Sunday, March 21, 2010

An Open Letter To The American Right and the Tea Party

I actually wanted to write a different post for this weekend. But that post involves uploading some video to the Internet, and every time I have tried it, the operation has been a bit like having one's teeth pulled without anesthesia. One of these days, I might just succeed... But in the meantime, I have some questions for the American right in general, and the Tea Party in particular. I am trying to understand you. If you read my blog, you'll doubtless pick up on my general views regarding you – but I'm willing to admit that maybe we don't understand each other, and that I've been unfair in my attitude toward you. So please help me out here, if you would.

Let me just say that it's been quite an experience to watch the rise of the Tea Party and its promoters – groups like Fox News and talk radio hosts, and people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and rich sponsors like Dick Armey and Steve Forbes. And I see all the books written by your spokespeople and sold in places like the Fred Meyer store just a few blocks away from my house. Moreover, I have met many people who seem to sympathize with you, from some of the people I know at work to some of the people I see on the streets of Portland waving signs. (I am thinking particularly of the sign wavers who want to recall Mayor Sam Adams.) Certainly you all have a lot of energy and zeal.

I must also say that I am more than a little unnerved by what I see of you. I know that both the world in general and our nation in particular are facing tough, uncertain times. However, it seems to me that you are responding to these times in ways that may not be beneficial to all groups of people in the world – especially those who are poor or who come from an ethnic background that is different than yours. It seems to me that many of you would like to take this country (along with the larger world) back to a condition that existed maybe 50 years ago, and that had only slowly begun to change by the 1970's. That condition was very hard on my parents (who are black, as I am), and was rather hard on me as I was growing up. Now I am a Christian, but I must warn you that I refuse to go willingly back to those days without a fight. Also, I perceive larger systemic, environmental, ecological and economic threats for which a return to the thinking of the 1950's and 1960's is just not the answer.

Take the global warming controversy for instance. I really liked science as a kid, and I used to want to be an astronaut. So I read a lot of books on astronomy and particularly the planets of our solar system. One planet, Venus, has an atmosphere that contains a lot of carbon dioxide. Both the U.S. and Russia have sent space probes to Venus, and the Russian probes have actually taken pictures of the surface. Those pictures look like something out of Hell. The surface temperature of Venus is high enough to melt lead. And all those science books, written 40 years ago and more, all said that this was due to the huge amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. These books also taught me that carbon dioxide is transparent to visible light and short wave infrared radiation, but that it is opaque to long wave infrared radiation. In short, these books explained the greenhouse effect in a way that a little kid could understand (and they were backed up by lots of research done by trustworthy grown-ups). So why is it, now that big money is involved, that we're suddenly not supposed to trust the science behind global warming and manmade climate change?

Or take the subprime crisis (and race relations along with it). I remember the discrimination against minorities that was practiced by banks and realtors during the civil rights struggle. I also remember what it was like for the few minority families that escaped red-lining and were able to move into suburban, traditionally white neighborhoods. I remember the fights I got into almost daily when my dad bought a house in a white neighborhood. And I remember how one of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement was the passage of laws that outlawed discrimination in housing and lending.

But I also remember doing research for this very blog, The Well Run Dry, and finding out how Ronald Reagan and every president after him weakened and gutted those anti-discrimination laws. And I know what the actual causes of the subprime crisis were, and how minorities were deliberately “steered” into subprime loans by banks – against the law – even though many of us could have qualified for conventional loans. And now Fox News is saying that our present financial crisis was caused by the Federal Government outlawing lending discrimination against minorities?! Speaking of race, why is it that whenever there are disasters and people suffering from slow and incompetent responses to those disasters on the part of their government, they are always treated by the media (particularly Fox) as unfortunate sufferers bravely trying to cope as long as they are white, and they are called “looters” if they're not white?

Let's take health care. To me, the present health care debate seems to be about bailing out the health insurance industry. I don't like the Democratic proposal any more than you do. But I would have preferred single-payer health care. Your answer to that is to shout “That's socialism!!! Socialism is evil!!!” I don't get your response. To be sure, single-payer health care would prevent the masters of certain American “industries” from getting any richer – namely, the health care “industry”, the drug “industry,” and particularly, the health insurance “industry.” But you seem to think that preventing these people from getting any richer is the same as preventing you from getting rich.

To me it seems that you think that any restrictions placed on the prerogatives and powers of the rich would hinder anyone else from getting rich. Don't you remember the history of the United States over the last 150 years? Don't you remember that during the 1920's, when there were almost no Government restrictions on businesses, the result was that a few large monopolies emerged which effectively destroyed anyone who tried to compete with them, and that the rich became a club whose members effectively prevented most other people from becoming rich? Oh, sure, there was the stock market, but the stock market was nothing more than a sucker's game to fool the average working-class guy (or gal) that they were playing a rich man's game by which they could also become rich. And then the stock market crashed. Kind of looks like today, doesn't it?

