his presidency that we saw Republicans begin to behave in a way that manifested how many of them felt: they had a divine right to rulership. It was during the Clinton presidency that the propaganda arm of the party was born: Fox News. Do you remember, Reader? Fox News was born in the early 1990s for two reasons: to follow and cover the O.J. Simpson trial and to amplify any scandals that the Republican Party cooked up against Clinton. Yes, the GOP had a whole 24/7 news organization devoted to embarrassing a Democrat, because they felt/feel that only Republicans have a right to rulership. And in this right, they are above the rule of law. Many times, I watching Republicans change laws, almost in an instant, to benefit themselves and help them garner and maintain power. Don’t call it hypocrisy: that is an understatement. I call it the Republicans-forgot-that-we-are-not-a-monarchy-and-there-is-no-divine-right-of-kings-in-America syndrome. And even if we were a monarchy, hasn’t any of them read Leviathan? Don’t they know that some British monarchies were overthrown for dissolving Parliament? And are we not aware that the bitter Whigs/Torries politics affected and influenced literary and artistic output in Britain? Do none of these people know what happened when The Crown shook hands with Anglicans and barred all Catholics from civic/political life? Don’t they know how embarrassing it was when the British government went after people for a supposed insurrection and found that the accuser was lying? Can’t we learn anything from the over-reach of our former Metropole?

I digress.

The Republicans found scandal after scandal against Clinton. First, there was Whitewater, which I still don’t understand. Next, there was Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment trial. To this day, I still don’t understand how a party that shook hands with Midwest evangelicals felt comfortable splashing the intimate details of a sex act on the 6 o’clock news while children watched. I was a teenager at that time and felt so sorry for Chelsea Clinton. I’m a pretty liberal, rational person, but I did not (and still DO NOT) want to know anything about my father’s sex life and where his semen turns up. That’s just gross. I remember when a friend (who is now deceased, unfortunately), literally held prayer for Chelsea before school began. My friend said that if anybody told her anything about her father, his penis, or his sperm, she would probably vomit! And those same Republicans who would prosecute Clinton for extra-marital sex were having affairs, too. I am talking about Newt Gingrich here.

Meanwhile, America faced growing threats to its security from overseas and at home. While Republicans were busy searching Bill Clinton’s sheets, terrorists were capitalizing on our weaknesses. While the events of 9/11 were indeed tragic, we Americans seem to have forgotten that the World Trace Center was bombed under Clinton’s presidency. And it was horrific.

This is a bottom floor shot of the bomb’s impact. On the six o’clock news, there were images of men and women exiting the center with dusty and bleeding faces. When the dust cleared, there were six deaths and over one thousand injuries. When I look at the damage now, it is amazing that more people were not killed and harmed!

The culprits were Middle Eastern, though I am not sure if they were Islamic. Their religion did not matter at the moment. It was clear that America was under constant foreign threat. Yet, Bill Clinton was brought up for impeachment and the growing terror threat was dropped from the news story. It was remarkable. Less than ten years earlier, foreign policy and threats would have taken two months' worth of coverage as we all tried to decipher what was happening to us. How long did the media cover the Berlin Wall and its falling? How many times did we see David Hasselhoff singing that song? And didn’t one of the Naked Gun movies make fun of Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark? The name, Boris Yeltsin is etched in my memory from the days when I watched the CBS world news with my grandpa. I was too young to understand the importance of Yelstin and I have not returned to the coverage in the archives, but I remember the name clearly from the news coverage alone. But this was not so in the age of Clinton. The lead story became a stained dress and a cigar.

This divine right of presidency only increased with the Republican Revolution of the mid-1990s. If you are wondering who this GOP is and who these people are, I will tell you. This is the party of Trump and these are the children of Newt Gingrich. With Gingrich as leader, the Republican campaign strategy became gain and maintain power at all costs. The Republican governing strategy became “Just Say No.” With a veritable propaganda organ, their talking points became, “scandalize then play the victim.” And that strategy is very effective. Let’s face the truth here, Reader: Donald Trump didn’t just appear. He is not an anomaly. Donald Trump simply capitalized from a foundation that was laid from him way back in the scandalous 90s.

At that time, Clinton faced a growing threat from domestic terrorists in addition to foreign terrorists. Does anybody remember the Oklahoma City Bombing that happened almost 26 years ago? It happened on the morning of April 19, 1995, and was carried out by an American, Timothy McVeigh. I remember seeing this iconic image and just crying. I was in high school, but have always loved babies. As they were pulling their little bodies out from the rubble, it was learned that the building included daycare and many of the victims were little, little children.

When Clinton went on air to address the growing foreign threat to America, the media covered it as a “wag-the-dog” moment to distract the American people from the scandals that seemed to follow him. This was true of right-wing coverage and the “liberal news media” that conservatives hated. When people began to question the right-wing media for how they may have contributed to radicalizing people like McVeigh, they all hid behind “personal responsibility” and continued to spew anti-Clinton, anti-Democratic venom.

Increasingly, Republican politicians began to follow the propaganda rather than work on their policies. This is why they NEED voter suppression. They have no policy, so the answer is to shrink the electorate. Because they have defined themselves by what they are against for the past 30 years, they no longer know what they stand for. Being stonewallers against something means nothing unless we can definitively say what we stand for. The time has come for Republicans to declare what they stand for, but since they have been so busy knocking others to their knees, they are coming up short. It is their smallness that propels them to shrink the electorate. Think about it, Dear Reader, what alternative plans have the GOP put forth? They can complain about Democrats spending out of control, but what plan have they crafted to shrink the deficit without hurting people? They may say that the stimulus package was too big, but what plan did the GOP put forth in order to help the economy? Yes, I am aware of the 10 Republicans who met with Biden, but that was 10 out of dozens of GOP lawmakers — less than half of their party. And where is their alternative healthcare plan? I never saw it. Does it exist?

So, because the GOP has followed the “Just Say No” plan of governing for 30 years, they must turn to voter suppression. But wouldn’t it be nice if they crafted an actual platform instead of wasting time, energy, and taxpayer dollars taking us back to the 1950s, the last time their policies worked? For the record, the National Black Republican Association has a wonderful platform. Too bad the racist elements of their party prevents them from being heard.

This is not from my professor’s diary but from personal recollections. If you like it, press the hands or leave me a message.

LaToya Jefferson-James has a Ph.D. in literature. She specializes in literature of the African Diaspora & cultural criticism. And her class never ends! Welcome.

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