Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
As the scavengers of the Republican Party–Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, Glenn Beck–move to capture for their party the ill-defined Tea Party groups from around the country, a report issued just in time for the Tax Day protests gives us a better idea who these disgruntled Americans are.
A New York Times/CBS poll reveals that Tea Partiers have three major concerns–the recently-passed health insurance reform, the level of government spending, and a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.
I share all of these concerns, but for different reasons than those given by most Tea Partiers. To a great extent, I fit the demographic profile of a Tea Partier. I am 65, semi-retired, have an advanced degree, politically independent, white, and on Medicare and Social Security. But when it comes to issues, Tea Partiers are four times more likely than independents as a group to hold the view that Obama does not share their values. They are twice as likely to believe that Obama is moving the country toward socialism; twice as likely to believe Obama was born in another country; about nine times more likely to believe that Obama favors blacks over whites; and they are more concerned about other issues than are independents in general: illegal immigration, gay marriage, helping poor people, abortion, gun control, and the problems of blacks. I’m not sure what “problems of blacks” means, but the problems that fall more heavily on blacks in this country than on whites include discrimination, high unemployment, and early death, not the kinds of concerns Tea Partiers have expressed.
Looking at one of their three major issues, the health reform legislation, Tea Partiers tend to view these reforms (as inept and inadequate as they are) as socialism. I view the reforms as an attempt to create greater equality for all–a small step toward improving “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in this country. Some 45 million Americans cannot afford health insurance, the primary means of receiving health care in this country. As a result, 45,000 Americans die unnecessarily each year. The recent reform bill created a giant subsidy for the health insurance industry. My view is that this is a waste of money and strengthens the death grip that industry has on our access to health care, an issue that affects those with Medicare supplemental insurance purchased from the private sector as well as those receiving primary health care benefits through that same sector.
As an example, I started on Medicare last November, which necessitated that I choose a secondary carrier in order to participate in the Medicare drug benefit. With no notice to me, after two months of participation (during which time, I did not make a drug purchase), the insurance company increased my monthly premium by 60%, which they were taking from my bank account through automatic payments. When I discovered this increase, I appealed the increase in payments and the appeal was summarily rejected. I have no simple recourse to attempt recover the extra $15 per month that I am now being charged. Next November, I will be able to change insurance companies, the only option I have for resolving the high-handed, unconscionable behavior of Coventry Insurance, which offers several AdvantraRx plans.
No entity adequately regulates the behavior of Medicare-participating insurance companies. The insurance companies that will participate in the reform program will similarly be largely beyond the control of the average health insurance participant and poorly controlled by the government. Medicare worked well for a combined 51 years for both of my parents, but its partnership with the private sector makes it inadequate. Nearly 100 million Americans have poor quality or no insurance. The reform improves the situation for about 30 million of that group, but it will be far from optimal, primarily enriching a for-profit industry that dominates a vital service necessary to a full and productive life for all Americans.
But these concerns are not those of the Tea Partiers, a large number of whom receive Medicare, but oppose younger people having access to a similar not-for-profit health insurance program. Those of us who believe that health insurance should be not-for-profit will find few people of like mind among the Tea Partiers. They seem more concerned about the happiness and well-being of the health insurance companies than with the happiness and well-being of most Americans.
I am just as concerned about the high levels of government spending as any Tea Partier, but I am not as hypocritical on the spending issue. I have opposed the trillions of dollars wasted on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for over nine years, but not one Tea Partier that I have heard has made any criticism of this waste. It seems that their concerns are completely related to the bailouts of the Wall Street financial corporations that drove our economy to the brink of a new depression before the bailouts helped turn the economy in a better direction. What the Tea Partiers mostly ignore is that the bailout program was a bipartisan initiative that began under the administration of George W. Bush. As a candidate and now as President, Barack Obama has supported the bailout system, which, while important for salvaging the economy, was insufficiently directed at helping average Americans–including many Tea Partiers.
Complaints about spending inevitably lead to complaints about taxation. The Tea Partiers seem to believe that Americans, under Obama, are being taxed too much. But federal taxes have gone down for 95% of Americans since Obama took office. The co-director of the Tax Policy Center, William Gale, had this to say about the Tea Party and taxes: “The relation between what is said in the tax debate and what is true about tax policy is often quite tenuous. The rise of the Tea Party at at time when taxes are literally at their lowest in decades is really hard to understand.” Gale pointed out that nearly 47 percent of Americans will pay no federal income taxes for 2009 because either “their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability.” The Tea party protests on Tax Day were misdirected.
One of the Tea Partiers’ major concerns is their disdain for the government bailouts of those financial institutions that held bad mortgages. I did not like the way it was done, either, but I believe something had to be done to support the economy. Instead of direct bailouts to those institutions, I favored a plan directed at making the families solvent, rather than the banks. It would not have cost more to bail out families than it has cost to bail out banks, but there would have been less suffering for the families, while the banks would have been kept solvent.
