“Republicans Are Addicted to Koch [Brothers]” – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D)
Militia Leader Calls For The Assassination Of Obama On Facebook
Whenever I read a new story about some questionable activities on social networking sites, I foolishly believe that now I have heard them all. Once again, I am proven wrong.
Here is an extremely dumb idea that will very likely entail a not-so-friendly visit by the Secret Service. Do not try this at home (or anywhere else):
As John Aravosis at Americablog reports, Everest Wilhelmsen, the leader of group calling itself the Christian American Patriots Militia, has posted a call for President Obama’s assassination on his Facebook page on November 19, 2013.
Wilhelmsen associates himself with the Tea Party Movement, holds Birther beliefs about President Obama not being an American citizen, opposes ‘Obamacare,’ and endorses conspiracy theories about the U.S. government’s handling of the Benghazi incident.
He also threatens violence against Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, should they not sign a statement supporting his Birther beliefs.
I think it is noteworthy how safe far-right extremists like this militia leader apparently feel in the age of the first African American president. To think that they can get away with what would certainly be interpreted as terrorist threat, had it come from a non-white Islamist instead of a white self-identified Christian, certainly speaks to the dynamics of race in contemporary America. For all the things that are being overblown and exaggerated by attaching the label ‘terrorism’ to it since 9/11, this here seems to be the real thing.
There are certainly many things to criticize about the Obama administration. One might even be completely opposed to its major policy projects. But calling for an assassination of political leaders is crossing a line into the unacceptable.
“Militia nut openly calls for Obama`s assassination on Facebook.” (John Aravosis, Americablog, 2013/11/22)
How Christian Fundamentalism Distracts From Real Political Problems in America
To fundamentalist Christians in America, the government shutdown, a potential debt default, and the destruction of the environment do not matter in the grand scheme of things.
A recent article on AlterNet by Amanda Marcotte highlights how Christian fundamentalists among the Republican party leadership and their base do not care about the actual detrimental real-world effects of their obstructionist policies such as the current (October 2013) government shutdown and the battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Tea Party libertarianism meets Christian fundamentalism
Her conclusion, based on various polls, is that the Tea Party Movement, whose economic libertarian ideology plays out right now in these grand showdowns, is also influenced by Christian fundamentalism more than usually assumed. A Pew poll showed that supporters of the TPM “are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.”
Obamacare as sign of the end times
One strain of American Christian fundamentalists think that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially called Obamacare, will reign in the biblical end times and believe they must do anything in their power to stop it from happening.
Marcotte sums up that perception of reality in these terms:
Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.
Anticipating the end of the world
On the other hand, some Christian fundamentalists with notable Tea Party credentials, including Rep. Michele Bachman, founder of the Tea Party Caucus and one-time presidential contender cheer what they interpret as signs of biblical end times (such as violent conflict in Syria). Bachman wrongly claims that Obama intentionally supports Al Quaeda by providing aid to Syrian rebel groups and opines that the conflict in Syria is indeed a sign of the biblical end times.
This fits neatly with a recent right-wing conspiracy on the Internet claiming that during the government shutdown, President Obama had paid out of his own pocket for a museum of Muslim culture. As it turned out, FOX News had unknowingly, or intentionally ignoring the dubious source, reported a story from satirical news site The National Report. In the past years, numerous baseless allegations have been made from the same general direction (Tea Party Movement) about Obama being a Crypto-Muslim (read terrorist).
Add to that the fact that in 2013, according to a poll by the liberal-leaning PPP, 20 percent of Republicans and 6 percent of Democrats believed that Obama is the biblical Antichrist (!).
A similar line of (un-)reasoning holds true for the issue of climate change. To Christian fundamentalists who intentionally ignore scientific facts, such as the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the human influence on climate change, climate change is not real or no problem. In their view, the world will either not end until Jahweh wills it so, or they do not worry because they believe in the return of Jesus in their lifetime.
Other-worldliness is the problem and offers no solutions to this world
As you might have guessed, I personally consider Rep. Bachmann’s end times beliefs to be dangerous, irrational, and irresponsible delusions, especially regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East.
From a reality-based outlook, the thinking of American fundamentalist Christians is no less scary than that of Iranian mullahs, Afghan taliban, or the Saudi religious police.
