It has been a challenge for many Americans – and many people watching from overseas – to understand the Tea Party’s willingness to cause the country so much harm in its zeal to repeal a law designed to extend access to health care and comprehensive health insurance to all Americans. No doubt many books will be written on the subject, but for now, Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal has offered a concise history and analysis in “The Tea Party, the government shutdown, and Obamacare,” a policy brief published by The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society at Oxford. Rosenthal is the executive director of the Center for Right Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the co-editor of Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, which was published by the University of California last year.
In just half a dozen pages, Rosenthal puts into historical and legal perspective the Tea Partiers’ recent rampage. “Tea Party politicians and activists speak openly of this as a ‘last chance to save America.’ This is the context in which bringing economic ruin to the country can be contemplated.”
He reminds us that the Tea Party first built a head of steam by sending people to disrupt congressional town hall meetings on health care reform “with aggressive tactics that left many Congresspeople intimidated and shaken.” That approach, he says, “was, in effect, extra-parliamentary: it was attempting to prevent a legislative outcome that national elections did not sustain.”
Rosenthal argues that Tea Partiers bring to a reading of the Constitution the same approach that Christian fundamentalists bring to reading the Bible, resisting any interpretation that clashes with what they believe is the inerrant word. And he writes that the Tea Party blends populism with the free-market absolutism of the Koch Brothers, ideological descendants of those who objected to the New Deal.
What makes the Tea Party unique in the march of modern American conservatism is that the passions of the populist right, the uncompromising, expressive side of American conservatism, were brought to bear in the name of the doctrines of the fiscal absolutists. Suddenly, the zeal and the vitriol usually reserved for opposing abortion or the ‘gay agenda’ were being directed against Keynesian stimulus legislation, cap and trade climate legislation, economic regulation, taxation, and, above all, expansion of health insurance coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans.
Rosenthal traces the Tea Party’s fierce hostility to Obamacare to zero-sum thinking in American conservatism, not only for benefits from government (e.g. Obamacare must hurt people now on Medicare) but for liberty itself. As an example of that thinking he cites Robert Bork’s position that the Civil Rights Act reflected “unsurpassed ugliness” because it treated the black person’s right to be served as superior to the restaurant owner’s right to deny service. (We certainly see this zero-sum approach to liberty reflected in the insistence of Religious Right leaders that LGBT equality and religious liberty are inherently incompatible.) Rosenthal sees this zero-sum attitude – “the Tea Party’s feeling that Obamacare means that something of theirs is being taken away and given to others” as “the defining element of a Tea Party constitutionalism.”
And it is the principle that translates the virulence, the fierce resistance of the Tea Party, into a legal theory. It is a principle that rationalizes the Tea Party’s willingness to threaten national financial ruin in the form of a government shutdown and a potential debt default if Obamacare, now being implemented as the law of the land, is not stopped.
Note: The Center for Right Wing Studies at the University of California Berkeley is home to People For the American Way’s library of original source materials on the history of the Religious Right, where it is accessible to researchers and journalists.
The Tea Party may have succeeded in shutting down the government, but last week PFAW members showed them that they can’t shut down the people’s voice. Nearly 100,000 people signed our petition calling on Speaker Boehner to stand up to Ted Cruz and the Tea Party, and end their hostage-taking tactics.
Last week, we went to the Hill to deliver the message. It may have been cold, windy and rainy, but that didn’t stop us and hundreds more from gathering at the Capitol to demand that Speaker Boehner end the tea party shutdown. We heard from Rev. Jesse Jackson, from union leaders and furloughed workers, and from congressional leaders including Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer.
The message was clear. This shutdown is dangerous to our standing in the world, destructive to our ability to govern, and damaging to the lives of real Americans. It isn’t just a game: These destructive actions are affecting thousands who depend on paychecks that are being held up by these fringe members of the Republican party who don’t even know what it is they want. And now, thanks to almost 100,000 of you, Republicans in Congress can’t ignore the fact that the people aren’t on their side, because they’re not on ours.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wants to be the state's next Governor. But he has been dogged by an ethics scandal involving gifts he received from the head of a company that has sued the state. So last week, Cuccinelli tried to put the issue to rest by saying he'd contribute $18,000-the value of his questionable gifts-to a medical charity, saying, "I'm trying to wipe the slate clean here so we can focus on what's gonna matter in people's lives in Virginia in the next four years."
