Now that the national debt ceiling has been raised, and the country has averted economic catastrophe, it really is necessary to process and analyze what a small band of obstructionists have put the nation through.
This debt ceiling debate, usually a pro forma act of Congress, took on an ideology tone of huge proportions. Why is that? The last president, George W. Bush, raised the debt ceiling seven times without as much as a peep out of Congress. The federal deficit was spiraling out of control at that time, too.
Both parties–the Republican controlled Congress before the 2006 midterm elections, and the Democrat-controlled Congress after 2006 midterm elections– accommodated then-president Bush’s request.
Then Barack Obama became president, and a national movement ensues to “take our country back.” The movement called itself “The Tea Party,” named after the taxation revolt of 1767 that occurred after King George III and Parliament put the Stamp Act on the colonists.
The modern-day Tea Party hadn’t been taxed, nor had they been dictated to. They simply reacted to the election of the nation’s first Black president and immediately sought to obstruct anything he tried to do from the party’s inception. Let’s not act like this four-month debt ceiling debate, one of the most disruptive and intense debates about the economy ever, was not about President Obama. It was all about President Barack Obama (more on this later).
But have the country’s economic problems been resolved as a result of this protracted debate? The common consensus is “no.”
Let’s be clear, the Democratic and Republican parties were held hostage by a relatively small group of political mavericks who have gained critical mass in the Congress. They are not so large that they can takeover either chamber, but they proved they’re not so small that they cannot be dismissed by at least one chamber of Congress–the House of Representatives.
Well, who are the Tea Partiers in Congress? That’s where it gets a little fuzzy. There were 87 new Republicans elected to Congress in 2010, including 63 seats in the House previously held by Democrats. This was the largest midterm change-of-power switch in history, and by and large was seen as a backlash to the election of Obama, or his healthcare reform initiative, named by the Tea Partiers as “Obamacare.”
Many Tea Partiers ran against incumbents, and received little backing from either of the two major parties, so now that they are in Congress, they don’t feel beholden to either party. But they clearly have the most leverage in the Republican Party. This was demonstrated when President Obama and Speaker John Boehner made a sincere effort to do the “big deal” to address some real problems in reducing the deficit. The Tea Party killed the deal because Boehner couldn’t herd in the party’s mavericks.
The Tea Party drove the debt ceiling debate all the way to the end, but not before trying to pass a temporary extension that would expire in the middle of the 2012 presidential elections. This was their shot to derail Obama’s re-election hopes with another artificial debate about taxes.
The Republican Party is now being held hostage by the Tea Party. Fifty-two of the newly elected Republicans have officially signed on to the Tea Party caucus and the rest acknowledge that the Tea Party movement assisted their election in part, if not in total. They are highly sympathetic to the Tea Party position, as Tea Partiers vote with the Republican Party, but in the most extreme of policies associated with the Republicans far right wing. The Tea Party has emerged as the most radicalized segment of American politics. And they are only relevant because they could obstruct a critical vote, at a critical time, when the country needs to address it.
They leveraged the media by sharing the president’s spotlight on a critical predicament. The party also has very highly racialized sensibilities among its constituents. So much so, that if there is a next race movement in America, the Tea Party will be at the front of it.
I feel it is safe to say that this debt ceiling debate wouldn’t have taken place had we had a White president. Blink if you want to … but the fact that this has not happened to any other president has raised my “race-dar.”
Politics is compromise, and pragmatism should always prevail when the national interests are at stake. It did for the two wars that increased the deficit and it should have now that it is time to pay the piper. America is not going to survive without increased tax revenues. All the economists say it.
But these “lay legislators” (common folk representing “the people” in Congress) know more than the economists. I don’t think so. The president offered up cuts in exchange for taxing the rich and closing corporate tax loopholes. The president was left hanging. And so was Boehner. And so were the American people.
The Tea Party claims they are not about “politics as usual,” but they proved they are about politics. It was a classic filibuster without a reasonable expectation of compromise. The only thing different was that they filibustered taxing the rich, the president’s request, and the Democrats in Congress caved on it under the deadline. So, we got $2.4 trillion in spending cuts and not much else. And the Tea Party claims victory.
The American people should be asking why would We need to stop playing ignorant about race realities in America. Wonder what a White president woulda got?
Or if he (she) would had to go through this at all?
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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