The tea party movement and black conservatism

Recently Paul (Mr Cotterill to you), in the comments thread to a post of mine on conservatism and epistemic closure, said that I’d probably at some stage detail some of my thoughts on the tea party movement. That’s what I am going to do now, albeit exploring another narrative simultaneously; that of black conservatism.

Unsurprisingly, some of the sentiments and placards that stand out from the tea party movement concern Obama’s race, nationality, religious background and myths about socialistic politics – all very low politics.

Some of the intellectual backbone of the movement is provided by such media personalities as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh – who the charge “epistemic closure” had originally been levelled at by Julian Sanchez. It remains almost impossible to separate the politics of conservative epistemic closure from the tea party movement therefore.

Another thing that springs to mind is Pastor Jones and the Koran burning, and the protests over Ground Zero Mosque, which drew support from that most disturbing blogger and tea partier Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs.

There are 61 posts on the above blog which are categorised as Obama’s Birth Certificate Forgery – which should tell you something about the content which appears there. Indeed, the tea party has become inseparable from ad hominem attack of Obama’s nationality, evoking criticisms that at the heart of the movement is racism. Further still, reports have emerged that the English Defence League are forging links with the tea party movement, which will add much fuel to the fire of such criticisms.

But it is of little surprise to me that certain black commentators have come out to deny the movement as ultimately a racist one. The Telegraph had an article on Saturday profiling Tom Scott – who will be the first black Republican congressman from the deep south in more than a century. In it, they quote him as saying, of the tea party movement, “this whole race issue is a diversion away from the real basic platform of the Tea Party”.

The Guardian has started to host a blog by a man called Lloyd Marcus, who is referred to on his homepage as a “Tea Party singer/songwriter, entertainer and speaker” as well as being a “black conservative”.

In a blog entry published last Friday entitled “Why I am a black tea party patriot opposed to Barack Obama” – a really terrible piece – he ends by saying:

…when I hear politicians, such as Barack Obama, pandering to the so-called poor of America, it turns my stomach. I’ve witnessed the deterioration of the human spirit, wasted lives and suffering that happens when government becomes “daddy”.

What is common to both commentators, and common to what Tom Scott called “the real basic platform of the Tea Party” is a dissatisfaction of high taxes and big state. Some of the patent crap about Obamacare having a death panel, uttered in lieu of research by Sarah Palin, was piss in the wind, but the movements’ opposition to universal healthcare was predicated on the idea that universal care is somehow un-American and at odds with the principle of low spending and less government.

In fact listening to some of the members of the movement who are dubious even of the Republican’s spending, views of whom Ed Pilkinton of the Guardian recently had the privilege of interacting with (see video here), one gets the sense that at heart of the movement is a kind of socially conservative, economically fiscal conservative/libertarianism exploiting a low politics platform to reach the hearts and minds of Obama-sceptics.

Therefore I should just clarify, that simply because the movement has black members, this in itself does not prove critics wrong about race – I’m not that stupid – but that there is a little more to the tea party than that – and in fact it hasn’t phased me at all that the movement appeals to black people.

In fact, it rather reminds me of an analysis of black conservatism by the US philosopher and academic Cornel West – whose voice rose once again in light of Obama’s presidency, after saying he wanted him to be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass to put pressure on him.”

It was the opinion of West, in his 1994 book Race Matters, that black conservatism gained much traction, among other things, as a response to a crisis in black liberalism. Black conservatives, for West, seemed inclined to support freedom movements abroad – Europe, Latin America, East Asia – but were disinclined to support the freedom movement in America.

Black conservatives according to West were rather scornful of affirmative action measures, but it is his contention that the well-heeled, middle class black American conservatives were actually biting the hand which fed them. 40 years ago, he stated, 50% of black teenagers in the US had agricultural jobs, 70% of those lived in the South, many jobs disappeared due to measures curbing industrialisation, and in 1980 15% of all black men reported no yearly earnings at all to the Census Bureau while the US army at the time was almost a third black.

