*Now that the national debt ceiling has been raised, and the country has averted economic catastrophe, it really is necessary to process and analyze what a small band of obstructionists have put the nation through. This debt ceiling debate, usually a pro forma act of Congress, took on a political—largely ideology—tone of huge proportions.
Why is that? The last President, George W. Bush, raised the debt ceiling seven times without as much as a peep out of Congress. The federal deficit was spiraling out of control at that time too…so much so that by the time Bush left office, the economy was in a freefall. More debt had to be taken on just to keep the economy from crashing…and burning.
Both parties, the Republican controlled Congress before the 2006 mid-term elections, and the Democrat controlled Congress after 2006 mid-term elections, accommodated then President Bush’s request. Then Barack Obama becomes President, and a national movement ensues to “take our country back.” The movement calls itself “The Tea Party,” named after the taxation revolt of 1767 that occurred after King George III and Parliament put the Stamp Act on the colonists. The colonist then dressed up as Mohawk Indians and threw tea shipments into the Boston Harbor in protestation.
The modern day Tea Party hadn’t been taxed, nor had they been dictated to. They simply reacted to the election of the nation’s first black President and immediately sought to obstruct anything he tried to do from its inception. Let’s not act like this four month debt ceiling debate, one of the most disruptive and intense debates about the economy ever, was not about President Obama. It was ALL about President Barack Obama (more on this later). But has the country’s economic problems been resolved as a result of this protracted debate? The common consensus is, “NO!” So what will it take to bring the two parties together?
Let’s be clear, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party were held hostage by a relatively small group of political mavericks that have gained critical mass in the Congress. They are not so large that they can takeover either chamber of Congress, but they proved that they are not so small that they cannot be dismissed by at least one chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives. Well, who are the Tea Partiers in Congress? That’s where it gets a little fuzzy. There were 87 new Republicans elected to Congress in 2010, producing 63 new seats in the House (seats previously held by Democrats). This was the largest shift of party control in history and by and large seen as a backlash to the election of Obama, or his Health Care reform initiative named by the Tea Partiers as “Obamacare.” Many of them ran against incumbents, and received little backing from either of the two major parties, so now that they are in Congress, they don’t feel beholden to either party, but they clearly have the most leverage in the Republican Party. This was demonstrated when President Obama and Speaker John Boehner made a sincere effort to do the “big deal” to address some real problems in reducing the deficit. The Tea Party killed the deal because Boehner couldn’t herd in the party’s mavericks. The Tea Party drove the debt ceiling debate all the way until the end, but not before trying to pass a temporary extension that would expire in the middle of the 2012 Presidential elections. This was their shot at trying to derail Obama’s re-election hopes with another artificial debate about taxes.
The Republican Party is now being held hostage by the Tea Party. Fifty two of the newly elected Republicans have officially signed on to the Tea Party caucus and the rest acknowledge that the Tea Party movement assisted their election in part, if not in total. They are highly sympathetic to the Tea Party position, as Tea Partiers vote with the Republican Party, but in the most extreme of policies associated with the Republicans far right wing. The Tea Party has emerged as the most radicalized segment of American politics. And they are only relevant because they could obstruct a critical vote, at a critical time, when the country needed to address it. They leveraged the media by sharing the President’s spotlight on a critical predicament. It also has very highly racialized sensibilities amongst its constituents. So much so, if there is a next race movement in America, the Tea Party will be at the front of it. I feel safe to say that this wouldn’t have taken place had we had a white president. Blink if you want to…but the fact this has not happened to any other President has raised my “Race-dar,” beyond anything ideological battles could muster. Race(ism) has not disappeared in this country. It’s just been codified.
Politics is compromise and pragmatism should always prevail when the national interest are at stake. It did for the two wars that increased the deficit and it should have now that it is time to pay the piper. America is not going to survive without increased tax revenues. All the economists say it. But these “lay legislators” (common folk representing “the people” in Congress) know more than the economists. I don’t think so. The President offered up cuts in exchange for taxing the rich and closing corporate tax loopholes. The President was left hanging. And so was Boehner. And so were the American people. The Tea Party claim they are not about “politics as usual,” but they proved they are about politics. It was a classic filibuster without a reasonable expectation of compromise. It was like how the Dixiecrats used to filibust civil right bills without one inch of give. Same thing. The only thing different was that they filibusted taxing the rich, the President’s request and the Democrats in Congress caved on it under the deadline. So, we got $2.4 trillion in spending cuts and not much else. And the Tea Party claims victory.
The American people should be asking why would Tea Partiers get in a game and ask for somebody to throw them the ball, then just hold it? We are foolish to believe that this was just about ideology. We need to stop playing ignorant about race realities in America. Wonder what a white president woulda got?
Or if he (she) would had to go through this at all?
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.