Government Shutdown 2013: Why Is The Tea Party So Extreme?

Column

 @JosephLazzaro
on October 05 2013 2:48 PM
  • US Gov Shutdown Tea Party 4Oct2013 4
    A citizen from Virginia carries signs in support of the Obama administration in front of the White House in Washington on day 4 of the government shutdown. His GOP-leaning state is among those that stand to lose the most from a prolonged shutdown. Reuters
  • US Gov Shutdown 4Oct2013 2
    An adult joins a rally with Congressional Progressive Caucus to demand a vote to end the government shutdown, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 4, 2013. Reuters
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In this chat about the Tea Party and other like-minded conservatives, let’s make one thing clear: what the minority Tea Party faction advocates – threatening to trigger a U.S. government debt default, plunge the U.S. economy into a recession and global financial markets into turmoil if a health care law they oppose is not repealed – is wrong.

However, if one understands how they see the world – understands what their ideological prism presents to them, one quickly learns that the Tea Party’s stance is logical - based on the group’s flawed premises - but also destructive, and ultimately, untenable.

Many people are wondering what are the reasons / what’s driving the Tea Party’s and other conservatives’ extremism? Glad you asked: there are two reasons. 

Reason 1: The End Of The Cold War

The first reason concerns the end of the Cold War in 1991. The dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fall of Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Europe represented glorious events for almost all Americans and other people who love freedom.

However, it was not such a happy time for conservatives: it was bitter-sweet. The upside was, of course, hundreds of millions more people in Europe and elsewhere living in freedom and (hopefully) under democratically-elected governments.

The downside? However, unfortunately for defense contractors and others work in the U.S. Department of Defense community, the end of the Cold War was not good, economically: it meant less government spending on defense – which means lower profits. In some cases, it meant people were out of business or out of work.

However, the end of the Cold War meant less government spending on defense, that is, if conservatives could not find a new ‘communist threat’ or ‘communist’ or ‘enemy’ to drive defense spending.

Many scholars argue that the United States overspent on defense during the Cold War – and particularly from the Reagan administration (1981-1989) through the Bush 43 presidency (end of 2008). Further, the argument forwarded here is that exaggerated concerns about the Soviet threat propped-up defense spending from 1961-1991. In other words, conservatives needed to create an artificial high threat of a Soviet attack to justify very high defense spending. However, once the Cold War ended, it became impossible for conservatives to try to justify a bloated defense budget on protection from Soviet communism grounds: the Soviets no longer existed.

And that brings us to the first reason why the Tea Party – and conservatives before them in the Republican Party – have been so anti-Obama - almost maniacal - and why they were so anti-Bill Clinton in the 1990s: Clinton and Obama are the new ‘communists’ for conservatives.

Do not misunderstand: former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama are not communists. They just became the new, biggest enemies of conservatives. In other words, the ideological right has used both Clinton and Obama to both rev-up conservative funding raising and, more importantly, to maintain the military industrial complex of contractors and companies that the power base in the Republican Party - its biggest constituency - disproportionately benefits from.

In other words, the ideological right crowned Clinton and Obama as its new enemies, its new ‘communists’ to make up for the end of the Cold War.  

Doubt the above? How else can one explain the obsessive, extreme, hyper-partisan stance against Clinton, a centrist Democratic? Further, Republicans even impeached him for partisan reasons. Clinton was, of course, to the surprise of few, acquitted of the flimsy (from a U.S. constitution standpoint) charges against him. Conservative Republicans’ animosity and behavior toward Clinton looks beyond harsh and baffling – until one factors in the end of the Cold War. Exit Soviets as enemy, and enter Clinton as ‘enemy’ and one can understand the logic – but not accept the unfairness and absurdity – of the spasms by the right in the 1990s.

Further, the hope by some U.S. public policy watchers was that conservatives’ ‘Democratic-president-as-new-enemy’ stance would end during the presidency of Barack Obama. Nope. It got worse. Substantially worse. Conservatives’ animosity toward a Democratic president in this century, including both blatant and subtle racism - amplified by the increased audience reach of right wing talk radio and Fox News - has been as vile and as reprehensible as that which President John F. Kennedy suffered in the early 1960s. And it’s perhaps the second worst level of citizen and party vileness expressed since that which was endured by President Abraham Lincoln during and after the Civil War.

Reason 2: Obamacare Could Changes Things, A Lot

The second reason for the Tea Party’s and conservatives’ extremism concerns the quality of life improvement / impact of Obamacare, formally the Affordable Care Act. In a nutshell - Obamacare is going to improve the lives of tens of millions of the newly-insured Americans substantially.

