Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be

Losing Oreo America: One Nation, Divisible

Mr. Obama’s plea on behalf of the American people for jobs and his presidency remains stuck in a political no-man’s land. This is not because the majority of the country opposes his proposals. We remain in a WWI-worthy stalemate because the Tea Party has no problem with the concept of one nation, divisible.

The problem is not the politicians. The problem is not the system that has worked for hundreds of years. The problem is Y.O.U.

You don’t understand the big picture of what is happening. You keep waiting for someone else to do something. The only ones doing something are the motivated. The extremists. We have polarization because common-sense Americans keep calling themselves “independents,” griping to pollsters, and waiting for something to change.

You are the change.  

You don’t know how? Here is a 101 of what is dividing our country in two that puts it all into perspective for you. Read it. Know it. Share it. Stop the polarization. Act to save the Union.

The word “compromise” has been put officially on the Endangered Species list. Republicans this week were cherry-picking Mr. Obama’s jobs proposal for the spending cuts that they would like, and dismissing those pesky tax increases for the rich and the closure of corporate loopholes as a trade-off as non-starters.

Yet the GOP is a minority party.  They arguably represent 22% of the American people.  They control 90% of the media space through sheer intimidation.  The voices of the other 78% of Americans are drowned in the loud shouting of a minority of militant Teahadis and Dittoheads.

Major media outlets like CNN and ABC know that speaking ill of Republicans, in all but the most delicate of ways, means GOP boycott of their programs. So they blame the polarization of our politics on both parties. That false equivalence is WRONG.  The real blame lies with the vast white moderate conservative center that jumped the GOP ship when the Teahadi pirates boarded.

Divisiveness of Republican Division

According to a Pew Research Center poll, less than a quarter of Americans identified themselves as Republicans in their last pulse on the subject in 2009 [1]. In 1990, the parties were split almost evenly, with 33% identifying themselves as Democratic, while 31% said that they were Republican.

The GOP numbers dropped from 30% in 2004 to 23% in 2009.  Democrats have remained steady over the last half-decade, around 33% to 36%. (See left).

It is moderate Republicans, who have trouble with the extreme agenda of the far Right, that step in and out of their party.  When Republican numbers fall, independent numbers rise more than a jump to the Dems.

Republican moderates have no voice in the party. Their leaders and candidates have converted or been purged in RINO (Republicans in Name Only) hunts.

“We need to purge the Republicans of the weaklings. And we’re on a RINO hunt. And we’re going to drive them to extinction.”  said Tea Party Express 3 Chairman Mark Williams, in an interview with CNN in 2010.

Has that intimidating, eery Nazi fascist ring to it, doesn’t it?  So many of you bolted the party.

Turning Off the DRIPs

More than a quarter of the electorate  in that third that identifies itself as ‘independent has become DRIPs (Disaffected Republicans in Purgatory). They are predominantly white, largely male. They feel that the GOP does not represent them, and that the Democrats don’t either. So they’re stuck in no-man’s land.

As independents, most cannot participate in the primary process.

Historically, DRIPs usually reabsorb back into their originating party, mostly the GOP.  Not so now, though, with the strong Right, white, conservative Christian tent that the party has pitched for 2012 and seemingly, beyond.

Republican General and former Secretary of State under the Bush Adminstration Colin Powell, told CBS’ Face the Nation:

“If we don’t reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on [it],” Powell said. [2]

The problem is that Independents will not sway the GOP primary process. The Dark Lord of Republican politics, Karl Rove, points out the obvious:

“The GOP candidate must stay focused on this broader tea party sentiment, not just the organized groups,” warns Karl Rove on his blog. “[E]specially when some of them stray from the priorities that gave rise to them (for example, adopting such causes as the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which established election of U.S. senators by popular vote).[3]

The Teahadis live in a fantasy world, where Michelle Bachmann can stump, spouting off every wild idea that she can, but ultimately the GOP candidate will face the other 78% of the electorate.

That may be some form of justice, and it may be the Teahadis comeuppance, if, of course, there were still moderates, the Lowell Weicker Republicans in the Republican Party willing to fight back. They are not though, nor do they look to be able to, because their supporters are sitting in the white center now as “independents.”