It seems also that Tea Partiers are opposed to putting back in place the financial regulation that protected the economy from the excesses of the wealthy Wall Streeters. Those excesses, no matter how disastrous they may be to the economy, are usually driven by greed. The de-regulation that began 30 years ago and escalated near the end of Bill Clinton’s deplorable presidency, continuing through Bush’s two terms, is largely responsible for allowing the financial sector to do anything to make money, at any cost to the well-being of average Americans. If Tea Partiers were really on the side of average Americans, they would be insisting on correcting the de-regulation of the financial sector. Instead, they are siding with the Republicans to oppose holding the banks and financiers accountable for their transgressions and preventing the transgressors from running wild again.
Finally, we get to whether the opinions of the Tea Partiers are represented in Washington. It seems that the Republican party’s talking points follow the major themes of the Tea Partiers: opposition to financial re-regulation, opposition to the bailouts (which they supported when Bush was in office), and opposition to health insurance reform. Increasingly, the Tea Partiers look like a vocal, grass-roots uprising within the ranks of the Republicans. Where some of them part ways with the party is by their embrace of Congressman Ron Paul and their rejection of the mainstream Republican leaders.
Ron Paul was my Congressman for several years. During that time, I often remarked that I agreed with him half the time, which was more often than I agreed with most of the representatives I have had over the years. I share his concern with the behavior of the Federal Reserve, for instance. And I certainly agree with his position that America has no business interfering with other countries, as we have been doing continuously since the end of World War II. If the Tea Partiers supported these Ron Paul concerns, I would find them more attractive. But they are fast becoming a wholely-owned subsidiary of the Republican party. As an independent, progressive populist, I cannot embrace or support such a movement.
One of the increasingly apparent characteristics of the Tea Partiers is their opposition to anything Obama does. A cartoon by Chris Britt in the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register dealt with opposition to Obama’s nuclear reduction (which really just got rid of cold war nuclear relics). The main character in the cartoon expresses her opposition to the treaty and concludes that “The point is, it’s Obama’s idea so we’re against it!!! No matter how good an idea it may be!”
That sums up the barely concealed racism of the Tea Partiers well. Ninety-eight percent of Tea Partiers are white. They find anything that they perceive to benefit blacks as anathema. They make thinly veiled racial jokes about Obama. Some have sent me the implicitly racist song “The Great Reneger” by Michael Fischer. The sentiments in it could be applied to most politicians, but it is applied only to Obama, and it is hard to miss the relationship between a common racial epithet and the repeated use of the word “reneger” in the song.
What has convinced me as much as anything that there is widespread racial animus toward Obama is Tea Partiers oft-seen sign indicating that they want to take their country back. Middle-aged white people aren’t used to having a black man as President, so let’s go back to a time when they were more comfortable with the social situation, when whites were in charge. This nostalgia for white control fits in with the Republicans’ total opposition to every Obama initiative, even if the Republicans had previously supported the idea. They want to go back to a time when whites decided what happened in America. They want to put this uppity black man “back” in his place.
In a political science study released a week before the Tax Day protests, Professor Christopher Parker of the WISER Institute at the University of Washington reports that among the “45% of Whites (who) either strongly or somewhat approve of the (Tea Partiers) … only 35% believe Blacks to be hardworking, only 45 % believe Blacks are intelligent, and only 41% think that Blacks are trustworthy. Perceptions of Latinos aren’t much different.” Professor Parker’s report shows that Tea Party members are 36 percent more likely to be racially resentful than non-Tea Party supporters: “While it’s clear that the tea party in one sense is about limited government, it’s also clear from the data that people who want limited government don’t want certain services for certain kinds of people. Those services include health care.”
At many Tea Party gatherings, extremist, racist groups, including nativists, militias, and supremacists have been warmly accepted by Tea Partiers. The Anti-Defamation League says that the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) inflames fears and resentment based on racial and nativist issues. The CCC claims to be embraced by the Florida Tea Party. To its credit, the Tea Party appears to have distanced itself from the most extreme white supremacists, such as the skinheads and neo-Nazis.
On the subject of Obama favoring blacks, Joan Walsh, writing for Salon.com, has this to say in her April 15 column: “The idea that the Obama administration’s policies somehow favor black people will come as a surprise to many in the black community who are concerned that the president hasn’t done enough to directly address the crisis of unemployment, especially among black men. I happen to believe Obama’s race-neutral employment policies, targeted to place, not race, are the way to tackle the problem. But I have an idea for Tavis Smiley, Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson: They should hook up with the Tea Partiers. That’s an audience that really needs to hear their complaints about how little Obama is doing for black people.”
For now, it appears that the Republicans believe that the Tea Partiers are helping them, and the Tea Partiers will likely continue their dance with the Republicans, who will marginalize them once their benefit to the Republicans has been exhausted. Then, most of the Tea Partiers will be absorbed back into the Republican party, which is where most of them came from in the first place. And another, once hopeful, uprising will cease to exist. Requiem in Pacem Tea Partiers.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print