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The Choice in 2012: Social Darwinism or a Decent Society

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The returns aren't all in yet on today's Republican primaries but President Obama didn't wait. He kicked off his 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney with a hard-hitting speech centered on the House Republicans' budget plan -- which Romney has enthusiastically endorsed.

That plan, by the way, is the most radical reverse-Robin Hood proposal propounded by any political party in modern America. It would save millionaires at least $150,000 a year in taxes while gutting Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, transportation, child nutrition, college aid, and almost everything else average and lower-income Americans depend on.

Here's what the President had to say about it:

"Disguised as a deficit is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism."

We are likely to hear a lot more about social Darwinism in the months ahead. It was the conservative creed during the late 19th century -- legitimizing a politics in which the lackeys of robber barons deposited sacks of money on legislators' desks, and justifying an economy in which sweat shops were common, urban slums festered, and a significant portion of America was impoverished.

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Social Darwinism encapsulated the idea of survival of the fittest (a phrase Charles Darwin never actually used) as applied to societies as a whole. Its chief apostle in America was Yale Professor William Graham Sumner.

Here's what Sumner had to say in his social-Darwinian classic "What Social Classes Owe to Each Other" (1883):

"Let it be understood that we cannot go outside of this alternative: Liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members."

Could there be a better summary of what today's regressive Republicans believe?

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at

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Please let me point out that it is the millionaire... by Skeptic1 on Thursday, Apr 5, 2012 at 12:23:45 AM
but your obvious fear made you blind. Professor Re... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Apr 5, 2012 at 8:12:39 AM
I understand the danger of the national debt very ... by Skeptic1 on Thursday, Apr 5, 2012 at 11:52:51 PM
Our deficit stems mostly from the military spendin... by BFalcon on Friday, Apr 6, 2012 at 9:30:57 AM
 is the life blood of the economy, it flows a... by molly cruz on Sunday, Apr 8, 2012 at 1:18:31 PM
the comments here are missing the point. The wealt... by konstantinos belonis on Thursday, Apr 5, 2012 at 10:47:14 AM
meant the same, only I just emphacized that Reich ... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Apr 5, 2012 at 11:48:36 AM
The real key to defeat and utterly expose and refu... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Apr 5, 2012 at 8:34:38 PM
THIS MAY BE WORTH READING.. IT EXPLAINS A FEW THIN... by Skeptic1 on Friday, Apr 6, 2012 at 3:28:53 AM
What a smart mix of facts and fancy, concockted to... by BFalcon on Friday, Apr 6, 2012 at 10:16:35 AM
Don't argue  with those  who  will ... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Apr 6, 2012 at 10:43:48 AM
And some others, will benefit when I show them the... by BFalcon on Friday, Apr 6, 2012 at 2:48:35 PM
It doesn't seem as if privatizing all that will be... by Michael Dewey on Friday, Apr 6, 2012 at 9:50:17 AM
only genetics weren't such a crap shoot. How many ... by molly cruz on Sunday, Apr 8, 2012 at 1:08:35 PM