The Teahadi GOP politicians scare off moderates.  They imply what might come about if they don’t get their way: Secession or revolution.

Texas governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry, in an interview obtained by Politico, said:

“When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” the governor can be heard saying. “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” [4]

Florida radio talk show host Joyce Kaufman, a lieutenant of representative Allan West (R-FL) alluded to violent overthrow when she said that failure of her candidate to win in 2010 would send her in search of people who could exercise their “Second Amendment rights.”

“If ballots’ don’t work; bullets will,” she told a rally of West supporters.[5]

Republican candidate in Arizona Sharron Angle made this chilling statement:

“You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

“I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying: ‘My goodness what can we do to turn this country around?'” [6]

Sociopolitical Geographic Split

The map is revealing two Americas,  Red that’s white,  and the Blue. Democratic blue states are on the coasts and Great Lakes, save Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Red states populate the heartland, save New Mexico and Colorado.

You don’t have to be a population expert to see that politically we are divided into the whiter agrarian states with strong, politically active religious populations, and more multi-cultural, multi ethnic, multi-theistic populations in coastal states.  They have very different ways of looking at the world around them.  The likelihood is that they won’t be sharing much common ground either.  It is very hard to bridge the gap between progressives’ optimism and regressives’ fear.

To keep them together is going to take more that Mr. Obama reaching across the aisle. It will take you making the decision that you want to be part of a union. It will take your decision that you want to move in a direction, forward or backward.  When you decide, look at the moral divisions of the parties and pick what works for you.

A Division of Moral Vision

Americans are splitting on their moral vision of the future of America. There are those of us who believe that we’re all in it together, and those of us who believe that freedom means going it on your own.

Democrats are fundamentally progressives. They envision America as a great society that achieves freedom by ending oppression and injustice and promoting greater equality and opportunity and as much fulfillment of human potential as is possible for all of its citizens. John F. Kennedy described it best:

“If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal’, then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal.'”  [7]

Reagan Era Conservatism is regressive and self-absorbed, its dogma a lie inherited from the pre-New Deal Industrial Era’s  Horatio Alger myth: Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and you can make it in America. Anyone who does not is considered lazy and unapplied. Anyone who cannot take care of themselves should look to churches and other charities, but not to the taxpayer.

This exchange between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and presidential hopeful Ron Paul (R-TX) typifies the point of view that was once restricted to Libertarian loons, but now qualifies as Republican mainstream maxim:

MR. BLITZER:…Ron Paul. So, you’re a doctor; you know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question: A healthy, 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides: You know what? I’m not going to spend 200 (dollars) or $300 a month for health insurance, because I’m healthy; I don’t need it. But you know, something terrible happens; all of a sudden, he needs it. Who’s going to pay for it, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

REP. PAUL: Well, in a society — in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

MR. BLITZER: Well, what do you want?

REP. PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not before —

MR. BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it and he’s — and he needs — he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

REP. PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks. (Cheers, applause.) This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody — (applause) —

MR. BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?




AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes! (Applause.)

REP. PAUL: (Evasive) I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio. And the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals. (Applause.)

And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves, our neighbors, our friends; our churches would do it. This whole idea — that’s the reason the cost is so high. The cost is so high because we dump it on the government. It becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests.” [8]

The churches, of course, not being special interests, with their own agenda, but we’ll examine that in a moment. Paul Krugman’s analysis of Dr. Paul’s sophistry was dead on:

“People who can’t afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have — and sometimes they die as a result.

“The second is that very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.

“So would people on the right be willing to let those who are uninsured through no fault of their own die from lack of care? The answer, based on recent history, is a resounding ‘Yeah!'” [9]

The Tea Party is the Big Push of the ultra Right groups like the Club for Growth, the last hurrah of a 78 year war to reverse the New Deal, obliterate the social safety net, and bring us back to the same pro-wealth America that brought down the nation with unregulated free market capitalism in 1930.