Obamacare also, as New York Times business journalist Eduardo Porto argued, fundamentally changes the relationship between working Americans and their government – the logical extension of which is an existential threat to the small-government credo that has defined the Republican Party for four decades.

I argue even further: The Affordable Care Act, by finally giving the working poor, the free-lance graphic artist, the day laborer, the retail chain store salesperson, the restaurant worker, the for-contract custodian, the small shop mechanic, the 5-person lawn mowing company, and the nanny a chance to purchase health insurance at a group rate – aided by a federal subsidy – on a par with full-time corporate employees, takes U. S. society one substantive step away from its rewarding but harsh corporate capitalist economic system with a too-thin social welfare state and toward a more-humane, compassionate and just social democracy.

To be sure, Obamacare is not perfect: there will be changes to fill coverage gaps, lower costs, and produce even more efficiencies – and hopefully these changes will lead to 100% of Americans being covered by health insurance in the decade ahead. But to be even more sure: Obamacare is a substantial safety net improvement for the United States – one that’s decades overdue: every modern, western democracy in the G-8 has a universal health insurance policy. It’s a civilizational and social advance that will lead to an economically stronger United States because more of its citizens will be healthier, and by extension, even stronger and more productive. These individuals will also be able to lead fuller lives.

What’s more, many of these lower-income citizens will be purchasing health insurance and receiving treatment for the first time in years; some for the first time ever! Working class families who went without health care services for years after they lost insurance after a lay-off during the Great Recession will resume having their children see the doctor regularly, and have their own medical conditions addressed! Can you imagine the stress relief and peace of mind many of these citizens will feel? It is an enormous relief and, from a basic-needs standpoint, a substantial social advance for the United States.

And, as one might sense, no doubt millions of these Obamacare-enabled health insurance subscribers are going to vote for the party that passed the law and achieved the social change: the Democratic Party.

In other words, similar to when other major social advances occurred with the passage of Social Security and Medicare, Obamacare, because it addresses and will solve a social problem and improve the quality of life of some of the least fortunate in our society, is going to increase the number of registered Democrats, as well as Independents who vote for Democrats. Solving this social problem is great news for the nation and for the Democratic Party. But it is not good news for the Republican Party.

Extremism That Is Logical, But Also Destructive And Untenable

Hence, one can now see the reason for the Tea Party’s and conservatives’ extremism toward Democrat presidents: it is quite logical, but oh so destructive for the nation, and, ultimately untenable. First, Soviet communism doesn’t exist any more to justify conservatives’ propagandizing on why military spending must far too high, hence the right created, with considerable success, a new ‘enemy of the nation’ in the Democratic president. Any Democratic president. Each Democratic president must be portrayed by the right as being the ‘enemy’ or a ‘communist’ because absent a ‘threat’ it’s really hard to justify the U.S.’s bloated defense budget, (which disproportionately benefits Republican defense contractors), and also hard to motivate Independents, who sway back and forth, to vote Republican. Second, because the Affordable Care Act will succeed, because it will solve a major social problem, creating a more humane and compassionate society – one that’s likely to benefit the Democratic Party at the polls – it must be vehemently and fanatically opposed.

Now in the early fall 2013 the Tea Party and other conservatives appear ready to try to hold the American people and the U.S. economy hostage again over even bigger stakes – this time threatening to trigger a catastrophic U.S. government debt default if others don’t agree to their hostage demands. It’s the latest and potentially the most damaging extortion effort by this destructive faction that has previously: 1) held the nation hostage in the 2011 debt crisis, 2) hurt the U.S. economy with budget cuts during the 2012 fiscal cliff and 3) refused to denounce elements in their coalition that slander President Obama by calling him a socialist, a foreigner, the anti-Christ and other descriptives that cannot be repeated here.

The view from here argues that the American people are gradually but inexorably seeing the Tea Party and other like-mind conservatives for what their faction is: a destructive, spiteful, reckless faction – utterly incapable of solving the nation’s social problems and governing a diverse, complex, postmodern society.

In short, the American people are beginning to realize that the Tea Party faction does not have the answers.

The Tea Party knows it does not have the answers, either. Moreover, the Tea Party also knows that better society is coming largely from liberal / progressive ideas and a more activist, responsive, redistributive government that helps achieve the common good.

And now you know why the Tea Party and like-minded conservatives must call every Democratic president a socialist or a ‘communist’ and fanatically and recklessly oppose the nation’s universal health insurance system. 

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