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Desperate Measures

We are a divided country, but that division is as old as it is deep. The first battle in this never-ending policy war was in 1776, when Thomas Jefferson presented the Declaration of Independence to the Second Continental Congress. Rather than describing their cause as a rebellion of one group of elites (landed colonists) against another (Britain’s monarchy and Parliament), Jefferson described it in terms of human rights—as the quest for a society where everyone is seen as equally human. In his immortal words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Jefferson realized that it made no sense to base a new nation on the principle of “liberty and equality for all” as long as some its people were enslaved by others, so the first draft of the Declaration also renounced slavery. Jefferson accused King George of waging a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” Southern delegates representing the interests of slave-holders aligned with northern delegates representing the interests of slave-trading merchants, and together they succeeded in excluding Jefferson’s original language from the Declaration. Their motivation was obvious: eliminating slavery would diminish their wealth. They held up the vote for independence until they got their way.

But the phrase “all men are created equal” remained, and debate about its meaning has dominated American politics ever since. Every effort to broaden the scope of “all men” and promote real equality has caused a major backlash on the part of those who feel their rights are being impinged upon whenever privilege is threatened. Each time an elite, whose advantages often entail a disadvantage for someone else, promises to disrupt everything unless their interests are protected. This method of obstruction works only if the elite is able to persuade large numbers of the nonelite that their own well-being depends on preserving the elite's privileges. So the small landed aristocracy in the South convinced thousands to fight and die to preserve “their way of life” in the Civil War. And so today a few billionaires have convinced millions of Tea Party activists that a health-care-reform law that works mainly by extending private insurance to the uninsured amounts to socialism—or even what the Declaration calls “absolute Despotism.”

The same small group of elites have taken advantage of public ignorance and insecurity to con millions of people into believing that global warming is a hoax; that government spending hurts the economy; that high tax rates are discouraging work and reducing economic growth; that unemployment compensation is what’s causing our high unemployment rate; that the poor aren’t really poor because many of them have smartphones and flat-screen TVs; that food stamps encourage laziness and dependency; that Social Security is going bankrupt; and that the financial crisis was caused by the government forcing banks to lend money to poor people.

What all these claims have in common—besides being false—is that they are all arguments meant to block policies that take the phrase “all men are created equal” seriously by actually promoting equality. They are all designed to protect the privileges of the elite by convincing the masses that they will lose out if the government does more to help the underprivileged. And so we hear, again and again, that “Obamacare” will hurt those who already have health insurance and force young people to buy insurance even though they may not need it and can’t really afford it. We do not hear that the Affordable Care Act could cut into the profit margins of some very profitable industries, but that is what really worries the law’s privileged opponents. Saying we cannot afford to provide decent health care to everyone as a right of citizenship (something every other rich country does) is really saying that not everyone’s health is of equal importance in this country. Closing down the government and threatening to default on government bonds in an effort to repeal or delay the Affordable Care Act is just the latest campaign in a 237-year-old war over the meaning of equality in a country founded on it.

This is not to say that the Affordable Care Act is itself an ideal vehicle for advancing the cause of equality. A single-payer system would have been far more egalitarian, as well as far more efficient. (Americans pay more for health care than every other rich country, and have worse health outcomes to show for it. Not coincidentally, most other rich countries have some kind of universal health-care system.) Obama based his health-care proposal on ideas first introduced by Republicans, and he ignored liberal demands for a public option.

But even if conservatives are being disingenuous or hysterical when they describe the Affordable Care Act as socialism, the law is at least a step toward greater equality—maybe the biggest step Washington could take at this moment in our country’s history. And who knows, this step may well lead to others later on, which is one reason the guardians of the status quo are so worried about it. Concede that any American who needs health care should get it and you have already denied the main premise of our various health-care industries: that health care is a commodity like any other, to be sold to whoever can afford it rather than distributed according to need. The GOP, whose main priority is the preservation of wealth and the privileges wealth confers, is worried that the Affordable Care Act, once implemented, will become as popular and successful as Social Security and Medicare, two other programs that made good on our country’s commitment to equality. The party of privilege fought tooth and nail against those programs too.

Charles Michael Andres Clark is a senior fellow at the Vincentian Center for Church and Society and professor of economics at St. John’s University in New York.

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And so today a few billionaires have convinced millions of Tea Party activists that a health-care-reform law that works mainly by extending private insurance to the uninsured amounts to socialism, or even what the Declaration calls “absolute Despotism.”

You have it so right, Charles. The elites usually either pay the poor or middle class to support them or give them many favors. The other factor is many poor and middle class like to "play rich" by going against their own. The monarchs in the church have always done this, also. 

