Republican Lite

When Mitt Romney criticized the health care bill, the Huffington Post pointed out that it’s essentially the same plan he imposed on Massachusetts when he was governor there. In their smugness over Romney’s hypocrisy, the liberals are ignoring the most important fact: Obama’s health care bill is a Republican bill. This should not be surprising. After all, Obama has continued most of the policies of his Republican predecessor. However, Obama’s election did result in change, in the sense that political discourse in this country has shifted to the right (although people’s actual views have not.) This is due to the necessity of maintaining the pretense that Obama is somehow liberal or progressive, necessary for the campaign rhetoric of both Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans’ strategy of appealing to the lunatic right seems to be starting to backfire – just as it did during the 2008 election. Stirring up the troglodytes seems to be the only thing they can think of doing, now that Obama has taken over their agenda. As for the supposed size of the tea bagger movement, only a few hundred showed up for the demonstration during the vote on the health care bill. If that’s all they can do, then they are not truly a mass movement.

Those who think the tea baggers are a populist movement should read this article in Socialist Worker. Among other things we learn the following:

    Of those “active” supporters, 60 percent were male, 80 percent were white, and 66 percent made more than $50,000 a year. In fact, the largest income group of tea party activists (34 percent) was those making $75,000 or more per year. More tellingly, 87 percent said they vote for Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives (as opposed to 46 percent of all respondents), and 77 percent described themselves as “conservative.”

This is the same section of U.S. society that in the past gave us such groups as the John Birch Society (who believed that Eisenhower was a Soviet agent). What motivates these people? Trotsky used to say that the petty bourgeoisie are terrified of being pushed down into the ranks of the proletariat. It seems to me that something similar is at work here. The idea of social welfare is frightening to these people, because they see it as somehow a repudiation of their middle class status. (Although that doesn’t stop these people from accepting Social Security checks or Medicare, perhaps because they see these as part of their middle class privilege.)

The last time we saw such an upsurge in the looney right was during the early days of the Clinton administration. That culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. It remains to be seen where this will go.

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