True, in America there is still the tiny obstacle of democracy, but it does not take much to observe how fundamentalist Christianity works to subvert it and attempts to transform the US into a theocracy. The school textbook wars, the battle over reproductive choice, or high-level self-styled holy warriors within the US military imagining themselves as Christian bulwark against the ‘Muslim hordes’ are just some of the fronts this confrontation takes place.
More generally, the problem of other-worldliness extends to fundamentalists of all religions, everwhere. In my view, any religious zealot eager to see the end of the world, especially those with (potential) access to nuclear weapons and other WMDs, deserves extremely close scrutiny and must be kept away from the ‘red button’ at all costs (preferably, by not electing them to any meaningful office in the first place).
Even if one discards the horrifying apocalyptic scenario of religious zealots using WMDs to bring about the end times and returns to the mundane issues of government and the economy, the prospects for those of us living in this world do not become brighter in the face of willful indifference.
A prolonged government shutdown will cause continued suffering among the weakest in American society. Representatives and Senators in Congress, most of whom are millionaires, will on the other hand never personally feel the effects of the power play they are engaged in. Even worse, a government default in the US would have detrimental effects on the interconnected economies of the world.
Those who merely look for another world for salvation and are willing to let this one go to pieces are the problem.
Billionaires Koch Brothers Remodel Dark Money Operations
Billionaires Charles and David Koch, who funded various Tea Party groups throughout the last years, are adjusting their modus operandi.
As the Huffington Post reports, the Kochs have founded a new front group called Association for American Innovation, which is going to give massive amounts of money to other opaque political groups in order to further their agenda of economic deregulation and tax cuts for their class.
Among the groups expected to receive funding are Concerned Women for America and the Libre Initiative, an outfit promoting libertarianism to Hispanics.
The apparent goal of the Kochs’ public relations efforts is to convince middle and working class Americans that their economic interests neatly align with those of the wealthiest members of society. Basically it is the myth of trickle-down economics. Engineering this spin is paramount, from their perspective, to increasing their capital and protecting it from the rest of society.
“New Koch Brothers Group Revamps Billionaires’ Dark Money Operation.” (Peter H. Stone, Huffington Post, 2013/04/26)
Meet Jim Porter, The New NRA President
As unnecessary gun deaths continue to take their toll on American society, one might have hoped that the National Rifle Association would nominate a reasonable person for their president. In the face of the latest series of school shootings and other horrible gun violence, it is quite apparent that there is a demand for somebody who might negotiate a balance between the interests of gun owners and the public’s longing for safety. But moderation of any sort is definitely not where the NRA is going these days.
Jim Porter goes to eleven
Jim Porter, a former Alabama lawyer, is the new president of the National Rifle Association. And as you might have suspected, he is as extreme as they come. Judging by his statements, Porter is quite the dog-whistling, Neo-Confederate, conspiracy-mongering nutjob. Hyperbole, you say. Well, read on and see for yourself.
Where to begin? As the New York Times reports, he says that Obama is a “fake president.” His view of American history compels him to call the American Civil War the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’ He peddles conspiracy theories alleging that the Obama administration is conspiring with the UN to take all guns away from Americans. He also says that it is the NRA’s job to train Americans to fight against tyranny from their own government (the video of Porter speaking is linked in the New York Times article).
This strain of the political far-right in America surfaced in parts of the Tea Party Movement throughout the past years. But now the figurehead of America’s powerful gun manufacturers’ lobby is a race-baiter who is apparently driven by paranoid fantasies. Not a wise choice.
American talk radio is a phenomenon of its own with no comparison in the German media landscape. This is likely due to less strict broadcasting regulations on the US side of the Atlantic, especially since the fall of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a much broader definition of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in general, and the comparatively longer distances traveled in cars in the US. All of the above factors into the popularity of AM talk radio, especially political talk formats.
For the past decades, American talk radio has predominantly been the domain of angry white male conservative populist agitators, among them figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have made a fortune feeding their audiences’ fears of American decline, multiculturalism, and the whole palette of issues subsumed under the term culture wars. A key trope of most far-right talk radio hosts has always been the claim of defending ‘freedom,’ a term so vague in the arsenal of political rhetoric that it can easily be loaded up with the most illiberal ideas, not in the meaning of liberal as in political ideology, but as in the theoretical political concept.
