Saturday, February 20, 2010

Angry White Christians, Part I

We're going to listen to the Tea Party movement. While the other side is busy mocking the Tea Party movement, we're going to listen to them, we're going to walk amongst them, we're going to stand with them...We all know there is a political rebellion brewing in America.
GOP House Minority Leader John Boehner

The latest CNN poll reveals that the Tea Party Movement that has gained followers over the past year is made up of mostly Christians...

Tea Party/ Other Respondents
Protestant 68% / 50%
Catholic 16% / 22%
Jewish * / 1%
Other 6% / 12%
None 9% / 14%

...and white...

White 80% / 71%
African-American 2% / 11%
Latino 10% / 11%

What exactly is the Tea Party platform? The general consensus after the first ever convention a couple of weeks ago in Nashville is that they are (1) against public spending and bigger government; (2) against deficits and (3) against raising taxes of any sort. In short, they want small government.

Specifics are unveiled when we analyze the content of Tea Party convention speakers. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said, "People who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House." There's plenty to question in that statement. It echoes the use of literacy tests in the Jim Crow South after the Civil War and it uses name-calling to inspire folks who clearly do not understand what "socialism" is. Tancredo defended his statements just a few days ago after getting a lot of heat from leaders all over the political spectrum:

The failure of our government schools in both missions -- literacy and civic virtues -- continues to escape the attention of alleged leaders in both political parties.

The requirement of a basic test of civic literacy (the same one we give immigrants) in order to vote would at least send a message that voting is an important responsibility that should not be granted simply because a person can put an "X" in a spot on a ballot.

Sarah Palin was the keynote speaker at the Tea Party Convention where she criticized Obama's foreign policy as too conciliatory...

Our President spent a year reaching out to hostile regimes, writing personal letters to dangerous dictators, and apologizing for America. And what do we have to show for that? Here’s what we have to show. North Korea tested nuclear weapons and longer range ballistic missiles. Israel, a friend and a critical ally, now question[s] the strength of our supports. Plans for a missile defense system in Europe? They’ve been scrapped. Relations with China and Russia are no better. And relations with Japan -- that key Asian ally -- they’re in the worse shape in years.

...and his stimulus package as a form of bribery...

When Washington passed a 787 billion dollar "stimulus bill," we were nervous because they just spent 700 billion dollars to bailout Wall Street. And on the state level, as a governor, we knew that a lot of that money came with fat strings attached. The federal government was going to have more control over our states. They were going to disrespect the 10th Amendment of our Constitution by essentially bribing us with, "Take this federal money" (and then we're going to be able to mandate a few more things on you though.)

At its core, the Tea Party Movement seems to be quite cynical of anything that government has to offer. They have embraced the self-fulfilling prophecy that big government does not work and will never work and can only be summed up as "socialist" or "communist." It is a faction that detests the power of big business, but refuses to allow big government to regulate it. The use of fear and manipulation by those behind the scenes like Glenn Beck is staggering. These white conservative Christians cling to the status quo. They want their America back. The irony is that the past 30 years of unregulated, free market capitalism, coupled with aggressive military spending and geopolitical intervention, has been the actual problem, not the longed for solution. The platform of the Tea Party has dug its own grave.

While the Tea Party calls for smaller government, it is vital to point out that the size of non-military discretionary spending (when compared to the rest of the economy) peaked in 1983 and has gone down since. What has become bloated is military and entitlement (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) spending. The influence of corporations and financial institutions in regards to US government policy, the electoral process and the economy has skyrocketed as Congress, the President and the Supreme Court (each in a variety of ways) have embraced a more and more deregulated relationship with them. And in regards to the actual debt, the curve doesn't lie (note the dramatic shift since the beginning of the "age of Reagan"):

...and our current deficit is in large part due to the Bush hangover. So, the obvious question, why is this movement emerging now? Why all the "fascist" and "socialist" labels aimed at this President? The question remains unanswered...we can only speculate.

As Robert Reich compellingly proposes in Supercapitalism (2007), the problem is not bigger government, but a "incredibly shrinking democracy." As corporate competition has intensified in the past few decades, they have been forced to spend millions upon millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers to get an edge with government and economic policy (or block their rivals from getting an edge). The rules need to change. This will take sensible government intervention to severely limit the role corporations and financial institutions play in our society. Let's give the people their America back.

*In the days ahead, look for our sequel post Angry White Christians, Part II. We will analyze the distinct brand of American Christianity that, not only coddles, but inspires and shapes this kind of mad-as-hell movement.

--Theological Autopilot

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