Of course, Cuccinelli's contribution doesn't magically wipe away questions about his character. And there's plenty of other evidence for Virginians to consider about the character of his record, and what four years of Cuccinelli as governor could do for -- or rather to -- the state.
Cuccinelli says his campaign is focused on jobs and the economy, but his extreme record as a state legislator and attorney general makes it clear that he considers himself commander-in-chief of the Religious Right's culture warriors.
He has bullied members of the Board of Health into adopting his anti-choice extremism. He has smeared and tried to defund Planned Parenthood. He even slams comprehensive sex education programs. As the Washington Post noted this week, he "was instrumental in ensuring that new regulations will result in the closure of many of the state's abortion clinics."
As a state senator, Cuccinelli was one of a handful of sponsors of an unconstitutional "personhood" bill that would have criminalized many common forms of contraception. Cuccinelli hasn't disavowed his support for "personhood" bills or their goal of making abortion illegal. But as a candidate for governor, he is trying to distance himself from the effects such legislation would have on women and families in Virginia. He claims that such legislation, which would grant legal rights to an egg at the moment it is fertilized by a sperm, wouldn't interfere with access to birth control. He is not telling the truth.
Here's another reminder of what kind of governor Cuccinelli would be: one of his first steps as Attorney General was to tell Virginia's public colleges and universities that they had to abandon policies against anti-gay discrimination. He reversed a legal opinion by his predecessor in order to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children. He refused to support repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law. He argues that consensual sex between gay adults is a detriment to society and should be illegal. As a state senator, he even opposed legislation that permitted private companies to voluntarily extend health benefits to employees' domestic partners.
Cuccinelli is also a champion of the Tea Party's anti-government extremism. He calls President Obama a tyrant. He filed suit against the Affordable Care Act five minutes after it was signed into law, a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt. He has falsely told people that under the law the government could send people to jail for not buying insurance. He even slams safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for making people dependent on government.
There is seemingly no right-wing fringe to which Cuccinelli will not pander. He has used the power of his office to harass scientists in a climate-change-denying witch-hunt. He has called for a constitutional convention to rescind 14th amendment birthright citizenship. He said he was considering not getting his infant son a social security number because it was being used to track people. He flirted with birtherism.
And this week, he celebrated Constitution Day by appearing with right-wing radio host Mark Levin. Levin is an anti-union, anti-environmental-regulation, anti-public-education activist who rails against "establishment" Republicans and calls President Obama a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. In 2007, Levin's Landmark Legal Foundation nominated Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Cuccinelli is an example of the strong political coalition that has been made between right-wing Catholics like himself and conservative evangelicals, including Virginia-based powerhouses like Falwell-founded Liberty University and Pat Robertson's broadcasting empire. Cuccinelli has criticized people, like President Obama, who support marriage equality for thinking they "know better than God." And he says homosexual behavior is "intrinsically wrong" and destroys people's souls and shouldn't be allowed in a "natural law based country."
Cuccinelli has clearly aligned himself with the far right within the Catholic Church and, like Paul Ryan, opposes the Church's advocacy on behalf of anti-poverty programs. He hasslammed the Catholic bishops for advocating for government assistance for the poor, saying that has "created a culture of dependency on government, not God." He complained that the archdiocese of Arlington, Virginia included issues like poverty, hunger, and health care on a voting guide without making clear that they, in Cuccinelli's opinion, are clearly less important than abortion.
Cuccinelli has convinced the Religious Right that he's their guy. That's why Rick Santorum has endorsed him and the Family Research Council's PAC is helping him raise money.
But if Ken Cuccinelli wants to convince Virginia voters that he's not going to govern as a right-wing culture warrior, he'll have to do more than trying to "wipe the slate clean" on his ethical standards. He'll have to erase from the public record his own extreme record. And that will be a lot harder than writing a check.
(also posted at Huffington Post)