Case in point: Recently, conservative talk radio host Michael Savage has called for a new “nationalist party” with a “charismatic leader.” Talking about the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the conservative populist movement that had emerged along with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Savage said that “the rudiment” of that new party might be found among their ranks. Savage, who was born to Russian-Jewish parents, used the analogy of a “King David” that was needed to unite the American Right. Savage, who calls President Obama a “quasi-pseudo-crypto Marxist” thinks that the Tea Party Movement was not right-wing enough and that a new party should challenge the Republican party from the right on a platform of “borders, language, and culture.”
If that sounds eerily authoritarian, it’s because it is!
A severe economic crisis. Extreme nationalism. Calls for a charismatic leader. Writing from Berlin, I hear the jackboots stomping in my head.
“Jewish Wingnut Wants Nationalist Party With Charismatic Leader.” (Ed Brayton, Dispatches From The Culture Wars, 2013/01/10)
“Radio host Michael Savage calls for ‘Nationalist’ third party to challenge GOP. “(Geoff Herbert, syracuse.com, 2013/01/07)
“Conservative Radio Host: America Needs A New ‘Nationalist Party’ With A ‘Charismatic Leader.’” (Anjali Sareen, Mediaite, 2013/01/06)
“Top Conservative Radio Figure Calls For Nationalist Third Party.” (BuzzFeed, 2013/01/06)
“Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” (Umberto Eco, New York Review of Books, 1995/06/22 via The Modern World)
Barack Obama remains the President of the United States for the next four years. What is on the domestic agenda in American politics next?
The “Fiscal Cliff” and the “Grand Bargain”
Republicans in Congress plan to hold the approval of the federal budget hostage, as they did last time. What do they want? The continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and severe cuts to social programs that benefit the less fortunate in the name of deficit reduction. Most interesting about this is that the freshly reelected president and Democrats have signaled their willingness to largely go along with Republicans.
In what is known as the “Grand Bargain,” Democrats including Obama have proposed to slash programs such as Social Security to decrease the federal deficit, in order to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” i.e. the blockade of the federal budget by the GOP. Other than one might think from the Democrats’ campaign rhetoric, the focus is not on tax increases for corporations and the wealthiest individuals.
To understand why Obama would support policies that seem to run counter to his campaign promises of even a few weeks ago, namely to put his support behind the struggling American middle class, one has to reach back into his not-too-distant past. And there it lies, in the open: Obama is a neoliberal. 1 2 3
It is visible in the people he appointed to his economic team during the first term in office, the ways in which the financial industry was not heavily regulated after the financial crisis, and the way a public option was given up on early in favor of an industry-based model during the health care reform negotiations.
The irony of it all is that Obama the neoliberal, who pretends to be an economic progressive (liberal) during election season, is decried as everything from a socialist to a communist by the far-right commentators on talk radio and the Republican propaganda machine of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch that is Fox News.
Economically, Obama’s current proposals represent but a gradual difference to what a Romney/Ryan presidency would have wrought, but it is not qualitatively different. The interests of the super-wealthy are not touched by Obama and the Democratic Party.
The swift willingness to compromise with a Republican Party that has been playing hardball since day one (of Obama’s first term), combined with the Obama administration’s notable toughness towards its progressive supporters, reoccurring at the beginning of this second term, makes one wonder whether this is after all a game of good cop, bad cop. If Republican proposals seem extreme from a middle class perspective, the Democrats’ slightly less harsh plans all of a sudden look friendly in comparison. But it is a view from within a moving train.
[Update] My judgment of the situation was perhaps a bit too harsh. According to the New York Times (December 2), the Obama administration now forces the GOP to come to the table first with a serious offer, not the other way around like last time. Obama now wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to reduce the federal deficit.
“Divided House Passes Tax Deal in End to Latest Fiscal Standoff.” (Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, 2013/01/01)
“GOP’s Latest Fiscal Cliff Offer: Permanent Extension Of Bush Tax Cuts For The Wealthy.” (Igor Volksky, Think Progress, 12/12/2012) – Business as usual.
