Tea Party and the Right  
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Tea Party Radicalism Is Misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”

Our sense of the force currently paralyzing the government is full of misconceptions — including what to call it.

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Disenfranchisement. In state after state controlled by Republican governors and legislators, a fictitious epidemic of voter fraud is being used as an excuse for onerous voter registration requirements which have the effect, and the manifest purpose, of disenfranchising disproportionately poor blacks and Latinos. The upscale leaders of the Newest Right also tend to have be more supportive of mass immigration than their downscale populist supporters—on the condition, however, that “guest workers” and amnestied illegal immigrants not be allowed to vote or become citizens any time soon. In the twenty-first century, as in the twentieth and nineteenth, the Southern ideal is a society in which local white elites lord it over a largely-nonwhite population of poor workers who can’t vote.

Localization and privatization of federal programs. It is perfectly rational for the white local notables of the South and their allies in other regions to oppose universal, federal social programs, if they expect to lose control of the federal government to a new, largely-nonwhite national electoral majority.

Turning over federal programs to the states allows Southern states controlled by local conservative elites to make those programs less generous—thereby attracting investment to their states by national and global corporations seeking low wages.

Privatizing other federal programs allows affluent whites in the South and elsewhere to turn the welfare state into a private country club for those who can afford to pay the fees, with underfunded public clinics and emergency rooms for the lower orders.  In the words of Mitt Romney: “We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

When the election of Lincoln seemed to foreshadow a future national political majority based outside of the South, the local notables of the South tried to create a smaller system they could dominate by seceding from the U.S. That effort failed, after having killed more Americans than have been killed in all our foreign wars combined. However, during Reconstruction the Southern elite snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and succeeded in turning the South into a nation-within-a-nation within U.S. borders until the 1950s and 1960s.

Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear that Obama’s election, like Lincoln’s, foreshadows the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest. Having been reduced to the status of members of a minority race, they fear they will next lose their status as members of the dominant local class.

While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.