Tag Archives: Tea Party

Morgan Freeman: Tea Party’s Racist Attack on Obama

Their [the Tea Party]stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term,” Freeman noted. “What underlines that? ‘Screw the country. We’re going to whatever we can to get this black man outta here.”‘ Piers Morgan

 

In the Social Security Debate, Today’s Democrats Are Worse Than Yesterday’s Republicans

Having “retooled’’ his Presidency for a more open accommodation of the center right, Obama will soon be overseeing the battle to launch a dismantling of the Social Security system.

His government has, from the start, been reminiscent of the Clinton years, so it’s safe to say that we can expect more triangulation. Clinton’s adoption of Republican tropes led him to fulfill some of the conservatives’ fondest dreams: His administration countenanced the demise of the banking regulations originally established by the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act, and the destruction of the welfare system established in the 1930s and expanded in the 1960s. Obama will provide much the same function on Social Security. Without entirely destroying the popular program, he will support cuts that go beyond anything that should rightly happen during a Democratic administration.

Of course, the Democrats will say that it isn’t their fault: It all happened because of that horrid Tea Party, dragging conservative Republicans even further to the right. This suggests that Democrats had no choice but to head them off at the rightward pass, as if standing and fighting simply wasn’t an option—and as if they didn’t still hold the Senate and the White House.  

What makes this especially disconcerting, for anyone who has lived long enough to remember earlier political eras, is how favorably the Republicans of the past compare to the Democrats of the present on many points.

Tracking back to the New Deal, one can find Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio—the most prominent conservative Republican of his time, later identified by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage as one of the five most important senators in history–registering his support for Social Security. A champion of private enterprise and enemy of labor unions, Taft bashed Roosevelt’s “socialistic” programs every which way, fighting to reduce runaway government and even opposing entry into World War II. But at the height of the Great Depression, he also supported the new Social Security program, as well as public housing and public education.

Taft embodied the tenets of Main Street middle western life before the Second World War. And he was not unreservedly laissez faire, nor was he anti-government. He believed in the intervention and utility of the federal government where he deemed it necessary, and that included providing an adequate, if not generous, public welfare system.

Taft ran for president three times and never made it. But Eisenhower, the war hero who became a popular Republican president, carried some of these same basic tenets into the postwar era. Eisenhower was not opposed to federal intervention in the economy and, for example, backed the creation of an interstate highway system, which became a vast public works program. And Eisenhower not only supported Social Security, but took steps to enlarge the program. According to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission:

Dwight Eisenhower was the principal force behind the greatest single expansion of Social Security beneficiaries in the history of the program. He led the legislative drive to add over ten million Americans to the system. Here’s how it developed.

When the Social Security Act became law in 1935 its purposes were primarily aimed at factory workers and other employees of business organizations. The legislative process leading to passage of the law was both lengthy and contentious. Large numbers of working American’s were left out of the original Old Age and Survivors Insurance coverage. No major changes in the Social Security law had been made since its initial passage.

During the presidential campaign of 1952, candidate Eisenhower made it clear that he believed the federal government played a rightful role in establishing the Social Security system, but he made no promises concerning its future. However, after the election it became clear that the Republicans would have control, by slim margins, of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This changed the political and legislative landscape considerably.

Previously, expansion of the Social Security system or increasing the level of payments to retired Americans had been given no chance to succeed in the Congress because there were enough conservative Democrats (and the majority of Republicans) who would vote against such bills. With a Republican President it now appeared likely that the majority of congressional Republicans would honor their President and support his initiatives. Among the new legislative possibilities, action on Social Security now seemed possible.

Thirteen days after taking his oath of office, President Eisenhower delivered his first State of the Union message to Congress and, when discussing the need for greater effectiveness of government programs, he said, “The provisions of the old-age and survivors insurance law should promptly be extended to cover millions of citizens who have been left out of the social security system.”

