Racism and the shutdown

US government shutdownThe US government shutdown is over, the spectre of the US defaulting on its debts is overthrown, and today hundreds of thousands of federal government employees can go back to work.

For most people, this is unqualified good news. But now it’s over, what was it all about?

Some people had been anticipating a government shutdown ever since the Republican Party won a majority in Congress in 2010 by massively redefining Congress districts in the Census to ensure that Republican representatives could be voted into Congress without any centrist opposition. (At a national level, there are no left-wing parties in US politics.) At the Senate level, a Senator must win a majority in a state-wide vote. At the House of Congress level, a representative only needs to win a majority in a gerrymandered district.

Who’s Erick Erickson?

In 2010, he was the 65th most-influential US conservative, according to the Telegraph:

Former lawyer, member of the city council in Macon, Georgia and master blogger who leads a core team of 25 writers at RedState.com. Readers include Rush Limbaugh and just about anyone who matters in the Republican party. When Representative Eric Cantor decided to run for Republican Whip, he announced it on RedState.
Erickson’s “Operation Leper”, designed to marginalise John McCain aides caught smearing Sarah Palin, illustrated the power of RedState, which draws much of its strength from its image as a voice of the heartland, far outside the Washington Beltway.

His first book Red State Uprising: How to Take Back America was published in September 2010 and is currently 966,129 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list. He also founded the wearethe53% tumblr, described by Alex Pareene as “tragic and hilarious”. The 53% refers to the proportion of Americans who earn enough to have to pay federal income tax: the more famous (and still active) tumblr is wearethe99%, referencing the massively unequal division of wealth in the US.

Obama with Martin Luther King and President Abraham LincolnIn 2010, thanks to gerrymandering, the Republican party had created a situation where – until the next re-districting at least – the only way Republicans running for Congress can be challenged is by a more right-wing candidate replacing them at the primary stage. And in the US, right-wing politics uses the bigotries of their overwhelmingly white, male-dominated, racist, homophobic, sexist base to win elections. So it has always been: but in 2010, with that base utterly confounded by a black man as their President, a black family in the White House, a black First Lady – what got elected were Republicans who claimed to hate the very idea of government.

Obama with Martin Luther King and President Abraham LincolnFor most Americans, Republicans or Democrats or of no party, the fact that Barack Obama is black was an added gracenote, a sign of triumph over a long history of racism. Newspaper cartoons at his first and second inaugeration make that clear. But for a minority of white Americans, the civil war ended wrongly: the civil rights movement was wrong from the beginning: a black President is just completely wrong. The right-wing protests outside the White House included people carrying the Confederate flag.

John Boehner, who became the Speaker of the House of Representatives (as the West Wing taught us, third in the line of succession after President and Vice President), is a Republican who has been described as a Tea Party stooge:

Boehner, who is about to become the third most powerful person in the country, promotes himself as a working class guy who grew up as one of 12 children in Cincinnati. But he made his name in the Republican party as an effective fundraiser through close ties to big corporate interests that shaped Boehner’s agenda of cutting taxes and minimising government regulation as well as his opposition to social legislation such as healthcare reform.

Boehner ran a plastics company before entering politics, with the backing of an Ohio steel company in the 1980s that has remained the largest corporate donor to his campaign fund.

Obama won handily in 2008 and in a landslide in 2012, because the Republican party was playing to its extremist base – and putting off voters who were not rich, not white, or not straight, or were women who felt that a woman’s sex life, her use of contraception, her health, and her right to choose, are not matters that should be decided by a majority male vote.

So, having shut down the government, what to do next? It was claimed the goal was to defund “Obamacare”, the Affordable Care Act, but as had been pointed out beforehand, that wasn’t going to work. The goal for some Republicans was just to shut the government down. They didn’t care.

The Republicans in Congress had changed the rules the day before the shutdown, so that if the Senate voted (as they did) for a bill that would re-open the government, only the Speaker of the House could bring the Senate’s bill to the floor of Congress to discuss and vote on it, as Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic representative from Maryland, pointed out carefully and clearly when the Senate’s bipartisan bill arrived.

But, how to get angry anti-government Republicans to vote against what their base had voted them into Congress to do, without rewarding them for shutting down the government by giving into their demands?

Meantime, in the real world, things from food poisoning and disease outbreaks to a weather disaster for South Dakota’s cattle ranchers kept happening – while hundreds of thousands of federal workers were on unpaid furlough. Though US military pay for troops on active service was exempt from the shutdown, support for bereaved families was not.

And at midnight 16th October, the US would have defaulted on its debt repayments, which would have had a devastating effect on the US economy and the global economy. When Grover Norquist, a conservative anti-government Republican, is saying that pro-shutdown Republicans owe the rest of the party an apology, that may have been a strong indicator to all but the most hardline of the shutdowners that they’d gone too far.

(Lindsey Graham is the Republican Senator for South Carolina: Steven Long is a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus from the same state.)

As the debate in Congress began on 16th October:

And as it became clear that the Republicans would get exactly none of the demands they had made:

So, declare victory and wait for the next budget debate:

But some Republicans were declaring a victory of sorts—maybe not now, but down the road—for what the media had already judged to be a historic debacle. They had revealed President Obama to be a cynical political operator. They had proved to voters that they did everything they could to stop Obamacare. When the next spending fight comes around, they insisted that enduring this shutdown would strengthen their position.

“It depends on whether or not we’re able to articulate why we did what we did,” said South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a conservative who voted against Boehner for speaker but sings hosannas for him now. “We believe we did it for the right reasons. We believe it was good policy. We believe good policy makes good politics. But we have to be able to explain that policy in order to accomplish it. I did an interview with a local radio station back home a week ago, and it started with them saying it was ‘just seven days until default.’ That was an indication that our message was not getting out.”

Still. It’s all over. Until the next time. Because it’s clear that a small minority of white Americans find the idea of a black President quite literally intolerable.

Republican Protesters with Confederate Flag

Note: Amanda Marcotte outlines her reasons for thinking the shutdown was about contraception. There’s no reason it can’t be about both.

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Filed under American, Politics, Racism

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