From the new November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:
The world’s biggest economy, belonging to the sole superpower, was pushed to the brink of disaster in mid-October. Having already forced a shutdown of the federal government, Tea Party Republicans in Congress threatened to trigger a default on U.S. debt through a refusal to raise the debt ceiling before Oct. 17. That could have sent the world economy into an abyss deeper than the 2008 financial collapse. Only at the last minute on Oct. 16 did House Speaker John Boehner allow a vote to open the government and raise the debt ceiling. Even then a majority of House Republicans voted for risking a global economic collapse.
CAPITALISTS FEAR WORKERS’ REVOLT
That a minority faction of one party in one chamber of one branch of the U.S. government could pose a grave threat to the world economy reflects the depth of the capitalist crisis. The sheer nihilism of that Tea Party faction reflects the depravity of American racism, which, as Patrick Buchanan threatened, would not hesitate to “bring down like Samson” the world around it. That the capitalists would allow them to risk so much reflects their greater fear of revolt by workers and other forces as living conditions fail to rebound from the depths of the Great Recession.
The 16-day shutdown’s impact went far beyond the much publicized closure of national parks and monuments. The lives of 800,000 furloughed “non-essential” government workers were turned upside down, as well as those relying on the many crucial functions they perform. There were delays in tracking down contaminated chicken that resulted in over 300 victims of salmonella poisoning, and some public health workers had to return to work. Environmental protection and health research, including experimental and possibly lifesaving medical procedures, shut down. Some states discontinued food assistance under the federally funded WIC program, impacting over 50,000 women and children in North Carolina alone. Some Native Americans such as the Crow Tribe of Montana had to suspend health, nutrition and bus services. The same is true of many programs and shelters for victims of domestic violence and for welfare and pre-school programs.
All this, plus a $24 billion bite out of the U.S. economy, was deemed acceptable in the quest to stop the scheduled implementation of President Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). How did ACA become the focal point of the Right’s populist rhetoric? Headlined by Sarah Palin and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party rally in the capitol wrapped this cause in calls for uncompromising revolt against the tyrants in power even as some of them brandished a Confederate flag outside the White House. ACA is a modest effort to extend healthcare access to nearly all citizens, which every other developed country—and many not so developed—accomplish much more cheaply and effectively. ACA was based on Republican-inspired methods implemented by Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts.
RACIST TEA PARTY REIGN
None of those facts matter to the Tea Party fanatics who subjected the government to extortion and were called a purely nihilistic opposition even by some conservative pundits. What matters more is that this formerly Republican idea was implemented by an African-American President. Waving a Confederate flag at Obama was a perfect symbol for the 40 core pro-shutdown House members from lily-white districts, mostly in the South. Their anti-government rhetoric is shot through with veiled and not-so-veiled racist themes.
Moreover, this crisis had been planned for months by conservative activists in the Heritage Foundation, the Tea Party and their big business financiers like the billionaire Koch brothers. The Koch business group, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars since 2012 trying to block ACA and promote candidates both locally and nationally who adhere strictly to the anti-ACA program.
Tea Party hatred of government is selectively aimed at help for the most vulnerable. For example, ACA medical care expansion would include the working poor.
The Republican Party is deeply fractured because many capitalists who support the repeal of ACA wonder if the Tea Party lunatics actually realize that default is a weapon that must never be fired because U.S. debt obligations are the crucial vehicle for global capitalists to bank their assets. They know that the government is an irreplaceable guarantor for finance capital. When things go badly, a bailout, or what Karl Marx called “capitalist communism,” will rescue them with infinite largesse as it did in 2008.
Even after their abject defeat at the hands of Obama and the Senate, Tea Party politicians are reveling in their show of force, hoping to use it to solidify the far Right’s sway over the Republican Party. They dream of purifying the Party by pushing aside “traitors” like Speaker Boehner, though he cravenly let them have the driver’s seat until the last minute.
Those who exploit racism in order to drag us ever closer to fascism are not just going to give up. And, despite this foray’s failure, they are still of use to the capitalists precisely because the system’s crisis runs so deep that revolt is ever brewing. The rulers aim to deceive, divide and suppress the working class and all forces of revolution. It is capitalism itself that is breeding crisis and fascism and must be abolished.