When the Congress Party won the national elections earlier this year, I felt a sense of pride for my nation. India has a multi-party parliamentary system. However, national politics in this country is dominated by the Congress (a more centrist, secular party) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (or the BJP - a right-wing, hindu nationalist party). Given that this year's elections followed close on the heels of the attacks in Bombay, I was terrified that the BJP would be voted back into power. Terrorism invokes, in response, the worst kinds of racism, communalism, xenophobia, nativism - the kinds of anxieties that right-wing nationalist groups feed off. And so, going off my experience with the U.S. response to 9/11, I was pretty convinced that the BJP would win... happily I was proven wrong.
National trends not withstanding, state politics, especially in Maharashtra - which is where I live and therefore what I'm most familiar with - seem to be becoming increasingly nationalist. Until a short time ago, the party in power was the Shiv Sena, a hindu/marathi nationalist party. And while the Congress is currently in power at the state level here, the Shiv Sena is still very powerful. As is its more recent, and apparently its more violent, off-shoot, the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (or the Maharashtra Renaissance Army). Most recently, the MNS was responsible for large-scale violence against taxi-drivers in the state, many, if not most, of whom are of North Indian descent.
This post though is not about Indian political parties. It is actually about the violent rhetoric and acts surrounding health care reform. For there is a strong connection between how parties like the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the MNS, etc function here, and the tenor of right-wing politics in the States, eve if the contexts and constituencies are not easily interchangable.
I recently read the an article by Cenk Uygur that captures this connection really well. The piece, although not particularly insightful in the context of those who get critical race politics, is still well worth a read. I've "redacted" though parts that I think are unnecessary because of the false and gratuitous yet inevitable glorification of U.S. democracy. Blah!
The Last Gasp of the Angry White Man
August 10, 2009
What we're seeing in these angry town halls these days is the last gasp of the angry white man. He's not quite sure what he's angry about, but he knows he's angry. It's not the world he used to know. He gets the disquieting feeling that he doesn't rule the roost anymore. And it's driving him crazy.
One of the chants at the town hall events was, "No national health care!" Okay, mission accomplished. No one has proposed such a thing. So, I guess they can go home now, befuddled at what they were yelling about.
The reality is that what they have been manipulated into arguing against is a public option that would give them more choices, not less in health insurance. It wouldn't nationalize health insurance at all, let alone any part of the rest of the health care industry.
But this isn't about health insurance. It isn't even about health care. You think those people are really this animated about having less health care options and making sure it costs more for them and their family? No, this is visceral for them. And it has nothing to do with their perceived choices on health care. This is about the sinking feeling in their stomach that they are losing power in this country -- losing control. That the reins of power are slipping out of their hands and they don't know what to do about it, except yell, really loud.
One guy famously shouted, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." Everyone is understandably amused by this. But there is a larger point here. They don't care about the logic of the issue at hand. I'm not convinced they even care what the issue is. These are the same people that were yelling at the Palin rallies. They were screaming just as loud then, and it was different issues, or no issues at all. Just name calling and fear. Pure, unadulterated fear.
At a recent Tampa town hall people were yelling at the top of their lungs, "Hear Our Voice." Ironically, that's all we could hear. No one could hear the congresswoman there. Or any arguments that were being made or any issues debated. All they could hear was the loud, angry voices demanding to be heard.
And who is stoking these fires? Encouraging and egging on these screams, this anger, this fear? Conservative talk hosts all across the country (and, of course, special interest groups funded by the health care industry who are relishing using these poor schleps as fodder for their effort to kill health care reform). They're telling them the proper response is anger. Don't wait your turn. Don't listen to the congressman. Shout. Be heard. Be angry. Obama is taking this country away from you.
The woman who now famously stood up in a Delaware town hall and demanded that her congressman recognize the illegitimacy of Barack Obama's birth certificate, said something telling in her rant. She said, "I want my country back!"
