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Republican Underreach

Updated: Apr 18

by J. Michael Atherton 


The NH Republican platform states that the USA should: “Oppose all laws, programs, and mandates from local, national, and international organizations and governments contrary to our principles: including, but not limited to, educational standards, United Nations programs, international treaties, sustainable development initiatives, wealth redistribution plans, and punitive environmental controls.” Republicans see all these topics as examples of something they despise: government overreach. 

"Poverty in America" - American Psychological Association

What about GOP underreach? Republicans want to minimize government influence at every turn and the examples of their underreaching come ready to mind. They consistently refuse to help those who need housing or food because the GOP conveniently sees them as shiftless. Republicans tend to suspect that anyone without money is lazy.  A government shackled by underreaching means the unhoused remain unhoused, innocent citizens remain prisoners, and the poor remain poor. As a perfect example of GOP underreach, only two Republicans supported a bill to protect whistleblowers and the reason the rest of them gave for their opposition was that protecting whistleblowers represents government overreach. 


The GOP has made underreaching a party-wide, hard-core requirement and demands obedience from all its members. Therefore, Republicans attack aid to the poor, the elderly, the sick, or the needy because they dutifully see such aid as overreach. Republicans follow the underreach doctrine with religious zeal. 

Food distribution in Syria by the World Food Program

Underreaching governs GOP foreign policy where they want the USA to avoid helping countries in need. Their underreach philosophy means they let foreign populations fester in disease and corruption. Their America-First dogma, a prime example of underreaching, means they ignore the fact that by helping foreign countries we help not only countries in need but also the USA. Foreign assistance costs next to nothing compared to our military spending or what the US spends on entertainment, but foreign aid directly helps those in need while it wins friends for the US, as it also opens markets for US goods. If Latin American countries, for example, had viable governments that cared for their citizens and robust economies that worked for their people, these same citizens would never even think of sneaking into our country. They would stay home where they understand the language, customs, and food rather than illegally come to the USA where they are reviled, need to learn another language, and constantly fear deportation. With no population pressure, there would be no need for the (ironic) overreach of building a wall. Governor Sununu even takes NH tax dollars to send our National Guard troops to Texas and fund enhanced border enforcement with Canada. Canada!  Perhaps this case calls for a little underreach?


Underreachers hate the United Nations because it requires people to think and act expansively. The GOP’s invasion of Iraq might seem to suggest they actually care about the rest of the world by “spreading democracy.” Not so. It occurred because their WMD lies blinded America to the reality that the GOP fought for their fossil fuel master to get access to Iraqi oil. The Iraq debacle signals no GOP love for those in need; rather, it shows the GOP’s obedience to corporate demands. 

GOP underreaching lackeys oppose foreign treaties, standardized educational curricula, sustainable development activities, wealth distribution plans, and punitive environmental controls. They want all these to be victims of underreach. 

Foreign treaties fail if underreaching weakens the US government so much that its word means nothing. The reason for this campaign to weaken the government is the GOP’s dedication to corporate power. Underreach shrinks the US government so corporations can make advantageous deals in foreign countries unsupervised by pesky US government foreign officials. Their underreach doctrine perpetuates the ugly American image while the US loses friends and irritates people.  

GOP Underreach in NH does not apply to stealing public education tax dollars to send to private schools and homeschooling families. The voucher system in NH (aka EFA, deceptively named "Education Freedom Accounts") drains millions from the Education Trust Fund. GOP legislators are on track to expand it this year. Illustration by Allie Baker for Granite State News Collaborative

The GOP’s opposition to standardized curricula shows the power of underreach. It’s a case of divide and conquer. By isolating individual school districts, well-financed GOP agents can crash a district, overwhelm it with money, and make it teach the gospel of the free market, isolationism, indifference to the pain of others, and seeing other nations as resource-pawns to be sucked dry and thrown away. The GOP educational underreach plan promotes the voucher as a means for students to jump to schools where they learn that none of their ancestors ever benefited from slavery, that early American settlers never treated Native American poorly, and that corporate greed never hurt anyone who did not deserve it. Vouchers act like vampires because vouchers drain school district finances, weaken their popular support which reduces them to a constant state of defensive stumbling, and redirect state funds to schools that will do the GOP’s bidding. Vampire vouchers effectively and efficiently do the underreach job. 

"Why Won't American Businesses Push for Action on Climate Change?" Illustration by Louisa Rivera for the Yale School on the Environment

Sustainable development actions threaten the corporate-led, throw-away economy. Therefore the GOP labels all sustainability programs as overreach and seeks their destruction. Government underreaching systematically shrivels up funds for programs that try to preserve our soils and clean air so these can support a healthy population, build a resilient economy that can survive economic shocks, and protect species diversity for the role they play in a healthy future, to name only a few sustainability goals.  These are not examples of government overreach, they are appropriate and proportionate reaching that benefits everyone, even the rich.


Underreach punishes any effort to protect and preserve the environment because well-financed polluters and land-abusers want a flaccid, inept, untrained government.  They know only a big, robust government can resist them, so they finance GOP campaigns. Underreachers want to underfund environmental agencies so wealthy corporations can run roughshod anywhere they see profits for the taking.

Underreachers want anemic environmental agencies because they see the word “regulation” as dirty instead of our societal protection for the weak, the individual, and the poor against the greed of the strong, the corporate, and the wealthy. 


GOP’s underreach means the government will be too weak to make the ultra-wealthy pay a bit more so the ultra-poor can live. Calling this “wealth distribution,” “socialism,” or “Marxism” is merely a scare tactic. In reality it is equity. The ultra-wealthy must assume greater responsibility (1) because our American culture hyper-benefitted them and (2) because they have the means to help without any adverse effect on their lavish life-style. Indifferent to these facts, the GOP uses its underreach both to prevent the government from acting and to protect their wealthy masters. Underreaching forces millions of hard-working people into lives where, no matter how hard they work, they never have enough, ever!    


The opposite of underreach is not overreach that the GOP fears. Big government need not and cannot do everything, but small government cannot do enough of what needs to be done by a government. We need balance and the principle of subsidiarity allows us to practice the virtue of wisdom. The most apt question: What is the right size of government to do the job? The correct answer sits in the middle. Not always big, not always small, but, as with Goldie Locks, just the right size to do the job and stand ready for future challenges. Republicans resist the idea of right-sizing government and Democrats promote it. This difference makes all the difference. 


About the author

J. Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy(after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). He spent four years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage to Cynthia Walter, the birth of their first child, and a PhD all at the University of Chicago. They moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where Cynthia taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. They moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. And they are great fun to be around. A winning combination!

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