In the same breath as questioning why black conservatives couldn’t see the obvious racial disparity in equality of opportunity, West also pours scorn on black liberalism limiting itself to in-fighting and petite squabbling, taking its eye off of the real crisis.

West contends that many viewed black liberalism as inadequate and black conservativism unacceptable, that is until black conservatism began to appeal to a classical liberalism in what West defines as a “post-liberal society and post-modern culture”.

Such a move is not alien to us in the UK; indeed listen to any Tory cabinet minister admit at the moment how the Conservatives are more radically liberal and supportive of the poor than Labour were.

The parallels in what West is saying and the sentiments of contemporary black conservatives and members of the tea party are that not only does Obama purposefully play down his white heritage, but that he is setting back the plight of blacks in society because of it; he represents a failure in black liberal leadership (or, in the words of Timothy Johnson, co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a group that helps promote black Republican candidates, “His mother was white, his father was a person of colour but every time there’s a racial issue he plays the race card just the same as everyone else.”)

I don’t share this sentiment, but all it takes is the perception that Obama is setting black politics back, and thus arises the crisis of black leadership similar to one diagnosed by Cornel West.

In conclusion to this blog entry, which admittedly took many deviations, I will say that the tea party is marred by a pretty low level of epistemically closed politics, but that stripped down it is a PR-savvy version of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. In the process of its becoming in US politics, it will be a haven for many black people who feel, as Timothy Johnson does, that Obama is doing a disservice to black politics; this may well see a resurgence of black conservatism similar to that assessed by Cornel West – and through the same conditions too. It is incumbent upon Obama to take heed of this possibility, and counter the tactics of the tea party, not because it is racist, but precisely because it is opening itself to Obamasceptics of all stripes.

“Yes we will” versus “Yes we can”

Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, launched her election campaign today with the slogan “yes we will”.

The guardian called that “Obama-like”. But I disagree.

Obama’s slogan was “yes we can”. Yes of course we can; but will we? This is the question I was asking of Obama.

The answer: no we probably won’t.

“Yes we will” is a little more decisive. And I like that. Though it does mean she has more to answer for if we don’t.

The Obama pipe dream

Robert B. Reich has a good piece over at The American Prospect about the Democrat party and the dwindling support from left wingers.

Reich refers to his friend “David”. Among other things he is:

upset about tens of thousands of additional troops being sent to Afghanistan, a watered-down cap-and-trade bill that’s going nowhere, and no Employee Free Choice Act.

“They’re all lily-livered wimps [the Democrats], and Obama has the backbone of a worm.”

I’ve written before on the problems of the broad church voting for Obama – not so much a problem for him, it worked well for him – but the problem of groups who saw in Obama the solution to all their problems. As I said last year:

Obama seemed to signify the saviourhood for every group that felt penialised; for Mexicans, despite usually being Catholic conservative and anti-abortion, voted in force for Obama. The socialist/liberal/left saw in Obama a revolutionary streak that gave appeal to the Democrats rather than wellmeaning fringe parties (such was the problem with Al Gore’s election loss, though, of course, Ralph Nader will tell you different). And also from the right, Wall Street voting trends took to voting Obama, Colin Powell cut ties with his party and that once hardcore Hegelian neo-liberal Francis Fukuyama put the final touches to destroying his illusion that libertarianism would be the final stage in history.

Part of the Obama appeal was to symbolise strength from vulnerability; here is an African-American who has been subject to prejudice prevelant in society today, and has come out the other side one of the most powerful man in the world. So straight away Obama had two camps: those who hated/had enough of Bush and/or felt they were vulnerable and/or marginalised, and sought inspiration from the candidate, rather than his predecessor, parachuted in and making a pig’s ear of the whole operation.

What surprised me after Obama’s first year, was how much it was a surprise for people when the honeymoon period was up.

Al Sharpton for example, with inimitable naivety, said in an article: “Obama’s first year has shown that the United States is not a post-racial society“.

While it is a crime that many Americans find themselves without insurance and suffer very much for it, few progressives recognised how little Obama was actually doing to change that.