The following week, during a White House meeting of the House and Senate Republican leadership, Eisenhower brought up the Social Security expansion proposal and asked America’s most famous living conservative, Senator Robert A. Taft, if he would support the initiative. When he received a positive reply he knew that the possible had just become the probable. Before the end of the month, Eisenhower appointed a presidential commission to study the Social Security system’s deficiencies and submit a detailed report on specific reform measures. In his public statement creating the commission, the President said, “It is a proper function of government to help build a sturdy floor over the pit of personal disaster, and to this objective we are all committed.”

Those opposed to the initiative stressed their belief that retirement income was the responsibility of every individual and the federal government should not be involved. One citizen should not have to pay for the old age necessities of another. President Eisenhower responded to this notion during his press conference on June 17, 1953 with these remarks: “A strict application, let us say, of economic theory, at least as taught by Adam Smith, would be, ‘Let these people take care of themselves; during their active life they are supposed to save enough to take care of themselves.’ In this modern industry, dependent as we are on mass production, and so on, we create conditions where that is no longer possible for everybody. So the active part of the population has to take care of all the population, and if they haven’t been able during the course of their active life to save up enough money, we have these systems.”

You know it’s a measure of how far this country has moved to the right that someone like myself could wax nostalgic for the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft. (Next stop: Remembrances of the Nixon years, when the richest Americans were taxed at a rate of 70 percent.) Yet now we see the historic approach of these two major Republicans figures—the icon of the Senate and the storied war hero—submerged beneath the threat of the Tea Party adherents. And it is all happening under the listless hand of Obama, while the Democratic mainstream sits passively back and watches the demise of the programs that made their party great.

In the end, history most likely will judge that the final blows against the New Deal came not from the Republicans, but from weak or opportunistic Democratic politicians–first Clinton, then Obama.

Tea Party Gets Old People to Drink the Kool-Aid

By now, it’s common knowledge that older people make up a large portion of the so-called Tea Party Movement. My Mother Jones colleague Andy Kroll confirmed this once again in his report on the recent Faith and Freedom  Coalition confab here in Washington, where he described “the right’s geriatric game plan” for the midterm elections.

Pundits have trotted out various theories to explain the oldsters’ taste for Tea (they’re scared; they’re racists; they’re just plain dumb). Whatever the reason, I think it must involve some instinct toward masochism or martyrdom. How else to explain why these old folks would support politicians who want to dismantle the very social programs upon which their comfort–and possibly their very lives–depend? It looks to me like the aging right-wingers have been convinced to drink the Kool-Aid, and now they are sipping their way toward a mass suicide that will make Jim Jones’s endeavor seem like  a drop in the bucket.

I know. You think  these are the ravings of yet another demented geezer. But take a look at what the members of Congress aligned with the Tea Party have to say about Social  Security and Medicare, which alone are responsible for lifting millions of seniors out of abject, body-and-soul-destroying poverty. Referring to these old-age entitlements as a loathsome  form of “welfare,” Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann says that once the Tea Partiers gain power, they can get rid of Social Security in one long weekend. No need for the niceties of Alan Simpson’s entitlement-cutting Cat Food Commission; Bachmann wants to simply kill this New Deal relic once and for all. 

Bachmann made her pronouncements in Las Vegas at the  Rightonline Conference sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which is run by David Koch. As Sodahead reported:

There, more than 1,000 Tea Partiers — the majority of whom are over the age of 45 — sat in rapt silence as Bachmann outlined a plan to end Social Security for all those who will be under the age of 65 at the time her potential dream Congress enacts the legislation.The growth of the federal debt and deficit require a drastic cutback in federal spending, Bachmann said. “Spending comes first, so we have to cut it first,” she explained, speaking of her plan to devastate Social Security. “And in my opinion, it’ll take us about a long weekend to get that done, and then we’ll be fine.”