Indeed. Where did it go? Of course, the country is still right here. It's the "my" part that's missing. She doesn't want this country back. She wants her country back.
I want everyone to be heard, too. I hated it when the Bush handlers would keep out dissenting voices from their town halls. If conservatives are frustrated with some of the policy initiatives of the Obama administration, I think it's an appropriately democratic reaction to show up at town halls and ask questions. In fact, if they did it in a way that asked their representatives interesting and tough questions, I'd be proud of them.
Some of them are holding up constitutions. They finally got them out of the drawer where they were collecting mothballs as the Bush administration ran roughshod over that sacred text. They didn't seem to demand loyalty to that document as the Bush team eviscerated the Fourth Amendment.
But bygones be bygones, if they want to hold Obama responsible for his signing statements for example, great. You can argue he is impinging against Article I of the Constitution just as Bush did.
Do you think that's the argument the town hall screamers are making? Come on, can anyone really discern an argument? Could they point to one clause that they think Obama has violated? My guess is if challenged they would scream out the Second Amendment. Except Obama has not only not done anything to impose gun control, he has gone out of his way to rein in his Attorney General to make sure he also does nothing about it. It isn't about the Second Amendment. It isn't about the Constitution. It's about the anger.
It's a self-justifying anger. The angrier they get the more they feel the imperative to get angry. What is it? What's really eating away at them? I don't think it's a conscious racial thing for them. It's more a feeling of their way of life slipping away from them.
Think about it. If you worked at the local shop and in the old days you could get your son hired there, things were pretty good. Now, they tell you that they have to give the job to someone else's son. Someone that doesn't look like you, someone that you've never met or ever talked to. There's been a lot of generations of that now.
You think those guys are going to inquire into the history of racial prejudice in this country and why it might make sense to increase diversity in a workplace when some groups have been excluded entirely? No, all they know is that their son couldn't get the same job that their dads got for them. They want their country back.
Of course, this has been building up for quite awhile. But now they have lost their political power. Now the epitome of what they were fighting against is their new leader. His first hire for the Supreme Court is a Hispanic woman, who they hear is racist against white men and was only picked because of her race and gender.
And when the president is talking about a confrontation between a white man (a cop trying to do his job) and a black man (another one that got to be a professor, though God knows if he earned it), he immediately chooses the side of the black man -- without even knowing the facts. Man, they're angry. This is the guy they were warned about.
Whether their perception is true is not relevant. It's the intensity of the perception that is relevant. And on top of all this, they feel the whole system is rigged against the average guy (and they're right about this one).
The bankers get all the money. The government spends a ton of cash, but they feel like it never comes to them. It feels like the guys at the top are the ones who always make out like bandits (the fact that their anger against this is being used by those same guys for their own interests is of tremendous irony).
But then add on top of that, their team lost. They don't feel like the president is "one of them." Maybe that's not even malicious, or at least consciously malicious. But that's how they feel. The world is changing around them and every time they turn on the radio or television (which, of course, is glued to Fox News), they are being told they're right to be angry. And that their anger should be directed primarily at one man: Barack Obama.
We're America. We're supposed to be better than this.
We're supposed to resolve our differences peaceably and civilly. We're supposed to listen to one another. We're supposed to have the best democracy in the world. As it stands, we're one burning tire away from Haiti. We have to dial this thing back down.
Of course, the problem isn't the progressives here. Their side won. The moderates and independents aren't necessarily boiling over with anger. No, in this case, it's the right-wing. And there's the problem. Because there does not seem to be anyone on that side who is capable or inclined to bring down the volume of the conversation. If anything, their response is more shouting, more disruptions, more rancor and more accumulation of weapons. As one local Republican nominee in Virginia put it, "We have the chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box." So, what happens when they keep losing at the ballot box?
How many more will? When does this stoking of anger and fear stop? And who would stop it? I really don't know. Here's one more thing I don't know. What happens if it doesn't?