By Lee A. Daniels
As these words are being written, the Obama administration is trying to end a shutdown of the United States government forced by the refusal of the Republican bloc of the House of Representatives to vote on a continued funding of the government’s operations.
Looming ever closer is the deadline for Congress to deal, with the country’s debt ceiling by raising its borrowing limit. The Treasury Department last week warned that the Congress’ failure to do so by October 17 could provoke “a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”
But another way of looking at these inter-related, and completely unjustifiable, crises is as an attempt by the Tea Party movement to stage a political coup d’etat.
They failed to defeat President Obama last November. Now, Tea Party representatives in the House and Senate – having already emasculated House Speaker John Boehner, the Republican from Ohio, and Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and Senate minority leader – have launched a direct attack against the administration by trying to wreck the government’s ability to function.
However, amid all of the economic pain the Tea Party-Republican coalition’s action are causing millions of Americans, we should not forget that the most important thing pushing the radical right wing is not opposition to Obamacare or any other administration policy.
Instead, it’s most important motivation is rooted in a bizarre fantasy: that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
That’s right. The “Birther” flimflam, which generated so much overt influence on Republican politics during the President’s first term, is as virulent as ever, according to a recently-published book.
The book is Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America by University of Washington scholars Christopher Parker and Matt A. Barreto. One of the scholars’s primary goals is exploring the differences in opinion between the two main blocs in today’s Republican Party: those conservatives who declare themselves supporters of the Tea Party and those who say they aren’t.
There isn’t sufficient space in this column to say barely more than they found such significant differences between the two groups that they conclude Tea Party sympathizers are far to the right of the “mainstream conservatives” that in the past made up the overwhelming bulk of the GOP.
In fact, Parker and Barreto, views surveys and in-depth interviews, found the Tea Party sympathizers’ view are so extreme they can only be correctly labeled “reactionary conservatives.”
For me, however, one particular finding of this valuable book stood out – and it encompassed both the Party’s mainstream and reactionary conservatives. In response to a survey question asking their opinion about President Obama’s origins, they found that 48 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans and 62 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe President Obama was not born in America.
Think of that. Despite the fact that the documentation supplied by the president, and the verification of the 1961 Hawaiian newspaper announcement of his birth, and the objective examinations by innumerable media outfits have all served to confirm the truth of the president’s birthplace, a majority of all Republicans still cling to the delusion that’s he’s foreign-born.
(The scholars’ survey also found that 58 percent of non-Tea Party conservatives and 75 percent of Tea Party conservatives don’t believe the president is a practicing Christian.)
On the one hand, this twisted self-deception brings to mind that old saying: you can fool some of the people all of the time.
But it also recalls how long in the past the large majority of White Americans clung to all sorts of bizarre notions about Black Americans in order to justify their racism to themselves. And it underscores how deeply the virus of racism – impervious to logic and proven fact – still persists in a substantial segment of white conservatives.
This is the delusionary mindset that threatens even right-wing conservative legislators with primary Tea Party challenges if they deviate in the slightest from the most extreme positions. This is the delusionary mindset that is willing to wreck the US economy if they don’t get their way.
Elizabeth Warren, the newly-elected junior Senator from Massachusetts, recently referred to the GOP-driven shutdown of the government as “hostage-taking” and said: “In a democracy, hostage tactics are the last resort for those who can’t otherwise win their fights through elections, can’t win their fights in Congress, can’t win their fights for the Presidency, and can’t win their fights in Courts. “For this right-wing minority,” she continued, “hostage-taking is all they have left – a last gasp of those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy.”
The question we all must confront is how long will this delusionary mindset continue to be a force in American politics.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.