Dear Tea Party: The Gov’t Shutdown is Hurting White People, Too

When the Republican Party was reduced to its bare minimum of support in 2008, as the American people finally rebelled against the Bush/ Rove dismantling of the economy and wasteful adventurism abroad, it was left with representatives from the Southern states. That election revealed that at its core, the GOP is now a party of white southerners, with a few additions from elsewhere when the public isn’t completely disgusted with its record.

The gov’t shutdown engineered by these white southerners looks an awful lot like the resistance their ancestors offered to Reconstruction after Lincoln freed their slaves. It is analogous to the Jim Crow regime they implemented to make sure that the freed slaves did not have any claim on their resources. If African-Americans weren’t going to work for free, then they weren’t going to have an education equal to that of white people, nor access to the same resources, nor free access to the polling booth (limited by poll taxes and ‘literacy’ exams). The ingrates were on their own, and would have to be segregated now that they were no longer owned.

The primary concern of the Tea Party is that the working poor not benefit from Obamacare in getting access to health insurance. (Many of the poor already have access to Medicaid; the Affordable Health Care Act mainly benefits workers who aren’t paid very well and don’t get insurance via their employers). The reason that the Tea Party doesn’t want Obamacare is because they are convinced that it is ultimately a transfer of wealth from the white rich and middle classes to the minorities. This allegation is untrue, since in recent decades 3/4s of the working poor are white. Since the program is a government mandate that individuals buy private health insurance, moreover, it doesn’t actually cost the government much. Indeed, it very possibly will save the state money in various ways.

Of course, the Tea Party is a tool of rich backers such as the Koch brothers, and the billionaires at the center of the conspiracy to destroy the American social safety net probably don’t care much about the white poor, either. But I suspect that the rank and file of the movement is so easy to manipulate on this issue because of racial anxieties. Those anxieties are misplaced.

Not only would denying the working poor access to health insurance hurt the majority of badly paid workers, including white ones, shutting down the government and declining to raise the debt ceiling also harm workers of various ethnicities across the board.

Government-supported scientific research, and companies in Silicon Valley, are being hurt by the government shutdown.

The shutdown hurts veterans.

Then there is that worrying outbreak of salmonella in 17 states at a time when the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only has a third of its employees coming into the office.

The shutdown and worries about a debt default have taken 4% off the US stock market. For older Americans heavily invested in the market through their retirement account, that sum might amount to a lot of money in absolute terms.

Making American science and technology less competitive in world terms, compelling our scientists to emigrate to countries that more reliably support their work, risking the public’s health, and harming investors– none of that helps the Tea Party constituency. How odd that they appear to think that it does.

32 Responses

  1. “The reason that the Tea Party doesn’t want Obamacare is because they are convinced that it is ultimately a transfer of wealth from the white rich and middle classes to the minorities.”

    What is it that makes the Tea Party believe this? Has there been a recent government or independent projection that taxes on the rich will have to rise in order to afford Obamacare?

    The Tea Party being convinced that the Affordable Care Act is a “transfer of wealth” must be based on some concrete analysis? They are spending a lot of money (I’ve read that the Koch’s themselves have spent an estimated 50 million dollars)and(common sense, at least) says that it MUST be based on some reputable projection that their taxes will have to pay for it.

    I buy into the notion that the rank and file are being manipulated based on racial anxieties…but not so much the Tea Party leaders. My experience is that – behind these types of skirmishes – there’s usually someone afraid that they’re going to lose their money.

    • What is it that makes the Tea Party believe this?

      They’re been trained to believe it for decades, going back to Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Conservative domestic politics has revolved around framing all government operations to supporting a parasitic class, presented as a racially and/or culturally different “other,” since the late 1960s.

      The Tea Party being convinced that the Affordable Care Act is a “transfer of wealth” must be based on some concrete analysis?

      Heh. You’re not from the United States, are you? Somewhere in Central Europe, right?

      • Joe from Lowell, I do not support the tea party and DO support the ACA, (as a matter of fact I would have preferred a single payer option). But regarding transfer from rich, in actual fact I believe there is a surcharge of 2.3% (or so) on dividend income of people making more than $250K or $400K plus in annual income. I am pretty sure it is accurate though I have not gone back and looked it over. There may be other taxes as well….but this one I do remember.

        • But regarding transfer from rich, in actual fact I believe there is a surcharge of 2.3% (or so) on dividend income of people making more than $250K or $400K plus in annual income.

          Good. Unearned income should be taxed at the same rates as earned income.

          Slightly OT: what is the obsession on the right with entitlement programs, which are still primarily pay as you go, and yet the bloated military gets a free pass because we are threatened by, . . . um, . . . erm, exactly no one.

