The strange Republican coalition of corporate interests and cultural conservatism, which has dominated American politics for most of the last half-century, seems to be coming unraveled.

The various factions and sub-factions within this contrived alliance barely understand one another, and when they try to speak at once, the cacophony is incomprehensible.

The corporate and religious wings of the GOP have been at cross purposes for years. Not as clear to most observers are the fissures within the respective wings of the party. For example, on the “family values” side, cultural conservatives have long argued that working mothers should stay at home and welfare mothers should get a job.

On the question of abortion, religious conservatives would force every woman to carry her pregnancy to term, regardless of whether she wants or can afford to keep the child, and whether she is intellectually and emotionally capable of raising a child.

But what becomes of the child after it is born? Here protectors of the unborn run headlong into family values fanatics who say that the government has no business raising people’s children or even educating them. This philosophical dichotomy helps explain the appalling levels of childhood poverty, malnutrition, dropout rates, and other pathologies in this country.

Something like that has been happening on the corporate side of the coalition, as well, with equally dire consequences for public policy.

For decades the GOP ideology has been dominated by the double mantra, deregulation and tort reform. In this deregulated environment, we have seen a flood of faulty and dangerous goods and services in the market — everything from credit default swaps to food tainted with E.coli and toys tainted with lead paint.

Faced with a government that has refused to do its job to protect consumers from corporate predators, many people have concluded that their only defense it to sue the bastards. And that’s where tort reform comes in. Those same corporate sponsors who put the Republicans in power and incited them to deregulate banking and industry have also been lobbying to make it more difficult for citizens to sue those financial institutions and manufacturers.

Against this backdrop, we are seeing some strange behavior on the part of S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster. Two weeks ago, McMaster’s office won a $45 million lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly in a case involving improper marketing and distribution of the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa.

Let me say that again. GOP warhorse Henry McMaster, who has been long and loud in his call for tort reform, took the big pill pusher to court and stuck it to them for $45 million! And he is crowing about it to all who will listen. And why not? As a candidate in next year’s GOP gubernatorial primary, McMaster needs all the good press he can get.

At issue was Lilly’s marketing of Zyprexa for unapproved “off-label” uses, such as pediatric applications and treatment of depression. It is illegal to market a drug for off-label uses or pay for off-label prescriptions with federal Medicaid money. According to The Post and Courier, the AG’s suit also claimed that Lilly failed to warn Zyprexa users of potentially dangerous side effects, including diabetes and heart problems.

It is good that Lilly was brought to account on this matter. But the issue does raise some interesting questions about Republicans, litigation, and individual rights.

Henry McMaster does not want you or me to be able to sue companies like Eli Lilly, which makes me wonder why he is so eager to do it himself in the name of the state.

To answer that question, I left a message with Mark Plowden, spokesman for the AG’s office, but got no response. So I was left to my own devices to answer my question in the manner of a good GOPer: Only somebody with the wisdom and resources of the attorney general should be allowed to sue corporations. We can’t allow just anybody to run around suing companies willy-nilly, now can we?

But wait a minute, I say to myself. Isn’t it another plank of conservative ideology that individuals should take care of themselves and government should get out of the way? Shouldn’t a person who has been hurt by an incompetent doctor or a corrupt corporation have legal recourse? Access to the courts is as fundamental to freedom as the right to bear arms, and it is just as important in the individual’s defense of his person, home, and family. How does Henry McMaster feel about those values?

The Republican “philosophy” is a grab bag of greed, superstition, and reckless opportunism, and it has been a public policy disaster for this nation. But the bag is coming unraveled, and we are coming to see these ugly behaviors for what they are. It’s about time.

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