It Was Inevitable: New Tea-partying Republican Senator Thinks Child Labor Should Be Legal

Yes, we used to joke (or half-joke, anyway) that hey, next thing you know, Republicans are going to start demanding a return legalized child labor. It's not a joke anymore. As Ian Millhiser reports at Think Progress, Utah's newly elected

Yes, we used to joke (or half-joke, anyway) that hey, next thing you know, Republicans are going to start demanding a return legalized child labor.

It's not a joke anymore.

As Ian Millhiser reports at Think Progress, Utah's newly elected Republican Senator, Mike Lee -- the Tea Partier who unseated Robert Bennett -- posted a video of a lecture he gave last week on the Constitution. It was quite a lecture: Not only does Lee reveal himself to be a far-right "Tenther" -- a conspiracist approach to the Constitution borne out of the Patriot/militia movement of the 1990s -- but as someone who believes child-labor laws are unconstitutional, too:

Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law—no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt. In that case, the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting — that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned — that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by Members of Congress. [...]

This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what.

Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.

Millhiser explains just how misbegotten this argument is -- particularly since the Supreme Court, in overturning the rulings that enabled child labor in the first place, was unanimous about the right of the federal government to be involved in these matters.

But as Steve Benen adroitly observes, this whole episode is deeply emblematic of the important point that Paul Krugman made today -- namely, that the Right's embrace of this kind of ideology really reflects a significant divide in American politics, between people who simply believe people should want to return to the "good old days" before FDR and the New Deal, and people who believe that the incredible economic and cultural powerhouse that era produced was the product of a desirable balancing act between governmental power and individual rights.

As Krugman puts it:

There’s no middle ground between these views. One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.

This deep divide in American political morality — for that’s what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it. As many analysts have noted, the Obama health reform — whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress — was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.

But that was then. Today’s G.O.P. sees much of what the modern federal government does as illegitimate; today’s Democratic Party does not. When people talk about partisan differences, they often seem to be implying that these differences are petty, matters that could be resolved with a bit of good will. But what we’re talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.

Indeed, as we've pointed out several times, this desire to turn back the clock is a fundamental aspect of the GlennBeckian worldview that's become the foundation for Tea Party movement conservatism. Digby pointed this out awhile back, citing an essay by Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney about just what kind of society Beck and the Tea Partying Right want to "take us back" to -- one like this:

ChildLaborers_ed089.JPG

As I explained back then:

These are child laborers from the early part of the last century. They were common fixtures on the American landscape. Possibly some of Beck's ancestors were among them. (Here's a gallery of pictures of them.)

... The United States has always been an essentially capitalist economic system. However, we have experienced periods in our history where this system has seriously malfunctioned, and we've made adjustments accordingly that have largely worked well making things better.

One of those dysfunctional periods came at about the turn of the last century, when McKinley was president, corrupt robber barons ran Congress, and the latter-day version of "strict constructionists" ruled the courts. "Laissez faire" capitalism ruled, and America was functionally an oligarchy.

Squeezed out were the working people: the average workweek was 80 hours, there were no weekends, no vacation, only a few holidays, and the barest minimum of pay. Benefits and health care were unheard of. Child labor was the rule.

What happened between then and now? "Progressives" began agitating for better working conditions, and began organizing as labor unions. After a long period of violent repression, these reforms gradually became government policy -- especially in the 1930s under FDR. Americans began getting 40-hour work weeks with weekends off, paid vacations and benefits.

Probably the most significant and lasting legacy of this period of "progressive" innovation was the progressive tax code. It has been a feature of the income tax since its institution in 1913. Who was one of its original champions? Theodore Roosevelt.

The fact is that the United States -- like nearly every single Western capitalist democracy -- is a variable blend of socialism and capitalism, free-enterprise economies with regulatory restraints and modest income redistribution. The result of those "progressive" reforms from 1900-1940 was the birth of the great American middle class and the quality of life we have enjoyed so long we've forgotten what it was like not to have it. People like Glenn Beck seem never even to have learned.

Indeed, when right-wingers like Beck and Goldberg attack "evil progressivism," it sounds a lot like they want us to return to the bad old days under McKinley, when American workers were indentured servants to the wealthy.

Of course, maybe now that they're both wealthy men, there's a simple explanation for that.

Lee, of course, comes from a comfortable moneyed background too: His father was dean of the BYU law school, and Lee himself is a high-powered attorney. Funny how that works.

The reality is that these people don't want to "restore America" to its "constitutional" roots -- they want to remake it into an oligarchy.

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