We know the federal government’s shutdown isn’t really about Obamacare. We know this because Tea Party Republicans have been trying to shut down government since the 2010 election, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and others have pointed out. The uncertainties around such a major new social program as Obamacare has become the issue they are using to shut it down.
It’s even in their campaign promises. “We’re very excited,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), one of their leaders, told the Washington Post after the shutdown. “It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.”
“President Obama can’t wait to get Americans addicted to the crack cocaine of dependency on more government health care,” she said. “All they want to do is buy love from people by giving them massive government subsidies.”
Who are the Tea Partiers? The New York Times stated in a 2010 poll that the 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.
So why shut down all of the federal government then? Many of its constituents live in those Red States with lower incomes that depend so much on government programs like social security, Medicare, and now the Affordable Care Act for insurance coverage. In fact, the 26 states who have rejected the Medicaid expansion for poorest Americans have about half of the population, but 60 percent of the uninsured, says the New York Times. These are the so-called ‘have-not’, mostly Republican-led states in the Midwest and south.
Wikipedia states the Tea Party is not a political party, but a movement named after the Boston Tea Party. “It is an American decentralized political movement that is primarily known for advocating a reduction in the U.S. national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing U.S. government spending and taxes.”
This is the Adam Smith philosophy from his The Wealth of Nations, written in 1776, of all years. And that has been the credo of conservatives since then. The problem is that most of the national debt and budget deficit was caused by Republican administrations who espoused Adam Smith’s philosophy of lower taxes without cutting government spending.
The resultant record income inequality that helped to cause the Great Recession has left the rich and powerful free to accumulate as much wealth as they can, but not pay for the services that enabled them to do so, as was so clearly said by Senator Elizabeth Warren in a famous campaign talk.
“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she says. “But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”
“…you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
So it is really about a much earlier economic system I’ve called medieval economics in past columns, which had a very different social contract. It was the philosophy that protected the privileged who were thought to be divinely protected in Adam Smith’s day. The less privileged were to be protected by an “invisible hand” of enlightened self-interest. That is, it should be in the interest of the powerful to take good care of their constituents. But that hasn’t happened with the Tea Partiers, at least, who don’t want to finance programs that aid the under privileged.
This is also the core Tea Party philosophy that believes the U.S.Constitution protects those privileges. Indeed, during its formation, this country was governed by the privileged who wrote the Constitution—those albeit enlightened white males who owned land. And that is the medieval system the Tea Party wants to restore, whether they realize it or not.
Harlan Green © 2013
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