Anti-Health Reform Racism: Not Just Wrong, But Stupid

Amanda Marcotte

I'm sure that the teabaggers/birthers/cute-nickname-for-right-wingers showing up at town hall events are instinctively aware of how much universal health care will benefit communities of color. And they're not having it.

Last week, when I wrote
about the birther phenomenon
and its parallels to the anti-choice movement,
the phenomenon was still largely relegated to email lists and mainstream media
interviews with wide-eyed conspiracy theorists. 
It was alarming because it’s so
widespread and so obviously rooted in a need to express racist contempt
Barack Obama and his parents’ interracial relationship, but it didn’t seem like
it would grow much bigger.  Well,
obviously I didn’t draw a strong enough parallel between the birthers and the
anti-choice movement. If I’d been paying attention to my own ideas, I would
have realized that as anti-choicers’ frustration with their daily lack of
control over women’s bodies erupts into violence, so too would birther
frustration over the perceived loss of control over the reins of power enjoyed
by white people for the entirety of our nation’s history. 

There’s not a formal link between the birther conspiracy
theory and the mobs that are trying to shut down discussion about health care
reform–and not-so-subtly sending the signal that they are flirting with resorting
to violence in order to stop it–but it’s not a coincidence that the birther
energy rolled up into this mob scene, or that the leaders pushing the birther
line are also encouraging
mobs of right wingers to shut down town halls by being disruptive.
  Unsurprisingly, these mobs have turned
violent, something anyone who’s dealt with the anti-choice protestors could
have told you was inevitable. Right
wing mobs have broken out in violence in Tampa, FL and St. Louis, MO
.  Journalists, union
and Democrats, who are the perennial favorite villains of right
wing talk radio, seem to be favorite targets for violence and threats.

Looking back over the timeline of the growing volume in
birther conspiracy theories that rolled up into mobs threatening and delivering
violence, it’s easy enough to see what instigating issue activated the right
wing, furious about its loss of power. 
Oh, they’ve been angry and right wing violence has been on the rise,
with domestic terrorism incidents that include the murder of Dr. George
Tiller.  But there’s organization and
momentum where there wasn’t much before, and as
Sara Robinson points out,
the leadership has been more overtly enabling and
cheerleading conspiracy theorists and right wing disruption mobs than they have
before – all in the service of hamstringing health care reform.

As I argued in last week’s column, the birther movement is a
way for the huge percentages of Americans harboring blatantly racist beliefs to
express racist sentiments without coming right out and saying things that are
considered racist now, like using racial slurs or expressing disapproval of
interracial relationships.  Every time a
birther engages in spreading the conspiracy theory, he gets to subtly freak out
over the fact that Obama has a white mother and a black father, as well as
imply that African-Americans have no right to claim the office of the

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Meanwhile, the opposition to health care reform has taken on
a racist tone that can only be denied by the people who require someone to be
wearing a hood before they’ll admit it’s racism.  I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that
one reason that Americans don’t have universal health care already–unlike
every other industrialized Western nation–is that enough white people in power
are so unwilling to share with non-white people that they’d rather go without
than share.  History would certainly
indicate this is the case. Ta-Neishi
Coates pointed out that New Deal had to exclude black people to get passed,

for instance.  Under Johnson, the social
safety grew expansively, and conservative anger about the Civil Rights Act
blended with conservative anger about social spending.  After decades of overtly racist rhetoric
against welfare, opponents were able to scale it down to nothing. 

Krugman agrees that the birther thing plus the revolt against health care
reform are part of one big mish mash.
Pointing out that at least half of the mob at one event were on
"socialized" health care–Medicare–demonstrating that their opposition to it
is opposition to other people
getting guaranteed health care, Krugman argues:

But they’re probably reacting less
to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s
doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind
the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s
behind the "birther" movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship.

I’d say that’s exactly what it is. According to research done by
the Kaiser Family Foundation,
low-income and uninsured Americans are far
more likely to be members of a racial minority than Americans with insurance.
This fact should surprise no one, and I’m sure that the
teabaggers/birthers/cute-nickname-for-right-wingers showing up at town hall
events are instinctively aware of how much universal health care will benefit
communities of color.  And they’re not
having it. 

It’s frustrating, not just because racism is wrong, but
because it’s stupid.  It trips up my
corny meter to say this, but it’s important. We all do better if we all do
better.  I’m better off if my neighbors
have access to health care, from a strictly selfish perspective.  I want to live in a society that’s productive
and healthy, where disease doesn’t spread unchecked because we’ve written off
huge sectors of our society based on race and class.  I look at these right wing mobs and I think
that they just must think that doing the right thing morally (rejecting racism,
getting health care for everyone) must somehow exact a cost from them.  But the truth is the opposite.  Racism prevents you from seeing how much we
all rely on each other, and therefore how we all do better if we make sure the
most vulnerable amongst us have their basic right to housing, nutrition, and
health care met.