        • But note the Professor’s claim: “a transfer of wealth from the white rich and middle classes to the minorities”

          The ACA does indeed represent a transfer of wealth from the rich, but not from the middle class. It represents a transfer of wealth to the middle class.

  2. The politics of (manipulating) race is at the heart of US Republican politics: “[S]omething has allowed movement conservatism to win elections despite policies that should have been unpopular with a majority of the voters.…[That something] can be summed up in just five words: Southern whites started voting Republican.”

    After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President “Johnson told…a presidential aide [Bill Moyers], ‘I think we’ve just delivered the South to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.’ He was right…The changing politics of race made it possible for a revived conservative movement, whose ultimate goal was to reverse the achievements of the New Deal, to win national elections—even though it supported policies that favored the interests of a narrow elite over those of middle- and lower-income Americans.”

    “Ronald Reagan began his 1980 [presidential] campaign with a states’ rights speech outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town where three civil rights workers were murdered; Newt Gingrich was able to take over Congress entirely because of…the switch of Southern whites from overwhelming support for Democrats to overwhelming support for Republicans.”

    Movement conservatism’s “pandering to a subset of white voters by catering to their fear of blacks (and other non-whites such as Hispanics)…has less electoral impact as the US becomes less white and as many whites become less racist.”
    link to

  3. In New Mexico. Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque) have notified their employees that they will shut down on October 21, if this budget/debt ceiling thing isn’t resolved. This will furlough about 18,000 of the most highly-paid folks in the entire state.

    Not to mention the innumerable local businesses which supply goods and services to the labs. Los Alamos drives the economy of northern New Mexico.

    Here’s the link to the story in the Albuquerque Journal:
    link to

    • a couple of Senators (e.g., Pete Domenici) steered a lot of federal dollars to the area. The locals didn’t bother with economic development or balance.
      Now, somehow, their benefitting from outsized, disproportionate largesse has become an entitlement ?

      What did Bruce Hornsby have to say about this kind of situation ? And, no, suckling on the government teat isn’t exactly the same thing as getting a job.

      I have only had dealings with a small number of folks who were collecting federal salaries for whatever they did at LANL, and all of them were making more off their connections outside the government than from eagle squats.

  4. Great essay, Professor Cole, I agree with your analysis. I’m a Vietnam veteran who served as a medical corpsman, and the VA awarded me a service-connected disability in September, 2010, because my heart condition was due in part to my exposure to Agent Orange. I had to take an early retirement, because I had two minor attacks before being awarding this compensation for this disability. So the disability check makes up for the reduced pension I receive from social security each month because I retired early at 62. I’m not looking for a hand-out from the federal government, but I am pleased that after four decades the government that sent me to Vietnam recognized its obligation to me. And I can thank President Obama and his secretary of veteran affairs. retired army General Eric Shinseki, for getting the VA bureaucracy to recognize my heart condition based upon clinical tests as a legitimate claim for this compensation. And there are also around a 100,000 to 150,000 (?) other Vietnam veterans like me who also qualify due to their exposure to Agent Orange. I think around 68,000 are still alive. And I’m not really bitter about my circumstances. I see fellow Vietnam veterans at the local VA clinic where I go for my care who have it a lot worse than me with more serious and grave health issues. So despite my own heart condition, I’m in relatively good health for my age with a roof over my head and food on the table.

  5. Agreed that much of the hatred of the ACA is an expression of old school racism for the reasons outlined in the post, amplified by it being the legacy legislation of a black president.

  6. I don’t think the White Southerner argument quite works–either for Reconstruction or today. The Compromise of 1877 was between Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats, and it put Hayes into office and the last occupation troops out of the South, establishing the Reign of Terror that never quite ended there. And of course, the White Southern ruling class never cared doodly squat about Southern Poor Whites.

    The mess in today’s Congress would be busted if Northern Republicans would vote to approve the budget and to increase the debt limit. Though American lips hesitate to form the words, I think we’re talking about a “ruling class” action, not a “white Southern” one. Chris Collins, a Republican congressman who represents a nearby district (in Western New York), is about as reactionary as they come, and it’s not because he grew up in North Carolina.

    • I suspect that growing up affluent and white in North Carolina might have something to do with it though.

  7. “The primary concern of the Tea Party is that the working poor not benefit from Obamacare in getting access to health insurance. (Many of the poor already have access to Medicaid; the Affordable Health Care Act mainly benefits workers who aren’t paid very well and don’t get insurance via their employers).”

    While Obamacare will help some low-income people, it comes up very short for many others. link to

    “Since the program is a government mandate that individuals buy private health insurance, moreover, it doesn’t actually cost the government much.”

    This helps to explain why insurance stocks jumped in value when Obamacare was approved.