Actually, I don't know any billionaires, and in addition, I base my opposition to Obamacare on other issues.  And I note that, rather than addressing the Tea Party arguments themselves, Charles has chosen to play the "billionaire" card.  And if the fubar launch of Obamacare is any indication, it's administration will be FUBAR on steroids.  Already there are widespread reports of people's costs for the "affordable" care increasing by leaps and bounds; and of course many are losing their favorite doctors.  So Obama lied about both of those items (or he didn't lie, he simply made up the statements because he knew what we wanted to hear).  When this lumbering behemoth really gets up and running, we will find ourselves in semi-slavery, with the government's tentacles entwined in, and leaching through, every aspect of our lives.  And mark my words carefully:  We wil eventuallyl see, among other things, forced abortions and forced euthanasia of the elderly and infirm.

Remember, Obama now has access to all NSA and IRS (which as we know, will be administering Obamacare) data, which he and his leftist comrades can use to fundamentally transform America, as Obama indicated was his ultimate objective. 

1. "And if the fubar launch of Obamacare is any indication, it's administration will be FUBAR on steroids."  Millions of hits (beyond what was expected) on a complicated website that is linked to other web sites (Social Security, Credit Agencies, etc.)?  Like other commercial rollouts have never run into glitches?

2. "Already there are widespread reports of people's costs for the "affordable" care increasing by leaps and bounds; and of course many are losing their favorite doctors."  You talk like this is something new in the United States.  Anyone who decides that their workers have to get their insurance on the exchange is trading one commercial payer for another on the exchange.  This is exactly the same thing they would do if they changed payers directly.  And when businesses change payers, sometimes one's favorite doctor isn't in the network.  This has nothing to do with Obamacare.  Businesses are not required to use the exchanges.  There is nothing in the statute saying which payer one has to use.  So this is irrelevant to Obamacare (unless you don't like the fact that Obamacare has expanded choice for businesses).

3. "So Obama lied about both of those items (or he didn't lie, he simply made up the statements because he knew what we wanted to hear)."  No business in the United States is required to shift to Obamacare.  So no one is obligated by Obamacare to change doctors.  He wasn't lying.  

4. "When this lumbering behemoth really gets up and running, we will find ourselves in semi-slavery, with the government's tentacles entwined in, and leaching through, every aspect of our lives."  Obamacare amounts to public exchanges where private companies sell insurance.  It is modeled after that hotbed of socialism, Switzerland.  It is not socialistic.  It is the most free market capitalistic national health insurance scheme available, which is what the orignator (the Heritage Foundation) had in mind.

5. "And mark my words carefully:  We wil eventuallyl see, among other things, forced abortions and forced euthanasia of the elderly and infirm."  There is no commercial insurance company in the United States that covers either of these.  Obamacare simply expands commercial insurance to most citizens.  So what is your rationale for this?

6. "Remember, Obama now has access to all NSA and IRS (which as we know, will be administering Obamacare) data, which he and his leftist comrades can use to fundamentally transform America, as Obama indicated was his ultimate objective."  All enrollment data and claims data is de-identified per the statute.  And since it is in the insurance companies legal and business interests to de-identify the data, you can be sure that Uncle Sam will know nothing about you or your medical conditions.  And no, the IRS is not "adminsistering" Obamacare.  HHS is.

Already there are widespread reports...

Well, that is one of the problems that result from the situation Prof. Clark describes. The "reports" were prepared before anything had happened that could be studied in order to produce the kind of information the "reports" claim to find. With enough money, a greedhead can buy the truth he needs to go along with the Congress members he has turned into sock puppets. And he can buy his truth before the facts it is based on become available. That is an observable fact that has been studied; it is hardly the "billionaire card."

Thanks for an interesting post.  As important as class and economic interests are for understanding the politics surrounding the ACA, any analysis that doesn't include race and racism is, I think, missing an important element.

As the story of Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence illustrates, racism is inextricably interwoven with American history and politics.  It's not just that "Southern delegates representing the interests of slave-holders aligned with northern delegates representing the interests of slave-trading merchants" excluded Jefferson's fine language from the Declaration.  It's also that Jefferson was a slaveholder---whose slaves were whipped and sold---all his life, and he largely abandoned his abolitionist sentiments in the 1790s.

Tea Party activists are disproportionately whiter, older and more affluent than the American public as a whole.  While money from the Koch brothers and other billionaires is no doubt helpful to their cause, one suspects they are acting against their own interests no more than, say, the White Citizens Councils did in the 1950s and 60s.

As important as class and economic interests are for understanding the politics surrounding the ACA, any analysis that doesn't include race and racism is, I think, missing an important element.