For those between the ages of 55 and 65 at the time Bachmann’s Kill Social Security Plan hypothetically passes into law, there would be a means-tested program for “those who truly need it — the truly disadvantaged, those who truly can’t go forward.” For everybody else, there would be unspecified “alternatives and adjustments.” Those under the age of 55 would apparently be squat out of luck, regardless of how truly disadvantaged they are. From the assembled Tea Partiers, not a discouraging word was heard, even as Bachmann outlined a plan to essentially rob them of the money they’ve been putting into the system all their lives.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in April, 46 percent of Tea Party supporters fall into the 45-64 age group. (Untouched by the Bachmann plan would be the 29 percent of Tea Party supporters the poll cited as being over the age of 64.) The same survey revealed that among 47 percent of self-identified Tea Party supporters, either they or a member of their household was receiving Social Security retirement benefits. When asked whether the outlay for programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the taxpayer expense, 62 percent said they were.

As if this weren’t enough, some Republicans have suggested that if they take Congress in November, they may at some point force a government shutdown, on the model of the Clinton years. As Bob Cesca points out, one of the first thing that  happens when the government shuts down is–no more Social Security checks (and no Medicare payments, either.) So even if Bachman’s radical plan fails, the Tea Party oldsters may succeed in screwing themselves–and taking the rest of us geezers along with them.

Right Wing Gun Group Puts “ObamaCare” in Its Crosshairs

Right-wingers have depicted health care reform as a front for various dastardly schemes, which include everything from killing off grannies and unborn babies to ushering in a socialist state. Now, one radical gun rights group sees yet another hidden agenda behind the reform effort: The health care legislation, they say, threatens their right to bear arms.   

D.C. Tea Party protest, September 12, 2009

The accusation comes from Gun Owners of America, a 300,000-member group that proudly advertises itself with a quotation from Ron Paul: “The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.” The GOA has been described as “eight lanes to the right” of the NRA, which it tends to dismiss as a pack of wussy sell-outs; and the group’s longtime leader, Larry Pratt, was booted from Pat Buchanan’s inner circle for having ties to the militia movement and hobnobbing with white nationalists.

Yet, like the Tea Partiers who draw Republican Congressional leaders to their racially tinged protests against “National Socialist Health Care,” the Gun Owners of America could well influence the reform debate in ways that belie their extremist status. GOA has thrown itself wholeheartedly into the battle for the soul of the GOP, pledging to help oust “RINOs” and other insufficiently trigger-happy Republicans in the 2010 primaries. And last week the Washington Post reported that the GOA’s campaign against health care reform could also “cause political indigestion for Democrats from conservative states,” and have some influence on their final votes.

In fact, no version of the reform legislation even mentions firearms. But that hasn’t stopped the Virginia-based group from raising the alarm about what it calls the “anti-gun ObamaCare bill.” In its most recent alerts, the GOA has fixed on the proposal for a nationwide system of electronic health care records, which, it says, “will most likely dump your gun-related health data into a government database….This includes any firearms-related information your doctor has gleaned or any determination of post traumatic stress disorder or something similar, that can preclude you from owning firearms.”

In other words, better record-keeping and information-sharing might lead some people to be denied gun permits on the basis of serious mental illness. Presumably, this could include people like Cho Seung-Hui, the student who gunned down 32 others before killing himself in the 2007 Viriginia Tech massacre. Less than two years before the shooting, a state court order had directed that Cho be taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation, declaring the young man mentally ill and “an imminent danger to himself or others.” (He was later ordered into outpatient treatment and released.) But Virginia failed to supply this information to the FBI-monitored National Instant Criminal Background Check System, so Cho was able to purchase two semi-automatic pistols in local gun stores, along with two ten-round magazines of ammo on eBay. After the massacre, even George W. Bush willingly signed a new gun control bill—the first in 13 years. But Gun Owners of America doesn’t think insanity is necessarily incompatible with gun ownership. (The group also has a novel approach to such massacres: Put more guns in schools.)