A Division of Us and Them

The GOP has always been good at using the fear of outsiders to separate the mythical “Us” from “Them.”  Native Americans.  The internment of the Japanese. The Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era. The fear of blacks throughout. Republicans rally around invasion of the mythic white Christian values by outsiders.

Race is perhaps the most divisive part of American political life.

Blue states on the coasts tend to be racially, ethnically and religiously diverse. Red states of the heartland tend towards homogeneously white and more fundamentalist Christian.

President Obama’s election was a seminal event in the blue states, and a line in the sand in the Red.

“You know, I’m 70 years old,” House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (SC) told the McClatchy newspapers in May, 2011. “And I can tell you; people don’t like to deal with it, but the fact of the matter is, the president’s problems are in large measure because of his skin color.” [10]

The Birther Movement is mostly Republican and, not surprisingly, white Southern [11] As of April, 2011 more than a quarter of Americans still believe that Mr. Obama is a foreigner and/or a Muslim extremist. That group is almost 100% [12]

There was the open disrespect of the President by Joe “You Lie” Wilson, who has ties to Confederacy-sympathizing groups in his home state. [13]

The white fear mongering of Sarah Palin and John McCain on the 2008 campaign trail raised racist code to a fever pitch. As Matt Taibbi notes of her Vice-Presidential nomination speech, where she baited Mr. Obama as a “community organizer”, the subtlety of her racial code was missed:

“Palin has moved from talking about small-town folks as They a few seconds ago to We now — We don’t know what to make of this, We prefer this… [Palin] is making an impassioned bunker speech to a highly self-aware We that defines itself by the enemies surrounding it, enemies Palin is now haughtily rattling off one by one in this increasingly brazen and inspired address.”[14]

Then there are racist images, photos, etc. (see Right) The “monkey” photos and use of the “N” word to describe the President of the United States are all manifestations of that massive white fear.

Mr. Obama has made proposals on everything from health care to the debt ceiling that include political concepts which Republicans have complained for generations that Democrats won’t discuss, or put on the table.  Yet time after time, they have walked away.

White America does not want another term for a black President of the United States. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Minority Leader of the house, expresses that white angst most clearly. Getting everything that the GOP could want, including the propping up of the Bush tax cuts and corporate loopholes, his only order of business was to assuage white America:

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” [15]

Class Warfare Breaks Out Again

The Right and Left have been engaged in running skirmishes of class warfare for generations. When the GOP became the defacto party of big business, a primary mission statement was to maintain industry’s ability to exploit the working class.  Since the 2010 election, the GOP has been engaged in open combat with labor and the American worker.

Since the 2010 elections, the GOP has waged a two front war on the lower and middle classes.  At the state level, they have engaged in an anti-union jihad in Wisconsin and elsewhere that is trying to disenfranchise millions of workers ability to collectively bargain.  They have also rewritten laws in the name of mythic ‘voter fraud’ to change voter registration laws that make it harder for minorities and the elderly to vote.

Using and Abusing the Power of Government

Progressives understand the role of government regulation to maintain limits on business and provide some minimum standards of living and social justice for its citizens.  Republicans shout about getting the government off of their back, but have had no problem using back-door parliamentary procedures to strong-arm unions, and to impinge upon women’s reproductive rights.

“An item included in the Virginia budget bill passed earlier this year… reclassified abortion clinics as hospital facilities…

“Highlighting the anti-democratic nature of the change, the law was passed using a fast-track ’emergency’ process which allows bills to bypass required public notice and comment periods traditionally allowed in cases where such legislation is being considered…

“The requirements would be highly cost-prohibitive for clinics, as well as carry the result of making the service more costly for patients.

“Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health care and family planning services for tens of thousands of poor Virginia families, has warned that the rule changes could force the closure of 17 of the state’s 21 clinics.” [16]

The GOP wants to end the newly enacted Health Care law and slash Medicare because, as I mentioned last week in “The Missing Link to Human Potential: Universal Health Care and a Real Social Safety Net”  the private sector loses billions.  They have raided retirement piggy banks for all kinds of purposes including executive compensation and sweetener for merger deals.  Benefits are also one of the few carrots that large employers hold to keep employees in place at their jobs.