My take on this post is that it boils down to, "anyone that opposes Obamacare is a racist".  (Additional variations on this theme can be found here, here and here.)  I admit that my own analysis finds that there is not a scintilla of a shred of evidence that race or racism has anything to do with this stalemate, nor do I see any linkage between Obamacare and slavery(!).  Perhaps today's racists are so infernally clever that they don't leave any actual evidence of racism, but we just know they're out there somewhere, up to something.  And they're billionaires, too, which makes them even more diabolical.

 

It is still a bunch of loonies who at the time of the inauguration vowed to destroy Obama anyway they could. We are talking about Congressman. The same group ranted about his birth country and are backing the literal seven day creation. A switch just occurred of immense proportions. The Koch Bros. realizing that a government default will possible destroy their riches wrote a letter to Congress stating that a shutdown is not the answer. http://dailycaller.com/2013/10/09/koch-brothers-call-out-reid-for-misinformation-over-government-shutdown/

Now Republican businessmen are changing their contribution pattern away from the Tea Party to actually funding candidates to run against them. They don't like this fringe lunacy which most people are now seeing as truly outrageous. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/10/us/business-groups-see-loss-of-sway-over-house-gop.html?hp&_r=0&gwh=A46F5219E167A0DE56206071A8FD173C

Jim Pawells,

I do think that you are wrong in discounting the degree to which race plays a role not only in the opposition to Obamacare but to the brutal level of opposition to the President himself.  I have to say, as fierce as the GOP opposed Bill Clinton, I have never felt the viseral level of opposition there as I fell to President Obama, and it goes back to the beginnings of his presidency.  Remember the NRA people insisting they had a right to bring weapons to Obama appearances?  Can you even in your wildest dreams imagine such a thing with say George Bush?  Or the Congressman yelling "You Lie!" during the State of the Union?  Could you imagine a Democratic Congressman doing that to George W., who in fact did lie about weapons of mass destruction?  Of course you can't because it wouldn't happen.  The whole "birther" debate when indeed there is a much stronger argument that John McCain was ineligible to serve as President, not a good one but far stronger than the anti-Obama one since he was born in a US territory not the US proper...Can you imagine that being raised about a white candidate with a comparable background?  So I guess my bottom line is not that anyone who opposes Obamacare (or Obama in general) is not a racist.  But racism makes the opposition to Obama and Obamacare far more fierce than it would have otherwise been.  And some of the fiercest the opposition comes from the very people who designed the model.  Obamacare originated with the Heritage Foundation, was put into practice in Massachusetts originally as Romneycare by the Republican Governor.  Now Heritage is among the leaders in opposition.  Now to some degree all of this speaks to a general coarseness that has entered our politics, and the desire to win rather than do what is right.  But even so, I believe, more than that I know, that Obama's race has contributed to this fierce opposition. 

Various southern liberals (rare, but not an oxymoron) told me before the inauguration that their families, cousins, etc. were not going to accept a black man as president. He might have the job, they said, but he would never have the respect and authority a white man in the same job would have. I hoped they were wrong, but I haven't seen much evidence of it.

The money will stop and so will the Tea Party.

What's the difference between Tea Party Congressmen and ordinary hostage takers?

Not only do the ordinary ones negotiate, they're often willing to hand over their guns.

 

 

 

@Jim Pauwels (10/10, 10:15 am)  Thanks for your reply.  Let me clarify "anyone that opposes Obamacare is a racist" is not the point I was trying to make. 

My larger point is that race and racism are inextricably interwoven into American history, politics and culture.  Therefore, any analysis that fails to take race and racism into account is, almost of necessity, incomplete and as a result, distorted.

We can go back to August of 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia and find some of the institutional roots of business capitalism, chattel slavery and representative democracy for the tree that blossomed into the United States of America.  To acknowledge that shared history does not cast aspersions on any individual.  On the contrary, by recognizing our history we can begin to liberate ourselves (however partially) from the worst aspects of it.

Returning to the present day and the ACA, my more immediate point is that, for example, the decision by many Republican governors and state legislatures to turn down billions of federal dollars to pay for the ACA's Medicaid expansion to provide subsidies for the working poor is not fully explained without including the fact that part of their opposition is of a piece with a decades old opposition to any action by the federal government that might benefit "those people".  Who "those people" are varies, but some millions of them are people with dark-colored skin.

The fourth paragraph of this essay is nothing but a chain of ill-founded, gratuitous allegations with no evidence of any serious consideration on the part of the author of the strongest reasons given by those who challenge positions this author seems to dogmatically find unquestionable.

