Thursday, March 5, 2015

Racism, sexism, and Obamacare

According to Amanda Marcotte at TPM, the fight against Obamacare has always been about race and gender anxiety (in other words, the Republican Party's notorious 'Southern strategy' strikes again).

She makes some good points, starting with a remarkable quote from an Obamacare opponent:
In case the situation with the latest Obamacare lawsuit, King v. Burwell, wasn’t surreal enough, along comes the anti-Obamacare lawyer Michael Carvin, and some of his, um, more colorful ideas about why the Affordable Care Act is bad law. Trying to contrast the ACA with the constitution, Carvin characterized the ACA as “a statute that was written three years ago, not by dead white men but by living white women and minorities.”

It’s startling to see an Obamacare opponent so bluntly characterize efforts to destroy the law as a way to preserve white male privilege in this way, much less taking it so far as to suggest the privileges of dead white men count for more than the needs of living women and people of color. But it shouldn’t be. The race- and-gender-based opposition to the ACA has been baked into the fight against it from the beginning, when the bill was very nearly derailed by opponents claiming that it would somehow override federal bans on funding abortion. ...

Ugly racial attitudes influenced the opposition to Obamacare in two major ways: Hostility to the black President that signed it into law and hostility to the black people who might get better healthcare through it. It’s exceedingly rare to find, outside of Carvin’s bizarre comment, any conservatives overtly mentioning race in their objections to Obamacare. But then again, they don’t need to. All they need to do is whip out the standard conservative talking points that have racially loaded implications built right into them: “States’ rights,” “welfare queens,” loaded warnings about the supposed wave of laziness about to crest over our nation. All these ideas are rooted in our nation’s history of racism—indeed, “states’ rights” was invented to justify slavery and then segregation—and the way that conservatives lean on these ideas now suggest that one of the unspoken but heavily insinuated arguments against Obamacare is that it’s a way for the federal government to steal health care from white people and give it to black people. Adds a new dimension to the fear of “death panels” when you think about it.

Social science, as Paul Waldman showed in the Washington Post last May, bears this out: Attitudes about race and about the ACA are tightly interwoven. Research has shown that negative attitudes about black people increase hostility to health care reform, that opinions about health care reform polarized by racial attitudes after Obama’s election, and that nativist attitudes predicted hostility to health care reform. Research has found that white people with high racial resentment, regardless of their opinion on Obama, view health care reform as a giveaway to lazy black people. You can see why people don’t say these things out loud in public, but the eyebrow-wriggling and hinting has been strong throughout this debate.

The gender-baiting, in contrast, has been way more explicit. Ever since the HHS announced that contraception would be covered as co-pay-free preventive service, conservative media has gleefully portrayed the ACA as a program to give hot young sluts an opportunity to screw on the public dime, an argument that managed to get this narrow provision all the way to the Supreme Court. Never mind that young women with private insurance are no more on the public dime than any other people who have private health insurance. The idea that sexy young things are having fun without you but making you pay for it has been just too provocative for conservative pundits to let facts get in the way.

I've written a lot about the Republican 'Southern strategy' here, but I guess I never thought through the implications when it came to Obamacare.

It has seemed,... well, bizarre that Republican outrage would be so vehement, so angry, so hysterical about a program that was originally Republican, itself. After all, 'Obamacare' was the conservative health care reform plan originally, developed in a right-wing think tank as the free market alternative to Clinton-era proposals, and widely supported in the GOP right up until the moment that Democrats agreed to go along with it, too.

I assumed that this was just part of the agreement among Republicans to oppose everything wanted by President Obama, no matter what it was - an agreement they'd made before Obama even took office for his first term. I assumed, frankly, that their outrage was just faked for political purposes (and among Republican leaders, I'm sure that's still commonly the case).

And sure, race-based hostility to President Obama has long been obvious, and it certainly counts for a lot of the hysterical anger coming from the right, but I still didn't realize the connection that Marcotte has demonstrated here.

This whole thing reminds me of Lee Atwater and the so-called Reagan Democrats. In the 1980s, Republicans convinced working-class white men to vote against their own best interests - to support tax cuts for the rich and ever-widening wealth inequality (with them on the losing side) - by making economic issues all about race.

In the above post, I quoted this article:
Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues.

It's not just racial, either - not these days, at least. It's sexism, too. In fact, as women become better educated - competing with men for the better jobs - many men are becoming positively unglued. I'd swear that misogyny is increasing in America. I can't tell you how many white men have told me that white men are the only real victims of discrimination in America.

So, yes, this seems very plausible to me. I can see how racism and sexism aren't just incidental to the hysteria about Obamacare, but are actually the heart of the opposition.

This explains so much! It's always seemed weird to me that helping more people get health insurance would provoke such anger, such vitriol, such sputtering outrage. I mean,... really?  How angry could you really get about more people getting health insurance (private health insurance, especially)?

Put into a racist, sexist mindset, though, the anger becomes clear. It's not just that Barack Obama is black. It's even worse than I expected. The Republican Party has done even more damage to our country than that.

And as I say, while racism is getting better in America - despite all this - misogyny seems to be growing. It's not just old white men, but younger men, too. (MRA trolls are pretty much everywhere on the Internet these days, and they're as angry as they are obsessive.)

So while I can see the elderly white racists of the GOP dying out over time, I worry that there might be a new pool for Republican strategists to tap: bitter, angry, misogynist men, whatever their ethnicity. (And yes, they will get some women to vote for them, even so.)

With luck, the Republican Party has so pissed off African-American and Hispanic men that non-white misogynists won't bite, even if they hate women. But it's still worrisome. After all, the GOP has had no qualms about using whatever they can use, no matter how disgusting it might be, to maintain power. For their wealthy backers, it's all about the money.

For their backers, it's all about maintaining the political power to continue favoring the rich. They've clearly shown that they'll do whatever they have to do, work with whomever they have to work with, push whatever disgusting stuff they have to push on the ignorant, the hateful, the gullible - as long as they can keep getting tax cuts and corporate subsidies.

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