You now seem to think you can play the same game and get rich yourselves, and you don't realize that your chances of scoring it big are about the same as your chances of winning the Lottery (which is to say that you don't have much of a chance). So you scream that you don't want socialized medicine, yet if you break an arm or a leg or have appendicitis and have to visit an emergency room, the health “industry” will bleed you dry. Do you want to be on the hook for a $20,000 emergency room visit?

And that leads to the question of whether or not people should even want to be rich in the first place. Wanting to be rich is an American value – as American as apple pie, blond haired children, NASCAR and “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers. Yet many of you on the right claim to be Christians. Have you never read in the Good Book that “the love of money is the root of all evil”? (1 Timothy 6:10 in case you don't believe me.) Have you ever looked at the lives of the rich and considered the things they did to get rich? Especially the things they did to other people? Do you want to be the kind of people that like doing those sorts of things? You might have Hell to pay afterward.

Or take morality. I think particularly of the “Recall Sam Adams” campaign. I asked a sign-waver why he wanted to recall Adams, and he repeated the true story that Mayor Sam had sex with an 17-year old male and lied about it. Now I have to agree that that's pretty sleazy. Sam Adams is a gross, immoral character. But there are two things to consider. First, the Republicans and the Right also have their share of gross characters – including Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, and Ted Haggard. In fact, there are whole websites dedicated to listing and chronicling the sexual sins of figures on the American Right and its politicians. (The list of sinners on the Right is very long.)

Secondly, for a long time I have believed that the calls on the Right to correct American morality were simply a ploy to rally people around a very different agenda. The candidates we were told to vote for all said that they were very concerned about American morality, yet when they got into office, their real agenda became evident – an agenda designed to promote American economic power at the expense of the rest of the world, and to promote the fortunes of wealthy American and European elites at the expense of ordinary working-class people in America and Europe. Think about it. If the American Religious Right, for instance, had really wanted to end abortion in this country through government action, they had a golden opportunity during the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency. Yet they didn't.

I have come to believe that the sexual morality of a nation can't be fixed by laws. (Anymore, when I vote at all, I vote for people whom I think are most willing to build social safety nets. That's my biggest value these days.) I have also come to believe that those of you on the Right who call yourselves Christians could do far more toward healing the morality of a nation by acting like Christ yourselves. One translation of 1 Peter 1:1 says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered...” We're not called to be earthly patriots or materialists, but to live as resident aliens – in the world, but not of it. Yet what I see especially in the American Religious Right is a bunch of jingoistic flag-wavers who are rabidly willing to send in the troops to kill people in countries that possess things we Americans happen to want.

In short, I see the American Right, both religious and secular, as mere greedy materialists. As has been documented on this blog and on many others, the well of Western and First World prosperity is running dry, due to ecological and energy constraints. One wise response would be to learn to live within limits and to learn to share. Yet the response of American Right seems to be a temper tantrum. This is why you scare me.

As I said at the start, however, I may be wrong about you. If any of you reading this are on the Right or associated with the Tea Party and you have read this far, thank you very much for reading. This entire post arose out of a conversation I had with someone after church today. Now I am reaching out to you all and I would like to know what you think. Correct me if I'm mistaken – please. Please do it calmly and rationally, however; I don't respond well to MESSAGES IN ALL CAPS, FULL OF RANT WORDS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!, if you get my drift.


TH in SoC said...

Reader ha1ku sends this comment:
"I don't claim to understand the full scope of the health care debate. But there are two things that scare me about it -- pretty much enough to where I am too afraid to pick a side:

1. The proposed health care reform is beyond our nation's ability to pay for it. We're broke, and I'm worried the measure will make things worse.

2. The Right, as far as I can tell, has indeed done a lot of complaining and I don't believe I've seen an alternate proposal come from them.

ha1ku, thanks very much for your comment. I agree that this country probably can't afford to build much of a safety net anymore. But that's largely because of all the public money we have thrown at the causes of the rich: unjust wars of conquest and robbery and bailouts of the losing bets of big people in the finance industry. Wall Street has been bailed out repeatedly by us ordinary little people, yet they keep giving themselves bonuses. This is all documented by writers like Stoneleigh and Illargi at blogs like The Automatic Earth.

Now these rich people are terrified at the prospect that the Government might actually force the redistribution of their ill-gotten gains. Quite possibly such a redistribution might fail to accomplish much, as most of that ill-gotten wealth has probably already been wasted. Yet there must be a redistribution of some sort. The power of the rich must shrink, and the obligations owed by the rest of us to the rich must shrink. Our society can no longer afford to play their game. We need to have an adult conversation about how to accomplish this, but too many rich people (and their legions of foolish poor stooges) are unwilling to talk about these things in an adult manner.

Aimee said...

thanks for posting a response - I was intensely curious. If there are any more that are not pure ravings, I'd love to hear them, too.

TH in SoC said...

Aimee, thanks for reading. I sort of doubt that anyone on the Right will even take the time to read all of this post. And that's a shame.