To listen to WBAI radio’s roundtable discussion about the below essay, go here.
This isn’t “The Great Recession,” it’s “The Great Change.” The recession–that is just a symptom of these enormous tectonic shifts going on (societally, technologically, economically, politically) and our inability to keep up has caused disruptions and economic downturn. That economic downturn is not the disorder, it’s just a symptom of the rapid changes spinning around us and our inability to cope. The change has come and will keep coming. Obama promised political change to help us adapt to all the other changes, but failed because of immediate backlash. Now, the backlash (led by the Tea Party) is bringing political change, and we’re headed for an upheaval that will radically shift ideas about the publicly-funded services and supports that keep people with disabilities alive and participating.
The Tea Party agenda is incredibly important for people with disabilities to learn about and understand because those ideas are here and will soon be back in the halls of power, BIG TIME.
Understand; the Tea Party movement is just the newest part of a self-described revolutionary movement that began in the ’60s with Ronald Reagan and first gained broad federal legislative power with the “Republican Revolution” brought by the 1994 midterm elections. The Republican Revolution brought us Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, the leaders of the Revolution, and dozens and dozens of loyal soldiers under them. Those foot soldiers, Senators and Congressmen first empowered by the ’94 revolution, the “Revolutionary guard” if you will, make up the bulk of the Congressional GOP today. And they’re worried now because the Tea Party is leading a second revolution, and they want their seats. Rick Lazio is a good example. Lazio was yet another foot soldier for the Republican Revolution and its policy platform, the Contract with America (which demanded lower taxes, eliminating welfare, tougher anti-crime laws and a balanced budget amendment making deficits unconstitutional). That was no longer right-wing enough for conservative voters; Lazio got crushed by Tea Partier Carl Paladino in the GOP gubernatorial primary. You have to hate much more to be a real conservative. This is like one of Robespierre’s purges of earlier revolutionaries; it’s not enough to support the revolution and oppose the enemy, you have to show a frenzied enthusiasm for every facet of the revolution and consistently revile the enemy publicly, or face the guillotine. Paladino painted Lazio as a “liberal Republican” throughout the primary, an INSANE claim, and won because a huge plurality of Republicans actually believes this. Rick Lazio must feel like his head’s rolling down the palace rug right now, poor bastard. Republican Revolution of ’94 wasn’t enough; now, foaming ultra-conservatives demand Republican Revolution II!
Republican Revolution II has already started; they even use the language of revolution, openly. Example: from Carl Paladino’s victory speech: “The ruling class knows — they’ve seen it now — there’s a people’s revolution.”
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This video is a great primer on the Tea Party and what they’re all about.
Even if the GOP doesn’t take over the Senate and the House, the populist groundswell it has generated (and incumbents’ fear of losing their jobs) will severely limit what Congress can do.
What ideas are the Tea Party/Republican Revolution II based on?
Reaction. The primary idea/emotion of this movement is that Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Congress are threatening their way of life and they have to “take our country back.” Conservapedia, which often seems like a Colbert-penned parody but actually is a serious project founded by Andrew Schlafly (youngest son of early segregationist and anti-feminist leader Phyllis Schlafly), has a good article on the Tea Party movement and its founding motives, all of which are a reaction to Democrats and their policies. It really is akin to Italy’s Blackshirts; it’s an authoritarian mass movement (and is being studied as such by authoritarian psychology scholars). It fits the authoritarian blueprint to a tee, right down to the outcry of an oppressed “majority” against what they see as “radicals,” scapegoating (and fear-baiting) of minorities, fear of redistribution of wealth to the “lesser,” and rallying cries to return to a heralded, idealized past. They believe that if only Republicans (especially Tea Party-endorsed Republicans) controlled the government, the rapid changes affecting their lives and the economic anxieties and fear of losing privileges they cause would be reduced. Fear and rage animate this movement.
It’s almost analogous to the infamous “Islamic Rage Boy” from Kashmir, in furious reaction to the Indian government that the protestors feel will eradicate their way of life. The Tea Party also sets up a battle for their way of life, absolute good vs. absolute, unadulterated evil, with no shades of gray in between.
The followers are reacting to economic anxieties, but the leaders are of an Ayn Randist-bent. If you’ve been an internet activist for over a decade, you could find them saying the same things they are now (staunch anti-federalism, strict constructionist view of the Constitution that damns all federal social programs as unconstitutional, blaming FDR and the New Deal for federal overreach and all subsequent economic problems, near-deification of Ronald Reagan, fundamentalist belief in Voodoo Economics to the point that they know that tax cuts can create enough new revenue to fund anything, white supremacy, extreme persecution complex, paranoid conspiracy theories about an all-controlling liberal elite) back in the Clinton and Bush years on web forums like FreeRepublic.com. Those wingnut views are now heard much more often as we allow the fringe to creep into the mainstream, but the hard-right ideas are not new. Online communities like FreeRepublic and their ilk would disgust most people in the first 20 minutes browsing threads; these are hard-right echo-chambers that have an incredibly radicalizing affect on their followers, environments where reviling “the other” is essential for being in the “in-crowd” and cross-pollination with known far-right extremist groups is vibrant and unconcealed. These guys have a hardcore agenda, and always sought to build a grassroots movement to primary out GOP incumbents and push the party to the fringe, but were never able to until the recession and widespread economic fear gave them a vehicle.