Commentary Politics

Is Clinton a Progressive? Not If She Chooses Tim Kaine

Jodi Jacobson

The selection of Tim Kaine as vice president would be the first signal that Hillary Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton has frequently claimed to be a progressive, though she often adds the unnecessary and bewildering caveat that she’s a “progressive who likes to get things done.” I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to mean, except as a possible prelude to or excuse for giving up progressive values to seal some unknown deal in the future; as a way of excusing herself from fighting for major changes after she is elected; or as a way of saying progressives are only important to her campaign until after they leave the voting booth.

One of the first signals of whether Clinton actually believes in a progressive agenda will be her choice of running mate. Reports are that Sen. Tim Kaine, former Virginia governor, is the top choice. The selection of Kaine would be the first signal that Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

We’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama claimed to be a progressive. By virtue of having a vision for and promise of real change in government and society, and by espousing transparency and responsibility, he won by a landslide. In fact, Obama even called on his supporters, including the millions activated by the campaign’s Organizing for Action (OFA), to keep him accountable throughout his term. Immediately after the election, however, “progressives” were out and the right wing of the Democratic party was “in.”

Obama’s cabinet members in both foreign policy and the economy, for example, were drawn from the center and center-right of the party, leaving many progressives, as Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote in the Washington Post in 2009, “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, a man with a reputation from the days of Bill Clinton’s White House for a reluctance to move bold policies—lest they upset Wall Street or conservative Democrats—and a deep disdain for progressives. With Emanuel as gatekeeper of policies and Valerie Jarrett consumed with the “Obama Brand” (whatever that is), the White House suddenly saw “progressives” as the problem.

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It became clear that instead of “the change we were hoping for,” Obama had started on an impossible quest to “cooperate” and “compromise” on bad policies with the very party that set out to destroy him before he was even sworn in. Obama and Emanuel preempted efforts to push for a public option for health-care reform, despite very high public support at the time. Likewise, the White House failed to push for other progressive policies that would have been a slam dunk, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a major goal of the labor movement that would have made it easier to enroll workers in unions. With a 60-vote Democratic Senate majority, this progressive legislation could easily have passed. Instead, the White House worked to support conservative Democrat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s efforts to kill it, and even sent Vice President Joe Biden to Arkansas to campaign for her in her run for re-election. She lost anyway.

They also allowed conservatives to shelve plans for an aggressive stimulus package in favor of a much weaker one, for the sole sake of “bipartisanship,” a move that many economists have since criticized for not doing enough.  As I wrote years ago, these decisions were not only deeply disappointing on a fundamental level to those of us who’d put heart and soul into the Obama campaign, but also, I personally believe, one of the main reasons Obama later lost the midterms and had a hard time governing.  He was not elected to implement GOP lite, and there was no “there, there” for the change that was promised. Many people deeply devoted to making this country better for working people became fed up.

Standing up for progressive principles is not so hard, if you actually believe in them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) is a progressive who actually puts her principles into action, like the creation against all odds in 2011 of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, perhaps the single most important progressive achievement of the past 20 years. Among other things, the CFPB  shields consumers from the excesses of mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and credit card companies that have caused so much economic chaos in the past decade. So unless you are more interested in protecting the status quo than addressing the root causes of the many problems we now face, a progressive politician would want a strong progressive running mate.

By choosing Tim Kaine as her vice president, Clinton will signal that she values progressives in name and vote only.

As Zach Carter wrote in the Huffington Post, Kaine is “setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.” Kaine is in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement largely negotiated in secret and by corporate lobbyists. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose voters Clinton needs to win over, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren oppose the TPP because, in Warren’s words, it “would tilt the playing field even more in favor of … big multinational corporations and against working families.”

The progressive agenda includes strong emphasis on effective systems of governance and oversight of banks and financial institutions—the actors responsible, as a result of deregulation, for the major financial crises of the past 16 years, costing the United States trillions of dollars and gutting the financial security of many middle-class and low-income people.

