Lamar W. Hankins : 2010 Elections Without the Tea-Colored Glasses

Shading the truth? Tea Partier at Tax Day Rally in Pleaston, California, April 15, 2010. Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

Looking at the election
without the Tea-colored glasses

To draw grandiose conclusions about ‘demands of the American people’ is unsupported by reality and is typical spin-doctoring by Tea Party Republicans and their fellow travelers.

By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / November 7, 2010

The Republican spin-doctors, talking heads, intellectuals, and factotums want the country to believe that the Republicans got it right this election. They want us to believe that Republicans are in step with the American people; that the policies they promote represent American attitudes and values.

But if we count only those who voted on November 2, they had a 52% unfavorable view of the Republican Party and a 53% unfavorable view of the Democratic Party according to research conducted by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Like me, a majority of the voters don’t like either major party.

But the more important figures to look at to explain the voting results last Tuesday are the electorate’s views on the general direction the country is going and its views on the national economy.

Sixty-two percent of those voting believe the country is on the wrong track; 52% see the economy as “not good” and 37% see it as poor. Only 9% saw the economy as good and 1% as excellent. That 1% must be the Wall Street bankers and hedge fund operators who voted. Nearly 90% of recent voters believe that the economy is in horrible shape. Washington needs to focus on fixing the economy before it does anything else.

While I agree with the majority view, it fails to account for some realities that were largely ignored in this election and continue to be distorted by right-wing pundits. As a recent political cartoon suggests, Bush failed us for eight years by getting us into two wars, running up huge deficits, and giving tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% of Americans, and now the Republicans are trying to blame it on the black guy. No surprise there. But this recent election was not a repudiation of Obama by an “American majority,” as George Will termed it.

A majority of the “American people” did not say “no” or “yes” to anything on November 2. Only about 41.5% of the voting-eligible population voted (as contrasted with 61.6% who voted in the 2008 general election) according to the United States Election Project. These 2010 voters may have been voting for or against various messages, but they do not represent the sentiments of a majority of Americans.

The recent voters who voted against Obama and the Democrats represent slightly more than 20% of the voting-eligible public, and far less than 20% of the total population. While the Republican Tea Partiers had an impact on who voted, it remains to be seen if they will continue as a force in American politics.

The Republican Tea Partiers were as confused at the start of their movement nearly three years ago as they were on November 2. The main theme of their effort is that they represent the patriotic rebellion that came to be known, some 50 years after the event, as the Boston Tea Party.

Today’s Republican Tea Party thinks that the Boston Tea Party was all about a rebellion against King George’s tax on tea sold in the colonies. They see that Tea Party solely as a rebellion against taxes. What it was, instead, was a rebellion against the government-granted monopoly power of the East India Company, which had been exempted from the tea tax by the Tea Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1773 — an unholy alliance between government and corporate power. The tax exemption allowed the East India Company to undercut the small businesses that sold tea in the colonies.

The only first-person account of the Boston Tea Party is found in the memoir of George R. T. Hewes, published 50 years after the event because of an agreement among the participants that they would not write about it for 50 years. Most of the participants were dead by then, but Hewes penned the story in a book printed on ragged paper, A Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, with a Memoir of George R. T. Hewes, a Survivor of the Little Band of Patriots Who Drowned the Tea in Boston Harbour in 1773 (New York: S. Bliss, printer, 1834).

According to author Thom Hartmann, the value of the tea destroyed by the colonists in 1773 was about $1 million in today’s currency — more than a little vandalism even by today’s standards.

But the views of the Republican Tea Partiers differ widely from the views of most Americans. During the last 23 years, Pew Research Center polling has revealed that 77% of Americans believe that there is “too much power in the hands of big companies.” Between 62% and 65% of Americans, over the same time span, believe that “business corporations make too much profit.”

Despite Americans’ long-term concerns about the power of the corporations, the Tea Party Republicans have promoted, almost exclusively, the notion that the only dragon that needs to be slain is the federal government.

It is an old Republican refrain that goes hand in hand with the belief that there is no role for the federal government in promoting the “public welfare,” yet Pew research over the last three decades has shown that Americans believe by a 62% majority that the “government should guarantee food and shelter,” and from 48% to 53% have agreed that “the government should help more needy people, despite debt,” and by 63% to 71% that “government should take care of people who can’t care for themselves.”