Let me clarify "anyone that opposes Obamacare is a racist" is not the point I was trying to make. 

You misunderstood my reference - my comment, "My take on this post is that it boils down to, "anyone that opposes Obamacare is a racist" referred, not to your comment, but to Charles Michael Andres Clark's original post.

I do note, though, that you continue to push the idea, both in your original comment and your most recent reply to me, that race and racial prejudice is needed to fully understand Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  I further noted, in my original comment, that this theme is not isolated to your's and Clark's contributions to this single thread in dotCommonweal; I provided several other links to public commentary that runs along the same lines.  Nor is this current government shutdown the first time that accusations of racism have been leveled at the Tea Party; virtually since its inception, the Tea Party's enemies have attempted to tar it with accusations, despite the lack of any evidence, that the Tea Party is motivated by racial prejudice.

There are many reasons to oppose the Tea Party.  I certainly don't care for some of the principles, practices and candidates that have arisen from that movement.  But to accuse it of racism, and to provide no evidence of this grave charge except for insinuations along the lines of, "they're mostly white people", is neither credible nor, frankly, honorable.  In point of fact, it comes across as a "desperate measure".  Show us some hard evidence, please, that racism has anything whatever to do with this government shutdown or the Tea Party movement.

 

Leon, 

The fourth paragraph has a solid foundation. Unless one's head is in the sand.

Bill, the fourth paragraph includes among its list of alleged falsehoods "that Social Security is going bankrupt".  

The trustees of the federal government's Social Security trust funds reported earlier this year that, absent corrective policies, its disability benefit will no longer be able to pay 100% of its promised benefits by 2016 (which is really, really soon), and its retirement benefit will be in the same soup by 2033 (a year in which, God willing, I will still be alive and hoping/expecting a full benefit).  Technically, that may not constitute "bankruptcy", but it seems incorrect and irresponsible to imply that, in fact, all is well with Social Security and there is no problem that needs to be addressed.

 

What exactly are the anti-Obama and anti-ACA folk arguing about? That some sort of universal health care system is not needed? Isn't that like saying we don't need compulsory education? For those who have contracted the dread virus to 'hate Obama,'  on what basis do they conjure up birther, muslim, and communist charges? Many deprecate his ability to orate and 'preach' the Democratic Party platform. But they forget that we just held a national election where his opposition was soundly defeated, mostly because they seemed to represent only a tiny minority of priveleged stakeholders. There will be another nationwide referendum in 2014 that may very likely embarrass the naysayers and sweep them from office and the public view.

@Jim Pauwels (10/11, 10:00 am)  Thanks for your reply, and my apologies for mistaking the intent of your earlier post.  Since you asked:

Here's a recent study on "Race, Ideology and the Tea Party" that concludes there is a link between racial prejudice and identification with/participation in the Tea Party movement.

The 2010 Multi-state Survey of Race & Politics found that "Tea Party sympathizers have a higher probability"—25 percent, to be exact—"of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters," according to Christopher Parker who directed the study.

Then there are numerous studies and reports by anti-racist organizations like the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights that document the many troubling links between Tea Party organizations and white nationalist leaders and organizations.

It's not just the Tea Party or opposition to the ACA or this government shutdown where race and racism are inextricably interwoven into our society. 

The Wagner Act is one of the great liberal achievements of the New Deal.  It's still the foundation of (what remains of) our labor laws.  It still doesn't cover domestic workers and farm workers.  Why?  Because in 1935 the majority of domestic workers and farm workers in the US were African-Americans in the South.  And the all-white southern Congressional delegation (virtually all Democrats) wasn't about to give labor rights to the people who picked their cotton and cleaned their homes.

This map of the racial dividing line that is Detroit's 8 Mile Road today can't be understood without understanding the segregationist housing policies (up to and including the FHA) of every level of government in the mid-20th century USA.  (See Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis for the definitive account of Detriot's decline.)

Ed Kilgore is a veteran Democratic party policy wonk and operative.  He worked for Zell Miler and Sam Nunn.  He was part of the Democratic Leadership Council and its Progressive Policy Insittute thinktank.  In other words, he's a dyed-in-the-wool centrist Democrat from Georgia.  At his current gig as lead blogger for the Washington Monthly magazine, he does yeoman's work in reporting on and interpreting on, well, the people he grew up with who have become today's Republican party. 

This piece on "Race and Anti-Government Fanaticism" is a good introduction to some of the ways in which, in his view, the Tea Party can't be properly understood without understanding the element of race.