Earlier this year I noted:

The bill mandates every person (or, rather, around 95% of Americans) to be insured, and for every family not on Medicaid – means tested health program for eligible individuals and families with low incomes and resources – receive public funds from the federal government to purchase what [Bill] Wharton [of the Socialist Party USA] has called “bare bones” coverage insurance plans from private insurers.

Because the reform is not into a single-payer system (like a nationalised, government subsidised system) Wharton suggests that this mandate, among other things, enhances private profit, and is therefore not as radical as it has been promoted to be, particularly by the American right wing media.

So, in keeping with the tone of the article by Reich; who gives a toss about the tea partiers, it’s their job to hate Obama, and they do so for often small beer reasons, other times utterly ridiculous ones (those posters with Obama dressed as Hitler or Stalin were quite stupid). The correct attitude here is to remember those on the left who have awoken from that popularity contest spell, like Reich’s friend David, and others.

His article rightly concludes:

With the election of Barack Obama, many on the left found comfort in the belief that a single man could make transformative change without powerful tailwinds behind him. But that was a pipe dream.

My reply on ObamaCare

Walter Hade has written a blog entry on ObamaCare recently at Associated Content (by all accounts, the people’s media company) – I tried to leave a comment, but failed (who knows) so I leave my comments below:

Walter, thank you for pointing out your blog entry to me on twitter yesterday – very interesting. I’m not entirey deterred by people still opposing it – after all, I’ve seen the images of people saying Obama is a commie and all this nonsense about death panels – people can be wrong, and never have they been more wrong to oppose national health reform.

However I see a shortfall in Obama’s new reforms precisely because they are not reforms (see my entry from 2 days ago) – at least, not in the way that would benefit those 50 million Americans who are uninsured, and the further 20 million who are underinsured, or the unquantifiable number of people who refuse treatment on account of financial outgoings and so on. For this reason, and many more, Obama is not evil (communist, or on a panel deciding deaths willy nilly) but rather a failure; he has failed to beat the insurance companies (the real benefactors of the “reform”) and I only hope this is the second hurdle (the first being when the reform failed in the house before) – the third being the path to universal health reform, which would counter the 50,000 + people who die every year of preventable diseases.

The shortfall of ObamaCare

It has been said that since the United States’ welfare is the most austere in the developed world that relative and absolute poverty is massively reduced, but this is not the clearest picture, taken by itself. To get a fuller account one should refer to, at least, the healthcare situation. 50 million remain uninsured, 20 million underinsured, nearly 50,000 people die a year from preventable illnesses and millions have begun to avoid healthcare as best as possible so as not to run up personal bills.

President Obama set to rectify this anomalie on the 23rd of March 2010 with the signing of the health reform into law. But it has not received unanimous praise from all that champion progression in politics.

Take for example Billy Wharton, co-chair of the Socialist Party of the USA.

It is his opinion that the bill does not go far enough, but, further, it actually benefits the insurance companies the bill was set up to undercut. “Nationalisation” he notes, “is not in the playbook of Timothy Geithner [US Treasury Secretary and cod-feminist] and his team” who Wharton accuses of supporting “costly, temporary measures that can easily be dismantled should the economy pick up”.

The bill mandates every person (or, rather, around 95% of Americans) to be insured, and for every family not on Medicaid – means tested health program for eligible individuals and families with low incomes and resources – receive public funds from the federal government to purchase what Wharton has called “bare bones” coverage insurance plans from private insurers.

Because the reform is not into a single-payer system (like a nationalised, government subsidised system) Wharton suggests that this mandate, among other things, enhances private profit, and is therefore not as radical as it has been promoted to be, particularly by the American right wing media.

But campaigners for a single-payer system were present in the debate – though they were the subject of some rather interesting back downs.

Dennis Kucinich, congressman for the 10th district in Ohio, saw faults in the healthcare reform – and went about voicing his opinion about these faults – that is until Obama put pressure on him to modify his stance and vote “yes” by visiting the district Kucinich represents.