What does the Tea Party mean for people with disabilities?
The Tea Party leaders’ Rand philosophy label us who use social services “robbers,” “leeches” and “parasites” because we suck up the wealth rightfully earned by the labors of others. Judging by this video of hate activists yelling abuse like “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town! Nothing for free here, you have to work for everything you get!” at a disabled man at a Tea Party rally, and throwing money at him in revulsion, this movement embraces Social Darwinism, and they really do intend hatred for us people with disabilities and cutting off our services. Though I too would like an end to UNNECESSARY government interventions (especially in the area of civil liberties, which conservatives seem to have abandoned en masse) what counts as necessary government intervention is where Rand-bots and I differ, because they see nearly every intervention as unwarranted tyrannical intrusion into private matters. For them, even saving people from dying of decubitus ulcers from lack of personal care is unwanted government overreach.
There are opponents of this extreme agenda within the conservative leadership, for example, the New York Conservative Party said: “If Carl Paladino wins this thing, it will cause severe damage — it could be for decades — to the Republican Party of New York State.” Many (correctly) predict an internal struggle over policy once the GOP wins Congress. If Tea Party candidates run the table, expect radical change in the services provided to us people with disabilities. More likely, incoming freshmen Congressmen will be unable to oust Leader John Boehner (R – Oompa Loompa) and compromises on policy goals are expected.
How should we adapt to survive drastic changes in social spending?
I call on disability community leaders to seek a meeting with future Speaker Boehner, as well as likely GOP budget planners Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy (who, during their book tour rolling out the 2010 Roadmap for America’s Future legislation, have been asking voters and fellow Congressmen for an adult conversation about how best to handle the coming scaledown in social services) and meet with them to discuss PRESERVING the most cost-effective services for people with disabilities: home and community based services (HCBS). If we people with disabilities have the needed home and community based services, we stay in our homes with our loved ones, producing value in our communities, paying sales taxes, property taxes, etc. But if those services are yanked out from under us, we end up in insanely expensive nursing facilities, or worse, dead. Conservatives are usually penny smart and pound foolish on this issue, slashing “optional” HCBS funding while leaving nursing home costs to continually balloon. That “institutional bias” has to change, or the affect on people with disabilities will be just devastating as political winds keep changing and funding streams dry up. The budget arithmetic just doesn’t work, so benefits have to scale down; stop thinking this won’t change, it IS changing!
Unless the disability community wakes up to the realities that Medicaid and Medicare will soon be drastically changing and we get IN FRONT OF the issue and begin educating and negotiating hard for our top 5 most essential services to preserve, our quality of life will go down the drain. Those of us in New York will be living with services like they have under Alabama Medicaid, and Alabamians with disabilities will fall to the level of Dominican Republic or Colombia or India. We have to prevent that. It’s time for hardcore SURVIVAL POLITICS!!
In Alabama, Medicaid policies really took a vicious turn after the first Republican Revolution took over Congress after the ’94 elections. Ideas about social services changed drastically overnight. In ’96-’97 I was fighting Alabama’s stated plan to end home nursing completely and ship every last one of us to institutions out-of-state. I won, but not before several people I knew died. After George W. Bush took over the presidency in 2001, Alabama Medicaid, began saying openly that they can’t afford home care and that it should be the responsibility of families and communities, not the state. Spending on home care dropped dramatically, to unprecedented lows. I had to lobby the state legislature, and eventually sue, to keep my care from being dropped when I turned 21. I won, and saved my younger brother, but my friend Chris died because no caregiver was at home to hear his disconnect alarm. Now with unprecedented yawning budget gaps, home and community based services are scant to non-existent in the red states. I escaped to New York just in the nick of time.
Please realize that the change is here already in most of the country, even California now–thanks to the Governator and a weak legislature. Too many in the NY disability community are happy, comfortable and complacent; ya’ll don’t see the tectonic shifts coming. It’s coming because of the growing consensus that we no longer want to pay for/can’t afford Medicaid and Medicare as it is now, the growing consensus for insane, rugged individualism. People with disabilities, WAKE UP! The time for soul-searching and tough negotiating with conservatives is NOW.
Listen to Paul Ryan talking about his “Roadmap.” Understand that soon we’ll have no choice but deep sacrifices and tough compromises, so the best approach is to negotiate hard for our biggest priorities, and start NOW!