Religion & Government In Conflict

The last of the great divides in American politics is the question of who should be our social safety net: Religious institutions, or the government.  Democrats believe that government is the ultimate social safety net. Republicans would like to privatize our health and retirement further, turning the money over to special interests like Wall Street and the poor to the churches.

Poverty and need are good for the God biz, both by caring for the poor and fundraising amongst the well-off to do works of charity. Religions on the decline for decades in the United States. Taking away government support puts a lot more of the most vulnerable citizens back in a line begging for charity. The social welfare systems of churches were not comprehensive at any time in American history.  Many people fell into poverty in their retirement years, or died of illness without insurance even if they were members of a local congregation.

The Great Depression brought the charities to their knees. Charity by the wealthy did not trickle down nearly enough to cover the needs of the lower middle class and the working poor most endangered of falling into poverty and early death in retirement or old age.

“There’s no obvious scientific reason to say that democracy is the best form of government, but the vast majority of Americans take for granted, assume that democracy is the right way to go,” Jim Laine , a religious studies professor at Macalester College told the Minnesota Daily. “People now feel [religion is] optional,” Laine said. “More people will decide that they don’t need that particular club.” [17]

Princeton professor of Sociology and Public Affairs Paul Star makes the case against Republican privatization schemes:

“Privatization would do away with the idea of guaranteeing a minimally adequate income for the elderly who have worked all their lives,” says Starr. “From their own earnings, low-wage workers would be unlikely to generate enough funds in an individual account to maintain a decent standard of living in retirement. Even middle-class workers would be at greater risk of poverty in old age. It’s intrinsic to financial markets that they yield unequal returns; many of those who did badly with their individual accounts wouldn’t have enough from other sources to live on. And markets fluctuate: Some generations would retire during one of the long downturns that periodically hit the markets, when their investments would be convertible only into paltry annuities. Those who lived into their 80s or 90s would be especially likely to outlast their individual accounts, or, if they had bought annuities at retirement, see those annuities severely eroded by inflation.” [17]

You Are the Problem

Many of the problems and attitudes have been around for centuries. The polarity has existed from state to state.  Everyone wants to point fingers at the Republicans, or the Democrats, but the problem is really all of us.   If we had a reality game show where we locked all of the politicos into a house and had them dish on each other, you might have a hope of knowing what the hell is going on.  My barber runs a business in Florida but doesn’t know that Houston is in Texas. Really.  Particularly any of you calling yourselves “independents.”   It’s convenient to stand around and take pot-shots at the gridlocked Congress, but it is gridlocked because of Y.O.U.

Republican “independents:” You don’t like the damn Tea Party? Why aren’t you in there fighting to get your party back?  Make it fiscally conservative but socially sensible again. Attend a local committee meeting. Shout down a few Teahadi morons. Take the party back from the bullies and whack jobs that are destroying our democracy.

Democrat “Independents:” You don’t like where Mr. Obama is going?  You think he’s being too conciliatory? Get involved.  Get congressmen who will put a few 2008 CEOs behind bars. Get them to put Glass-Steagall in place. Work for Universal Health Care actively, if you really believe in it.

This nation is going to hell because the vast, white middle of our Oreo America is lazy, under informed, ill-educated, non-voting, non-participatory electorate.  You’re waiting for someone else to do something for you.  Be the next ‘Greatest’ generation. Be your grandparents.

This Oreo is splitting apart. If you don’t act, we’re heading towards two Americas, or a dark age for one ruled by some well funded fascists.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian and short filmmaker who blogs for Truth2Power, the Huffington Post, and the Daily KOS, among others.

4 comments on “Losing Oreo America: One Nation, Divisible

  1. PoliticalLoudmouth
    September 21, 2011

    Awesome essay! Very perceptive and well-thought out.We posted it on our Facebook page and suggested that our readers share it.


  2. Pingback: When Politics Becomes Religion « truth-2-Power

  3. Pingback: If you vote Republican today, what are you REALLY voting FOR? Handing Your Freedoms Away « truth-2-Power

  4. Pingback: A Tea-Bone to Pick with the Constitution’s Framers Over Elections | truth-2-Power

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