A GOA alert earlier this fall was titled “ObamaCare Could be Used to Ban Guns in Home Self-Defense.” Their premise, as described by PolitiFact, is that “in a bid to control spiraling health care costs, the administration will target people who have ‘excessively dangerous’ behaviors that officials believe raise the cost of health care.”  The legislation’s “special ‘wellness and prevention’ programs” the GOA warns, “would allow the government to offer lower premiums to employers who bribe their employees to live healthier lifestyles — and nothing within the bill would prohibit rabidly anti-gun HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from decreeing that ‘no guns’ is somehow healthier.” (Sibelius earned GOA’s unending wrath when she vetoed concealed-carry gun legislation as governor of Kansas.) “It is even possible that the Obama-prescribed policy could preclude [insurance] reimbursement of any kind in a household which keeps a loaded firearm for self-defense.”

Such dire prognostications are quickly spreading far beyond the GOA’s membership. The Washington Examiner quoted Dave Kopel, research director of the libertarian Independence Institute of Colorado, who said, “The more you socialize costs, the more you empower the argument that the government has the authority to control private behavior.” Kopel continued, “If [the Department of Health and Human Services] can write regulations for lower premiums for healthy habits in general…”Then I don’t see anything in the bill that stops HHS from saying people get higher premiums for unhealthy habits such as owning a gun or a handgun.”

With Republicans sticking to party-line votes against health care reform, the GOA is going after what it sees as vulnerable Democrats. After the Senate cloture vote, GOA attacked Democrats from Conservative states who “were bribed into selling out the American people because Harry Reid ordered them to do so,” and declared: “Can you spell R-E-C-A-L-L?  GOA is looking into which states are the best targets for recalls–and you can be sure that we will be pursuing this option aggressively, exposing the Senators who sold their vote.” It provided a model letter for its members to send, which begins: “Just so you know, I will not forget how you voted on Saturday, November 21 when you threw your support in favor of anti-gun socialized health care.”

But if Democrats like Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln or Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu are swayed by the likes of the GOA, it will mark a new low in the party’s capitulation not only to conservatives, but to extremists of a truly hateful variety. While his views on some subjects may not represent all GOA’s members, Larry Pratt, who has been the group’s executive director for 26 years, has been up to his neck in far-right extremist activity for several decades—an outrider among the pistol-packing white power crowd, and a fellow traveler and inspiration to the militias that sprung up in the 1990s.

Leonard Zeskind, the expert on white nationalist movements, has described Pratt as having “one foot in the political mainstream and the other in the fringe.” Pratt comes out of Fairfax, Virginia, and served two terms in the state legislature in the 1980s, arguing an anti-abortion, anti-tax line. But he made national headlines in 1996, while he was co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign, after news surfaced on his attendance at a meeting of the racialist far right in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1992. As described by Zeskind, in an article for Rolling Stone:

The three-day strategy session was organized by Pete Peters…who pastors to members of a fringe religious group called [Christian] Identity. Identity doctrine contends that Northern Europeans are racial descendants of the biblical Hebrews; that our government is in the hands of satanic Jews; and that black people were created before Adam and are therefore less than human. Identity believers have begun to stockpile weapons, food and supplies in preparation for Armageddon, which they think will be a race war in the United States.

Among the speakers were Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and legendary Klansman Louis Beam. And as Zeskind writes, “Although many of the participants had met before, this gathering was different. This meeting marked the birth of the modern militia movement that would tie well-armed radicals to gun advocates in a right-wing national network.” Beam laid out his theory for carrying forward a white revolution against the Zionist Occupied Government by means of a “leaderless resistence” cell strategy. Instead of mass organizations with known chains of command, Beam said, right wing revolutionaries should go underground in secret cells, unknown and unrelated to one another. The cells could number a few or many members, or individuals could act on their own as so-called Phineas Priests. It’s not a stretch to say that this meeting, and the ideas and energy that came from it, may have helped inspire not only the modern Militia Movement, but also crimes ranging from the murders of abortion providers to the Oklahoma City bombing.