“Following the Debt Talks-Interactive Feature.” (Alicia Parlapiano and Josh Keller, New York Times, 2012/12/06) – A nice graphic overview of what Democrats and Republicans each offer in the current talks on the federal debt and budget.
“Criticized as Weak in Past Talks, Obama Takes Harder Line.” (Peter Baker, New York Times, 12/02/2012)
“The cold, hard realities behind Medicare cuts.” (Politico, 12/02/12)
“Inside the talks: Fiscal framework emerges.” (Politico, 11/29/12)
[Fact check] “Facts Falling Off the Fiscal Cliff.” (FactCheck, 11/14/2012)
“Fiscal Cliff? Obama Urged Not To Panic.” (Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 11/13/2012)
[Op-ed] “Why the Grand Bargain Is One-Sided and Totally Unfair.” (Cenk Uygur, Huffington Post, 11/12/2012)
“White House Grand Bargain offer to Speaker Boehner Obtained by Bob Woodward.” (NBC News, 11/11/2012)
[Op-ed] “Let’s Not Make a Deal.” (Paul Krugman, New York Times, 11/08/2012)
“Liberals fear grand bargain betrayal if President Obama wins.” (Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico, 11/02/2012)
“Obama vows debt-cutting ‘grand bargain,’ immigration reform in Des Moines Register interview.” (Olivier Knox, Yahoo!News, 10/24/2012)
- Op-Ed: “Kill Lists and Giant Triplets: Obama and the Neoliberal Government.” (Tolu Olorunda, CounterPunch, 11/08/2012) ↩
- “Obama 2006—”Too many of us have been interested in defending programs as written in 1938.″ (Gaius Publius, AmericaBlog, 05/01/2012) ↩
- “No Economic Team of Rivals On Obama Staff: Rubin’s Manic Neoliberals Dominate.” (Steve Clemons, New America Foundation, Huffington Post, 02/28/2012) ↩
Today, historian Charles Postel of San Francisco State University and a visiting scholar at Heidelberg University, visited American Studies Leipzig as part of the Fulbright lecture series to talk about the rise of the Tea Party Movement in the US.
Postel, who specializes in populist movements in America, sees the Tea Party Movement as driven by a convergence of two different forces: ideology and economic self-interest.
The Founding Myth: The Boston Tea Party
He mentioned the myth of the original Boston Tea Party of the eighteenth century in American folklore, which is widely seen as a tax revolt, but was, according to historians, much more complex, involving political ideas about freedom and economic self-interest of Boston merchants and smugglers.
In order to illustrate the anatomy of today’s Tea Party Movement, Postel noted that federal taxes are at the lowest level since sixty years and that tax levels for the highest income groups have declined even sharper than for the average taxpayer.
Ideological Roots: Cold War Hard Right Paranoia
Postel held that much of the ideology of the Tea Party Movement derives from anti-New Deal conservative movements of the Cold War Era, in particular the John Birch Society, who saw social programs such as Social Security, trade unions, and the Civil Rights Movement as communist subversion of America. The enemies of those anti-New Deal conservative Republicans were for the most part moderate Republicans of the time.
The John Birch Society, which was the first grassroots conservative movement in the US, achieved a victory in mobilizing for Barry Goldwater as Republican candidate in 1964.
Robert Welch, the founder of the JBS, even went so far as accusing Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy as communist agents. In fact, anyone in favor of the New Deal and Civil Rights was seen as a communist.
In this video clip on YouTube, you can see Welch’s presentation (ca. 1965) of the JBS.
Other leading conservative intellectuals, such as William F. Buckley, distanced themselves from Welch and the JBS.
Welch and his allies, among them writer Leon Scousen, whose books have had a revival among Tea Partiers, built their own conservative movement on an anti-New Deal agenda.
For them, America’s fall from grace began in the early 1900s with the Progressive Movement’s social reforms.
The Birchers demanded the repeal of early twentieth century reforms, the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows for the federal government to raise an income tax, and the abolition of the Federal Reserve. They also demanded that the Seventeenth Amendment be repealed, which allows for the direct election of Senators. This was subsumed under the idea that America was a republic, not a democracy.
The Tea Party Movement picks up many of those ideas. It aims at repealing the remaining elements of the New Deal. It wants to abolish the Fed and for the reintroduction of the Gold Standard. It wants to repeal the 16th and 17th Amerndments. It argues that President Obama is a socialist and points to the Affordable Healthcare Act or ‘Obamacare.’