      • This is from the latest “Public Citizen News”:

        “Although the ACA will bring some benefits to patients, millions of Americans will be left a day late and a dollar short – still uninsured after the ACA is fully implemented. That’s because many will not be able to afford health insurance, …”

        Anything less than single-payer or Medicare for all is defective.

  8. I have been really annoyed with affluent people who oppose policies ONLY because they might lose some money as the result of the policies. But today I realized something that made me think that I should not be surprised by such opposition.
    I grew up in a blue collar family that was neither affluent or poor. It taught me that being in the middle is nothing to be afraid of. But I think that I now realize if someone grew up in an affluent family they might be terrified of needng to downsize. That could mean that they would have to chose bwtween their winter vacation in Vail or the stable fees for their horse.
    A middle class or poor person would not have much symphathy for such a dilema but I can imagine that to an affluent person who has always been affluent such a situation could be as troubling for them as when us normal people have to chose which of our children is going to have to give up piano or karate lessons becasue there is not enough money for both. Or, which child will get new shoes this month because there is not enough money for two new pair of shoes.
    I would like to suggest a three pronged approach to convincing the affluent and rich to be more civic minded with their money. Some of the wealthy need to be reassured that having less money will not be as painful as they imagine it to be. Some of the wealthy need to mocked and ridiculed by their peers so that they are shamed by their behavior. Then in particularly stubborn cases the wealthy need to get a personally guided tour of the back rooms of a butcher shop to see how hamburger is really made. What is that machine called again? A wolfer?

  9. The ACA was severely damaged when states were allowed to opt out of medicaid expansion. Now, it seems that most of the states that are expanding medicaid are doing a bad job of getting the newly eligible enrolled.
    The Social Security Administration knows our income and age. Why don’t they just send medicaid cards to all the newly eligible?
    The poor and their supporters should be demanding that everyone making less than 15,000 gets medicaid now, and that there is sufficient funding so that they can get the healthcare they need.

    • “The ACA was severely damaged when states were allowed to opt out of medicaid expansion.”

      The ACA was severely damaged when Obama, on behalf of campaign donors, stacked the development team with insurance corporation insiders.

      “The poor and their supporters should be demanding …”

      The poor will not be listened to by the ruling political oligarchs and their plutocrat backers until there are more of them and enough to resist the police forces that will be dispatched to crush them back into silence.

      • And by “severely damaged,” you mean, of course, “was able to pass Congress.”

        And here you sit, pining away for the “undamaged” version that would have gotten 32 House votes, never even come up in the Senate, helped no one, and killed off health care reform for another twenty years.

        • Sez you, Joe. Sez many others, including this one:

          link to

          Too bad the “realists” had no intention of even trying to make the pitch. No money in that, of course…

          For a short taste of the multi-variate complexity beyond the zingers here, try this:

          link to

  10. Imagine a white landless laborer in the Reconstruction era. He may have just come off the battle field having defended a slave system that gave him no direct benefit. And now he must compete economically with what he would see as a morally inferior, lower class of men: former slaves.

    Politicians and preachers capitalized on this economic uncertainty in an environment of post civil war collapse. Integration was out of the question. The social and economic hierarchy was to be kept in check via voting taxes, segregated everything, and a threat of violence from klans. The isolation of former slaves helped to unify poor whites with the 1% of the day.

    Not much has really changed in 150 years.

    The modern day Republican party spends a lot of time reinforcing the idea of an economic threat coming from “those people”, immigrants included, who might just leapfrog ahead with undeserved free gov’ment assistance in the form of health care or a welfare check.

    The bait was taken in 1860 and many responded by giving their own life. Again the bait will be taken now because keeping “those people” down is more important than anything else.

  11. The policies of the DLC Free Trade NAFTAcratic Party have been more detrimental to working class white Americans than anything the Tea Party has achieved so far. I wonder how many Tea Party supporters were primed for Tea Partyism by having their jobs exported and lives destroyed by the Free Trade Mass-Jobicide of the last few decades? If we are really looking to blame somebody for the rise of Tea Partyism,
    do the Free Trade Clintocrats deserve some of that blame?

  12. Getting scientists and liberals so fed up they emigrate is seen as a feature, not as a bug. And with Harper in Canada, there is no point crossing our northern border -you got to cross the ocean -and possibly learn a new language.

    NSF had to throw in the towel on this years Antarctic research season. Again this is a feature, not a bug, “better not to know what climate change is doing”

  13. my mother fought integration, protested in the streets of New Orleans to keep the schools white. the judge Skelly Wright, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, who helped uphold this integration was nicknamed Smelly Wright. i didn’t know who he was, but i knew what they were talking about. New Orleans is now more segregated than before “integration”. talk about irony!!!