The Republicans, including the Tea Party Republicans, enjoyed success in this past election not because the values they pushed were overwhelmingly American values, but because they were able to stimulate their voters to get to the polls, helped along by Republican-dominated media and hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate contributions made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Karl Rove political groups, and such wealthy Republicans as the oil billionaire Koch brothers, Howard Rich (a New York media mogul), John Templeton, Jr. (the now rich son of a wealthy investor), and many others.

One group that did not vote in this election was a cohort of 14 million young voters who supported Obama in 2008 but chose not to participate in this election. With the opposition to Obama and the Democratic Party serving to motivate those people who did vote, it was expected that the opposition would do very well.

This does not mean, however, that the American people are demanding change that contradicts their core values as measured over the last three decades by the Pew Research Center. It does mean that a majority of voters in 2010 do not approve of Obama’s and the Democrat’s agenda.

But to draw grandiose conclusions about “demands of the American people” is unsupported by reality and is typical spin-doctoring by Tea Party Republicans and their fellow travelers.

One problem for the Democrats in this election was that Americans do not perceive the large number of positive actions taken by Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress that follow the values held by a majority of Americans (information compiled from various sources):

  • Cut taxes — largely for the middle class — by $240 billion since taking office on Jan. 20, 2009 (Business Week)
  • Provided the Department of Veterans Affairs with more than $1.4 billion to improve services to America’s Veterans
  • Signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which provides health care to 11 million kids — 4 million of whom were previously uninsured
  • Signed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis
  • Developed a stimulus package, which includes approximately $18 billion for non-defense scientific research and development
  • Signed the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act to stop fraud and wasteful spending in the defense procurement and contracting system
  • Established a Credit Card Bill of Rights, preventing credit card companies from imposing arbitrary rate increases on customers
  • Passed a Health Care Reform Bill, preventing insurance companies from denying insurance because of a preexisting condition, and allowing children to remain covered by their parents’ insurance until the age of 26
  • Provided tax cuts for up to 3.5 million small businesses to help pay for employee health care coverage
  • Passed tax credits for up to 29 million individuals to help pay for health insurance
  • Expanded Medicaid to all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level
  • Added $4.6 billion to the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health professionals to help veterans, especially those with PTSD
  • Eliminated subsidies to private lender middlemen of student loans to reduce costs to students, and protected student borrowers from exploitation by lenders
  • Expanded Pell grants, which help low-income students pay for college
  • Signed a financial reform law establishing a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look out for the interests of ordinary Americans
  • Cut prescription drug costs for medicare recipients by 50%
  • Passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: a $789 billion economic stimulus plan that has helped improve the economy
  • Increased funding for national parks and forests by 10%

While this list is incomplete, it serves to show that much has been done to benefit ordinary Americans during Obama’s presidency, and almost none of it was done with help from Republicans.

But these actions did not serve to motivate most voting-eligible Americans to vote. Most Americans are focused on the economic devastation they have faced for the last 2 1/2 years. The Democrats did little to respond effectively to those economic problems, primarily loss of jobs, foreclosures, and the fear caused by economic insecurity. Most Americans were not motivated to vote on November 2.

I have been a vigorous critic of Obama, and will continue to be, with regard to many issues, including the wars he has continued and expanded, his unwillingness to attempt to secure affordable health insurance for all Americans, his coddling of Wall Street and the bankers, his failure to take more direct action to head off the massive foreclosures that have devastated many segments of the country, his mistaken embrace of corporatism that has led us down the road to plutocracy, his continuation of the Bush policies that diminished our liberties (such as the Patriot Act), his frequent use of the “state secrets” doctrine to hide government misconduct, and his inability to face the reality that nearly all Republicans would rather play politics than make government serve the needs and interests of the people.

Obama’s presidency has been flawed and ugly in many ways, but it is better than most of what we have had for the last 40-plus years. The Democrats are a fickle, cowardly, sorry, and despicable political party, but for those of us who care more about the welfare of ordinary Americans than the welfare of the corporations and the wealthy, Democrats are unfortunately the better alternative among the two major choices now available.

The party will not change without unrelenting pressure by progressive populists pursuing the values held by most Americans, either from within the party or from outside.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins.]

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