As Warren has stated:

Washington turned a blind eye as risks were packaged and re-packaged, magnified, and then sold to unsuspecting pension funds, municipal governments, and many others who believed the markets were honest. Not long after the cops were blindfolded and the big banks were turned loose, the worst crash since the 1930s hit the American economy—a crash that the Dallas Fed estimates has cost a collective $14 trillion. The moral of this story is simple: Without basic government regulation, financial markets don’t work. That’s worth repeating: Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking explodes, and the markets blow up. That’s just an empirical fact—clearly observable in 1929 and again in 2008. The point is worth repeating because, for too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast this debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp, generally putting Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second. But that so-called choice gets it wrong. Rules are not the enemy of markets. Rules are a necessary ingredient for healthy markets, for markets that create competition and innovation. And rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

If Hillary Clinton were actually a progressive, this would be key to her agenda. If so, Tim Kaine would be a curious choice as VP, and a middle finger of sorts to those who support financial regulations. In the past several weeks, Kaine has been publicly advocating for greater deregulation of banks. As Carter reported yesterday, “Kaine signed two letters on Monday urging federal regulators to go easy on banks―one to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.”

Kaine is also trying to portray himself as “anti-choice lite.” For example, he recently signed onto the Women’s Health Protection Act. But as we’ve reported, as governor of Virginia, Kaine supported restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which, he claimed in 2008, gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute. In other words, like many others who let ideology rather than public health guide their policy decisions, Kaine put in place policies that are not supported by the evidence and that make it more difficult for women to gain access to abortion, steps he has not denounced. This is unacceptable. The very last thing we need is another person in the White House who further stigmatizes abortion, though it must be said Clinton herself seems chronically unable to speak about abortion without euphemism.

While there are many other reasons a Kaine pick would signal a less-than-secure and values-driven Clinton presidency, the fact also stands that he is a white male insider at a time when the rising electorate is decidedly not white and quite clearly looking for strong leadership and meaningful change. Kaine is not the change we seek.

The conventional wisdom these days is that platforms are merely for show and vice presidential picks don’t much matter. I call foul; that’s an absolutely cynical lens through which to view policies. What you say and with whom you affiliate yourself do indeed matter. And if Clinton chooses Kaine, we know from the outset that progressives have a fight on their hands, not only to avoid the election of an unapologetic fascist, but to ensure that the only person claiming the progressive mantle actually means what she says.

News Abortion

Blackburn Punts on Next Steps in Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

What are the next steps for the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into a market of aborted “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three other congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist?

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said she had not decided on the topic of the next hearing, nor whether to subpoena the leader of the anti-choice front group fueling the investigation.

“We’ll have something that we’ll look at in September, but no decisions [yet],” Blackburn said in a July 14 interview with Rewire.

Blackburn’s remarks followed a press conference coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the first Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that still serve as the basis for the $1.2 million investigation.

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“We’re continuing to pursue [options], we have a tremendous amount of information that has come through to us through whistleblowers and individuals, so we’ll continue to work,” she said.

Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess the day after Blackburn presented House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) with the panel’s interim update, which repeats many of the same widely discredited allegations from CMP and other anti-choice groups cited in the document.

The panel will release a final report by the end of the year. That’s the only definitive next step in an investigation that started with allegedly falsified evidence of fetal tissue trafficking and pivoted in recent months to later abortion care, including subpoenaing a prominent provider and calling for a state-level criminal investigation of a university and abortion clinic supposedly in collusion.

Blackburn would not commit to subpoenaing David Daleiden, the CMP leader under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California. Republicans’ interim update called Daleiden an “investigative journalist,” even though more than two dozen of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars recently filed an amicus brief explaining why that isn’t so in the federal court case between CMP and the National Abortion Federation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine any decisions,” Blackburn said about the possibility of a Daleiden appearance before the panel. “We’re an investigative panel. We’re going go where the facts take us.”

The interim update indicates that the investigation will continue to focus on later abortion care. Blackburn, however, deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

Blackburn seemingly walked back the pledge she made at a faith-based conference last month to pursue contempt of Congress charges for “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion”—who she alleged have not cooperated with her subpoenas. Blackburn’s panel spokesperson previously told Rewire that the panel required the names of those involved in fetal tissue transactions and research in order to understand how things work.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the subpoenas, escalating their concerns after Blackburn initially failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information in her call for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We’re going to pursue getting the truth and delivering a report that is factual, that is truthful, and can be utilized by the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said in response to a question about the contempt charges at the press conference.

Blackburn and her fellow Republicans had no such reservations about going after Democrats on the panel.  They accused Democrats of furnishing subpoena recipients with a memo to subvert requests for information. The final pages of the interim update includes a chart alleging the extent to which various organizations, hospitals, procurement companies, abortion providers, and others have or have not complied with the subpoenas.

Emails obtained by Rewire show a Democratic staffer refuting such accusations last month. Democrats produced their own status update for members, not a memo advising noncompliance for subpoena recipients, the staffer said in a June email to a Republican counterpart on the panel.