    Johnson was right. the Right, through Reagan in particular, brilliantly played upon the fears of the White Middle Class in the South. I’m from New Orleans, and white Flight was just the visible sign of the effect of this fear of the OTHER in this city and others. the damage done to our Society is incalculable. we have a long road to go to undo this “fear and scaremongering” one group (R’s) used to “scam” the White Middle Class.

    Destroying Society, dumbing down education, ruining unions/workers’ income by destroying Patco, Reagan’s first step to ripping out the social cohesion of the working class, and the various steps the Right used to “divide and conquer” worked so effectively and so efficiently through the years. and the fight has never stopped since.

    we are now at a point where the Right has long owned Congress and we will see how much they “demand” in their “vision” of America. These Old White People are still living in the 60’s. or in the Reagan Republican’s Version of what America was to sold to the Middle Class, aka Southern Strategy, thanks to Lee Atwater. As those of us who choose to see, reality is quite different, America is far different from America of yesterday. Change is unstoppable.

    Fear works wonders, as the ascendency of the Right Republican Wing has proven. When the Blacks sang the song “We Shall Overcome”, little did they know the White Right wing Republicans would adopt this as theirs as payback for the Civil Rights Acts. irony is way deep here.

    the Republicans figured how to game the American Democracy and here we are today. to expect the Right to stop or accept less if naivete. will we return to the open violence of yesterday or will this war on the American Middle Class succeed in the quiet it has festered in since Kennedy was killed. Load the Court system with nutcases, deny alternatives and demand fealty to the Republican “WAY.” the 11th Commandment of never disagreeing with the Republican Party. Communism Party Republican style.

    we have to own up to our history or as someone said, we will be condemned to repeat it. the Past is also not past either. the Past is here and now today. the Civil War was never ended as the Right wing Republicans have shown us today and since the Civil Right Acts were passed. the Threat of Equality is not to be doubted. to think we shed all that blood just to have this fester interminably. now, however, i think we can see this “bubble up” all over the place.

    My mother never thought she was wrong, only doing what she “thought” was right. the far reaching lessons on the use of fear are never to be underestimated. She was wrong about integration, though she was raised to fear the other. the fear of the Black man in the South is our “heritage” and it worked wonders for those who used “this fear” as a tool. Are we going to face our fears or are we going to let “fear” become the mindkiller and use us?

    Still can hardly believe you would dare cite this for your post, Mr. Cole. taboos fall hard. at least in Southern society.

  14. Ugh! Same old same old. “The Republicans are gonna do this, the Republicans are gonna do that”, “The Tea Party is gonna do this, the Tea Party is gonna do that!” until the country is driven to a compromise that is exactly what the hard right wants – and look at the causes for which they fight. Denial of health care. Shredding of the social contract.

    The despise everything that is fundamentally decent, right, and just. They will fight to the last man to deny children food, women access to health care, the poor access to a living wage. And their supporters are so stupid that they don’t understand that social programs function as a type of insurance for everyone, themselves included.

    What I want to know is when oh when will the Left get the balls to stand up and threaten default over something that really matters, as in, “You use false ‘intelligence’ to threaten war and we’ll move to default”; “We’ll shutdown the government unless you relinquish war criminals such as Dick Cheney and John Yoo to a court of law”; or, more pertinent to this post, “Publicly rebuff the racist hate-mongering of the talk-radio wing of your party, make them pariahs, and purge the GOP of its John-Birch element or we’ll repeal all tax cuts from Reagan on” (hey, they hold a gun to Obamacare, why not hold a gun to some of their beloved legislation!)

    But no – the Dems will once again bring a knife to a gun fight, and the “reasonable” will I’m sure prevail. The problem is, the reasonable has a strange definition – it includes the acceptable as children going hungry, students in debt servitude, women as second, nay third class citizens, and people sick or worse for lack of health care. It probably also includes exorbitant military spending. It is truly peculiar what passes for reasonable in our country.

  15. I don’t understand why the Tea Party and some members of the GOP won’t put their personal agendas against Barack Obama aside and help to get this country on the right track.

    • It is because they are locked into their positions with an authoritarian attitude that they are right and everyone else is wrong and they’re not about to compromise.

      They do deserve some credit for having the determination to fight for what they believe in as opposed to the Democrats who have settled for the wimpy route and posing as the lesser evil. Ralph Nader expands on this theme at link to

  16. That headline is pretty funny and this post is spot on. People don’t openly talk much about this phenomena, but it’s absolutely true. I remember in the 1980s my conservative friends and family (I grew up, and still live, in the deep South) were gloating that “all the White people were going to end up in the Republican party and all the Black people in the Democratic party”. They actually thought this would be a good thing. I tried, with zero success, to explain why this would not be a good thing for the Republican party. I think some of them are starting to get it.

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