Again, I have no interest in the pointless (to my mind) and counterproductive (also, to my mind) "game" of pronouncing this or that person "racist".  I can't read their minds.  I don't know what's in their hearts.  I am not immune from the social sin of racism any more than I can breathe in air without also breathing in particulate pollution from coal plants hundres of miles away.  However, it's my experience that recognizing and acknowledging that social sinfulness can be a way to start undoing it.

Unagidon:

When Obamacare takes full effect next year, the IRS will enforce most of the laws involved in the reform—even deciding who gets included in the health-care mandate.  This is one of the results of the Supremes ruling that Obamacare is truly about taxes:

the agency has to administer 47 tax provisions under Obamacare.

From the IRS website:

purchasing insurance through the Marketplace. The IRS administers the tax provisions included in the law. Visit HealthCare.gov for more information on coverage options and assistance.

Also, Obama has made it clear that his intention is that the ultimate result of Obamacare is that private health insrance companies will go out of business, because he prefers the single payer system.

And finally, since Obama promised that we would be able to keep our own doctors and that the costs would either go down or stay the same, he ultimately must own up to the fact that he was wrong or he lied.

By the way, some government unions, and congress were allowed to bail out on the system (the waivers).  That tells me what a monumental stinker AHA is.
 

When Obamacare takes full effect next year, the IRS will enforce most of the laws involved in the reform—even deciding who gets included in the health-care mandate.  This is one of the results of the Supremes ruling that Obamacare is truly about taxes:

the agency has to administer 47 tax provisions under Obamacare.

From the IRS website:

purchasing insurance through the Marketplace. The IRS administers the tax provisions included in the law. Visit HealthCare.gov for more information on coverage options and assistance.

Your own quotes clearly show that the IRS is going to be in charge of the tax provisions only, not in charge of Obamacare.  HealthCare.gov is an HHS website, not and IRS website.

Also, Obama has made it clear that his intention is that the ultimate result of Obamacare is that private health insrance companies will go out of business, because he prefers the single payer system.

The insurance companies must not have gotten the memo.  There's something like 14,000 commercial plans available in the United States on the exchanges.

And finally, since Obama promised that we would be able to keep our own doctors and that the costs would either go down or stay the same, he ultimately must own up to the fact that he was wrong or he lied.

Obamacare does not require anyone to change their insurers.  If your employer did (and your doctor was no longer in the network), that's not Obamacare's fault.  That's your employer's fault.

By the way, some government unions, and congress were allowed to bail out on the system (the waivers).  That tells me what a monumental stinker AHA is.

Obamacare is designed to cover the uninsured and the under insured individual and small business person.  Large groups that have adequate coverage (like Congress and the unions) can keep that coverage and pay no penalties.  I don't know what you believe Obamacare to be, but it's public exchanges within which private insurers sell insurance.  It's not Medicare or Medicaid or some government controlled medical system.  The private insurers are using their current private, free market contracts with the provider just as they are with their non-exchange customers.

 

Just to add to what unagidon said about the exchanges, I heard someone in Massachusetts describe the Health Connector (the state's online health care exchange that's been operating since 2007) as "an Expedia for health insurance".  He was able to go online, compare policies and prices, and buy a (private) health insurance policy within 15 minutes.

"Technically, that may not constitute "bankruptcy", but it seems incorrect and irresponsible to imply that, in fact, all is well with Social Security and there is no problem that needs to be addressed."

Straight-forward solution:  take the cap off of the income level against which social security taxes are collected.

Not a new idea; it has been floated before. 

With the SS-eligible population burgeoning with the retirement of the Boomers, along with the loss of tax income based on employment shortfalls, one either cuts the benefits, increases the eligibility age (in itself a benefit cut) or increases the income sources.

It seems to me that since the Civil Rights Acts of the 60's many people have indeed changed their hearts and minds a good deal about black people.  This has come as a consequence of having come to know some black people well at work, at school, wherever. 

But there are also many people who suffered through the Depression who, often without much education, pulled themselves up by their bootstrings and have adopted the principle that "God helps those who help themselves".  They are not necessarily very prejudiced against blacks -- it's the non-working poor whom they simply do not want to support in any way.  You could call it a prejudice against the very poor.  

As to the Tea Partiers being racist, it seems to me that if there are no black people amongst them , then that might be a result of racism.  Why?  Because there are also black people (I've known some) who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and who also resent paying taxes to support "the loafers".  If those black people agree with the Tea Partiers they would join them -- unless they are made to feel unwelcome.  

I"m also saying that, yes, there are some very conservative black people.  That doesn't make them racists certainly, but it does show a lack of empathy with the very poor.  It happens.

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About the Author

Charles Michael Andres Clark is a senior fellow at the Vincentian Center for Church and Society and professor of economics at St. John’s University in New York.