The big political news this week was that 25 Republican members of the House of Representatives did not vote to re-elect John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Most of those voting against Boehner were conservatives, and the principle source of dissatisfaction was Boehner's pushing through the House a massive spending bill that provided funding of President Obama's executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. The Obama White House, recognizing the good deal it had in Boehner's spending bill, even telephoned recalcitrant Democrats to make sure they voted for it.
Those 25 House members are far from alone in their dissatisfaction with Boehner. This week, pollster Pat Caddell, who rose to prominence working for Jimmy Carter but who later worked for Ross Perot, released a poll showing that only 16% of those who voted Republican in the mid-term elections want John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to be their leaders. In fact, when Caddell asked, "Is John Boehner for average Americans at heart, rather than for special interests?" only 44% of these Republican voters said that Boehner favored average Americans, while 43% said he favored special interests.
Although Boehner flunked the test on the spending bill, Congressional Republicans may soon have another chance actually to favor the average American voters who put them in power. Obama wants Congress to give him authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and he is counting on Republican votes to get what he wants.
Free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership have devastated the American middle class. The Washington Post's recent article "The Devalued American Worker" catalogues that devastation. According to the Post, the middle class has gone from encompassing 59% of Americans in 1981 to 51% in 2011, and their share of the national income fell from 60% to 45% during the same period. The Post also reported that two-parent American families earned 23% more than they did in 1973, after adjusting for inflation, but only because such families were working 26% more hours.
Even though the Post, like all establishment papers, has long been a vocal proponent of free trade, its reporters tell a different story. The middle class is shrinking and its income is stagnating because massive numbers of jobs were lost in the last three recessions, especially those "jobs that companies could easily outsource overseas or replace with a machine"; 5.5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 1990, and at least 2 million jobs have been lost because of imports from China alone.
If Congressional Republicans want to erase any doubt that they favor special interests over average Americans, they will join hands with Barack Obama and pass the trade deals Obama wants. If, however, they want the GOP to win elections in the future, they will tell Obama no. America needs a large and prosperous middle class, and such a large and prosperous middle class cannot survive if politicians keep doing all they can to facilitate the transfer of American jobs overseas.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.