Further, Representative John Coyners from Michigan, sponsor of the House Resolution 676 – a bill to fund a national health programme without private health insurers – caved in, also allegedly after pressure.

Wharton also goes a step further into understanding why a real reform did not take place; it is his further contention that part of the bill was actually written by the private insurers lobby, and for this reason Obama chose to appease private insurance companies.

It is hard to know where a lot of Wharton’s conjecture emenates from, but certainly he is right that the health reform is not the truly radical escape from the pitfalls of private health insurance, as it had been promoted as.

The Fabian Society are soon have a publication called What New Labour could learn from Obama and recently the Next Left blog released an entry, guest written by Nick Anstead and Will Straw, entitled What British Politics Can Learn From Obama. There is probably a great wealth of things to learn on ways of campaigning; of feeding the image of change to a mass audience, on and offline, but as for health services, Britain should – and, fortunately, will – not learn anything from ObamaCare.

The US healthcare problem was always cooking

I heard a fantastic lecture recently (and I recommend it if you have a spare 90 minutes you listen here) on the subject of Barack Obama by Professor Mick Cox who is in the department of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

The presentation is not terribly revelatory (it isn’t meant to be), but what Cox does very well is contextualise the events which took place, and this is done with his inimicable wit.

It cannot be stressed enough how severly popular Obama was, and surprising it was given the ticket with which he was running; a black president is one thing, but at a heightened time of US patriotism and war is quite another notion that caught Cox’s eye.

There is one caveat. Remember at the time Obama seemed to signify the saviourhood for every group that felt penialised; for Mexicans, despite usually being Catholic conservative and anti-abortion, voted in force for Obama. The socialist/liberal/left saw in Obama a revolutionary streak that gave appeal to the Democrats rather than wellmeaning fringe parties (such was the problem with Al Gore’s election loss, though, of course, Ralph Nader will tell you different). And also from the right, Wall Street voting trends took to voting Obama, Colin Powell cut ties with his party and that once hardcore Hegelian neo-liberal Francis Fukuyama put the final touches to destroying his illusion that libertarianism would be the final stage in history.

Celebrations all round, but this is all enough to see a problem. Obama running on a broad centre-left ticket with major support (and unbelievable amounts of funding) from those with natural centre-right tendencies. Its hardly surprising that today’s healthcare reform troubles have taken effect in the states.

Cox’ lecture is slightly before the Hannan incident and the complete uproar that took place, but certainly the mood change had registered with him. It was necessary to remember that even with Obama’s majority and initial popularity, the administration had to be prepared to engage in a war of ideas – even if attitudes were not necessarily in their court.

Though not from a naturally sympathetic source, Fred Barnes of Fox News has suggested plausible figures that Democrat popularity has slumped over recent weeks (now down to 49%) while the Republicans – who have gone all out on the issue of healthcare, even at the expense of sanity as with the case of Sarah Palin and her bellowing calls of ‘death panels’ – have stayed put at a consistent 40%.

Encouraging as it is that the Democrats still lead significantly, trends reveal that they might be losing the argument. I can’t help being pessimisstic about the whole situation, but the problem has been cooking since many voters – who usually have their houses on the right – felt that Obama was in debt to them, now they want their political currency back. And since one can find an infinite amount of problems with suggesting that the Singapore style is better for the world than the NHS, or that death panels determining the fate of the American public is the only possible alternative to leaving that decision in the hands of the invisible hand of circumstance, and with the soundness of the pro-reform Democrat argument, I’m sceptical of whether Obama’s efforts will amount to anything in the short-term. Unfortunately, it looks as though the plans will have to be shelved like Hillary Clinton’s plans were during Bill’s attempt at reshaping healthcare.

This is no slur on the Democrat side of the argument – plain to see that there are huge problems that such a huge, rich nation, should deny all its inhabitants free health care – but a large portion of the public have been struck dumb by dumb ideas. Given the landscape of Obama’s vote, a problem was bound to pop up at some point, and this is it.

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