By Bill Boyarsky
There is a deep-rooted wrongheadedness about the Republicans as they drag the country toward fiscal disaster. Those afflicted with this harmful thinking range from tea party extremists like Michele Bachmann to pundits such as Peggy Noonan.
The irrationality of Bachmann and the rest of the conservative House Republicans is well known from daily news accounts of their refusal to negotiate on the debt limit. Digging into the politicians’ lesser reported speeches and reading the pundit musings give an even clearer picture of the conservative Republican mind-set.
Take, for example, the way Bachmann and fellow right-winger Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, have been campaigning in the rural Midwest against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $1.2 billion settlement of a class action suit brought by African-American farmers. The farmers wanted compensation, saying they had been victims of generations of prejudice by local Agriculture Department officials who denied them loans and other aid.
This settlement and a previous one were praiseworthy efforts by the federal government to right a wrong done to black farmers, who, according to the website The Root, owned 15 million acres in 1910 but only 1 million a century later. The lead plaintiff was Timothy Pigford, and the two cases bear his name.
Bachmann and King spoke of the settlement this month while touring flooded portions of the Midwest. Bachmann said, “When money is diverted to inefficient projects, like the Pigford project, where there seems to be proof positive of fraud, we can’t afford $2 billion [her figure] in potentially fraudulent claims when that money can be used to benefit the people along the Mississippi River and the Missouri River.” King, who has compared the settlement to the notion of “modern-day reparations” for African-Americans, said a large part of the settlement had been “paid out in fraudulent claims.”
There is a racist tone to these statements, with their unsubstantiated accusation of fraud against African-Americans long denied loans and other aid that has been given to whites. As The Root noted in describing the difficulty of getting a settlement, “Black farmers had to show that a white farmer in the same situation had received USDA assistance when it was denied to the blacks. Most black litigants didn’t have the time, money or means to do such research.”
Rep. King, by the way, showed his racist credentials in his defense of the police stops sanctioned by the Arizona immigration law. He said law enforcement could identify and stop a potential illegal immigrant by using “common-sense indicators.”
“Those common-sense indicators are all kinds of things, from what kind of clothes people wear—my suit in my case—what kind of shoes people wear, what kind of accent they have, the type of grooming they might have, there are all kinds of indicators and sometimes it’s just a sixth sense and they can’t put their finger on it,” he said.
Peggy Noonan, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, has none of the crudeness of Bachmann and King. I doubt she would refer to the African-American beneficiaries of the Agriculture Department settlement as frauds, nor would she praise King for his discourse on how to spot an illegal immigrant. She’s much too refined for that.
Yet they are all on the same track, yearning for an older, more peaceful, blander America, an America where only whites appeared on television, in the movies or in public office, where the president was not Barack Obama.
In discussing the unjust country rhapsodized by her old boss Ronald Reagan, Noonan talks about the “culture” of the new and old Americas.
She writes: “ … everyone over 50 in America feels a certain cultural longing now. They hear the new culture out of the radio, the TV, the billboard, the movie, the talk show. It is so violent, so sexualized, so politicized, so rough. They miss the old America they were born into, 50 to 70 years ago. And they fear, deep down, that this new culture, the one their children live in, isn’t going to make it. Because it is, in essence, an assaultive culture, from the pop music coming out of the rental car radio to the TSA agent with her hands on your kids’ buttocks. We are increasingly strangers here, and we fear for the future.”
While she doesn’t wear a colonial costume or brandish an inflammatory poster, Noonan is expressing, in polite language, the guts of the tea party message.
Part of the tea party’s anger and Noonan’s distress is that we’re not the old America of their dreams.
While the House Republicans say they are representing “The American People,” they actually represent only those who voted for them, in relatively small numbers, in the 2010 midterm elections. When Noonan invokes “the old America” culture, she is referring to a time and way of life shared and longed for by at best a minority of Americans.
What the tea party, the House Republicans and Noonan have in common is something very simple: They believe the United States should not be led by Barack Obama and that we should not accept the change and progress that his election represented. This belief goes beyond arguments over the debt and the deficit. It is deep and irreconcilable. It is the reason why the right won’t compromise.
AP / Paul Beaty
Tea party supporter Barbara Ann Nowak cheers during a rally in Chicago.