And in the midst of it all was Larry Pratt. Lenny Zeskind describes the GOA leader’s appearance at the meeting:

Pratt stood at the podium and peered out from behind his glasses. He confessed to the crowd of gun lovers that he wasn’t a particularly good shot or an enthusiastic hunter. “I bought my first gun in 1968, during the riots in Washington, D.C.” that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he said. At the time all he could buy was a shotgun. “If they’d had that assault rifle, so-called, for sale, and I’d seen that big old magazine there at the time, that’s exactly what I would have bought.”

Pratt, who had studied the evolution of death squads in places like Guatemala and the Philippines and glorified these vigilante groups, joined Beam in providing inspiration for a revived militia movement. He argued the importance of the old-style posse, organized in militias. In his book Blood and Politics, Zeskind quotes from Pratt’s writing: “When the government no longer fears the people, atrocities become possible….Long live the militia! Long live freedom! Long live a government that fears the people.”

Larry Pratt's facebook photo. (He has 3,021 friends.)

Pratt’s history, in general, exemplifies the blurred boundaries between the “mainstream” and the “fringe”—the right and the extremist (and usually racist) far right. In addition to GOA, Pratt set up the Committee to Protect the Family Foundation, which attacked gays and demanded a quarantine for anyone with AIDS. “Our judges coddle criminals instead of caring for the victims of crime. They’ve chased God out of our schools, defended abortions…and now they are trying to infect us with strange and horrible diseases.” He was a keen backer of Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, and when the government shutdown OR’s finances, Pratt’s Protect the Family Foundation raised money to help pay off the groups debts and fines. And Pratt is also a founder of the anti-immigrant groups U.S. Border Patrol and English First, and a contributing editor to a periodical of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America.

Pratt has said that he is not a racist or a violent revolutionary, though his record suggests otherwise. And the apparent mainstream influence of a radical group like GOA seems especially sinister at this historical moment. We live at a time when the election of the first black president has sparked an explosion in gun sales, and when attendees at anti-health care reform town halls carry assault weapons and signs saying “It is time to water the tree of liberty” (with the “blood of patriots and tyrants” as the quotation continues). All of which is just fine with the Gun Owners of America. Commenting on the idea of “Americans openly carrying firearms outside presidential appearances,”Pratt told CBS News that “the most remarkable thing about this is that some find this behavior to be remarkable.” A few days later, Chris Matthews asked GOA spokesperson John Velleco whether people attending a presidential event should “be allowed to walk in the door armed… Should they be allowed to come into the president’s company and sit in the first row with a loaded gun?” Velleco said that would be fine with him.

In times like this, accommodating the likes of Pratt and the GOA–over health care reform or anything else–is playing with fire.

GOP to America: Get Real, You Are “Over-Insured”

Going into the House health care debate and vote tomorrow, it pays to keep in mind what the Republican party has identified as the real problem with American health care. I’ve mentioned this before as a longstanding tenet of conservative thinking, but Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly sums it up succinctly one more time. They quote former Congressman Dick Armey, the guru of the tea party crowd, saying, “The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured.”

There it is, the right’s philosophy on American health care in 17 words. Most of us think the problem with the existing system is that we pay too much, get too little, and leave too many behind. Dick Armey sees the existing system and thinks we’d all be better off with less coverage. Lest anyone think this is unique to Armey, the opposite is true. A few years ago, during Bush’s pitch in support of health saving accounts, the LA Times’ Peter Gosselin explained, “Most conservatives — including those in the [Bush] administration — believe that the root cause of most problems with the nation’s healthcare system is that most Americans are over-insured.”

Just two months ago, Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal making the same case. “When was the last time you asked your doctor how much it would cost for a necessary test or procedure?” they asked, making the case that consumers need more “control … over their care.”

It’s all premised on the notion that health insurance encourages medical treatments. If we have coverage, we might get tests and procedures that we wouldn’t get if weren’t so darned insured. Less coverage means fewer costs.