I did not want to hammer away on the health care reform aftermath, or the afterbirth known as the Tea Party movement, but I feel it is a little necessary.
I have always believed there to be three large constituent groups within the Republican Party: the Rich, the Religious and the Racist (and no, I do not want to turn this into some gimmicky, phrase-coining post like it’s a Thomas Friedman column, but here we go). Sometimes all three can be present in one Republican, but often many fit into one of the three groups, with desire for economic security and prosperity being the most common.
First, the rich. This means more than people of means, because there are plenty of wealthy Democrats and plenty of poor Republicans who believe (or say they believe) that lower taxes is important because it stimulates business and means less intrusion into their lives. I genuinely believe this is phony. Economic Republicans, whether poor or rich believe in one thing, holding on to their money or dreaming that when they get lots of money that they can keep all of it. Perfectly entitled to that desire, but I hate when it’s discussed in macroeconomic terms by individuals concerned with their individual circumstances.
A great way to hide this is to call yourself libertarian, which allows the rich Republicans to say that marijuana should be legal or that they are pro-choice, which for these two issues I think amounts to, “I don’t really give a sh*t about those issues, but I can seem less of a frightening Republican if I concede those issues.” If you were so pro-Choice or so pro-liberty than why would you vote for a Republican in this political climate, at least the ones offered nationally? (And maybe you don’t/didn’t and then this does not apply to you and I say welcome to the Democratic party either now or down the road, even if you won’t admit it because you come from a family tradition of Republicans.) One reason: lower taxes.
The religious Republicans seem to scare my NYC friends the most, but I do not have a problem with some of them because I consider one of the defining issues of this group, being pro-life (or anti-choice if I must), a legitimate philosophical and moral belief. Do I think some political people use it as a wedge issue? Absolutely. But I found the bashing of Bart Stupak (a Democrat I know, but aligned with Republicans on one of this signature divisive issues) by a lot of liberals quite terrible. Some would say the increasingly arbitrary line of viability (thanks ironically to scientific advancement) is more absurd than a bright line pro or anti abortion stance. Other issues like prayer in school I understand Republicans views (at least the ones sincerely held), even if I agree with the current law. But at the end of the day, many of the things that Republicans tell their religious base (we’ll ban gay marriage in The Constitution, we’ll end abortion, John Boehner is naturally tan and his name is pronounced Bay-nor) are just not possible in this country, politically or socially. But they placate this segment of their base to keep them at fever pitch so that they can be relied on for votes. And then in all fairness, not to give a large swath of this group a pass, many of them are fu-king crazy. If you are an atheist you probably think everyone with religious beliefs are crazy, but you know what I mean.
But then there is the third group of Republicans, who have nicely and loudly proclaimed themselves Tea Party Republicans – the Racists. Are there Democrats who are racists? Sure. Republicans love to bring up Robert Byrd, former member of the KKK as an example. But who is more racist, or at least enabling to racists: Robert Byrd whose record is marred by insensitive votes, and racist associations early in his career, but later marked by transformation through time and as recently as the middle of the last decade a 100% vote approval by the NAACP, or House Minority Leader John Boehner, who condemned the usage of bricks and racial slurs, not to mention death threats, by people upset over “Health Care Reform” (I put it in quotes because “health care reform” and “socialist” had become mere proxies for “Nig*er until the Tea Party decided to stop being polite), but suggested that they sublimate their “anger” into things that are useful for the party.
This is incredible! This is a party leader coming as close as anyone since Strom Thurmond to basically say, “we want your racism, your backwards thinking and your hostility in our party; just don’t embarrass us by acting upon it illegally. Vote Republican in 2010!” A more meaningful and principled stand would be to say, “We don’t want you in the Republican party – we hope to be a party of ideas and solutions, and defiance if we have to be, but we don’t want you if this is how you act. I remember former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson (Republican) react almost violently when someone made a Republican-gay rights crack to him on a show concerning Matthew Sheppard. He was so offended by the suggestion that those actions could be affiliated with his party or himself (he was actually a prominent spokesman for civil rights and gay rights). The vitriol that Simpson responded with and the anger that Boehner showed towards the health care bill is the same broad-based anger Republican leaders should have responded with towards their Tea Party brethren (and let’s not forget that Nancy Pelosi has taken a lot of heat. Like Hillary Clinton, Pelosi seems able to generate spontaneous hatred – a friend of mine who is Republican had proclaimed “hatred” for Clinton in high school, without any tangible reason, and the same for Pelosi).
On race the Republicans have always been decades late and even then, a token, insulting response. Clarence Thomas (whose early personal history is quite remarkable and could make anyone an angry reactionary) was, nonetheless, the very unqualified Republican replacement for Thurgood Marshall. The Republican response to Barack Obama was clown prince Michael Steele. These seem like responses born out of the spirit of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled, not choices actually made from a more inclusive and sensitive political party.
And the issue of race, is also hidden beneath many of the economic arguments. As Bill Maher said last week (I don’t always agree with him, but on this point I did), the health care reform reminds people of welfare. And despite Chris Rock and Jerry Springer’s best efforts, many people in this country still view welfare as their hard earned dollars of whites going to a black mother with 9 black kids in a black neighborhood.
And saying liberals said hurtful and hateful things about George Bush is not a defense. George Bush started two wars (botched a justified one and heartily engaged in an unjust one), helped facilitate the Great Recession, botched the response to Hurricane Katrina, sanctioned torture, put oil executives in charge of environmental policy, and ignored or at least was derelict in his attention to warnings of 9/11, to name a few things. He was the Secretariat of bad presidents. Obama gave 30 million more Americans health care. Which angry reaction seemed more appropriate and which one seemed more like it should be condemned by the establishment of the respective party?
It reminds me of the climactic scene in A Time To Kill where Matthew McConaughey (alright alright) describes the crime to the jury, but flips it on them at the end. Well to this third group I would say, “Close your eyes. Now, imagine more of your friends and neighbors could have affordable health care, or that relative of yours that died because of rejection from health insurance companies was allowed to keep his or her insurance. Now imagine that this was done, in large part, because your President made a promise to a dying Senator, and because this President’s mother had died of Cancer and because he believed it could help lots of people. Now imagine that that President is white.”