According to Postel, Obama is actually a centrist Democrat. A health care legislation similar to Obama’s was first proposed by President Nixon in 1974. For a long time, Republicans endorsed this idea.
The Tea Party Movement sees any regulation of the health care sector as socialism.
The Comeback of Bircher Rhetoric
If the rhetoric reminds of Joseph McCarthy and Barry Goldwater, that is, Postel says, because the John Birch Society has a revival.
Leon Scousen’s books are advertised regularly on Fox News by opinion hosts such as Glenn Beck.
Right-wing corporate lobbyists, including groups like FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity, but also think tanks, such as the conservative Heritage Foundation or the libertarian Cato Institute promote ideas similar to those of the Birchers.
Overall, the Cold War Hard Right has made a comeback, and it has gained the upper hand within the Republican Party.
Moderate Republicans have become a pariah within their party.
[Update]: I just stumbled upon a recent example of Bircherite Tea Party rhetoric. Congressman Allen West (R-FL) suggesting that 80 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party (article from The Raw Story).
The Politics of Self-Interest: Medicare Is Fine, But Only For Me
Besides ideology, politics of interest play an important role in the Tea Party Movement.
Postel sees this embodied in the Tea Party Movement’s opposition to health care reform as fight against ‘big government.’
The size of the federal government has remained relatively stable over the last decades. Most federal spending has been shrinking in the last thirty years. The two big exceptions to this are military spending and Medicare.
Most Tea Party supporters are on favor of higher military spending.
Regarding Medicare, typical Tea Party supporters—older, better educated, white males—have in the past most profited from government programs.
In other words, the Tea Party Movement mobilizes in the name of defending Medicare for themselves.
Tea Party figures such as Michelle Bachman have argued to the effect that Obama would take funds out of Medicare to give it to younger people.
Postel mentioned that the Paul Ryan Budget, favored by Republicans, illustrated this interest: those over fify-five would keep Medicare, while everyone else will have to shop in the insurance market with private vouchers.
The Politics of Inequality
The Ryan Budget also includes tax cuts for top earners and budget cuts for social programs.
This plan is proposed within the context of rising inequality within the US. While problematic for many, Postel noted that tens of millions of Americans have also benefited from rising inequality.
So far, Tea Party-influenced legislation at the state and local level has fostered inequality, with a clear anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-reproductive health, and anti-voting rights agenda.
Currently, about twenty percent of Americans sympathize with the Tea Party Movement.
The Tea Party Movement has links to corporate lobbyists. Postel highlighted the Koch Brothers, the fourth wealthiest individuals in the US with an industry conglomerate in petrochemicals. The Kochs bankroll the Tea Party Movement through lobby groups such as Americans for Prosperity. They founded libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, and ALEC, a legal think tank. Fred C. Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, was a founding member of the John Birch Society.
Despite the involvement of the Kochs and others, Postel said that the Tea Party Movement cannot be called purely an ‘astroturf’ or fake grassroots movement.
Postel also held that while the mass media often emphasize the Tea Party Movement’s anti-elite rhetoric, there is not very much of it on closer look. Rather, all political movements in the US since the nineteenth century have used some form of anti-elite rhetoric, out of necessity.
Blowing Up The Social Contract
For Postel, the core agenda of the Tea Party Movement is “blowing up the social contract.” While in Europe there is general agreement about the validity of some form of social contract, even among right-wing populist parties, who want to limit the beneficiaries of that social contract, Tea Partiers want to end it. To American Tea Partiers, European right-wing populist parties might look statist, which is opposite to Tea Party ideology.
Many Tea Partiers call themselves ‘tenthers,’ in reference to the Tenth Amendment, which gives established the federal system giving states all rights not granted to the federal government. Postel noted that in the US, political movements have always swung for or against states’ rights and federal rights, depending on whether the legislation in question aligned with their particular agenda.
Postel ended his talk noting that, ironically, the Tea Party Movement has nationalized politics more than anything else in the recent past.
Charles Postel is currently working on a book chapter for an anthology on the Tea Party Movement.
Here is a video from American Studies Leipzig featuring an interview with Charles Postel after his talk: