Proving once again that no power on earth can force the "newspaper of record" to recognize what it is determined to ignore, the New York Times tonight released the results of a major survey of the teabagger movement. The paper's considered judgement:
Their fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular, is rooted in deep pessimism about the direction of the country and the conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich.
The original headline on the web version of the story:
Poll Finds Tea Party Anger Rooted in Issues of Class
But, that particular piece of misinformation has since been flushed down the memory hole, to be replaced by the more anodyne (though still dubious) heading:
Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated
Which, if true, would be a terrible indictment of our national diploma mills and matchbook cover mechanical academies, but more likely is another example of the now-familiar tendency of teabaggers to claim things (diplomas, in this case) that are not, in the strict technical sense of the word, true -- in this or any other universe.
But the original headline actually did a much better job of capturing the Times's deliberate cluelessness about the wellspring of all that teabagger rage, which appears to have a hell of a lot more to do with the particular, um, complexion of the alleged recipients of the Obama Administration's generosity -- as well as the guy allegedly giving it -- than it does with their place on the socioeconomic ladder:
"I do believe we are responsible for the widow and the orphan," said Richard Gilbert, a 72 year old retired teacher. "But I think there is a welfare class that lives for having children and receiving payment from the government for having those children. They have no incentive to do any better because they have been conditioned into it."
Gee, I wonder who he might be talking about? Some of the "widows and orphans," it appears, need to move to the back of the bus.
What's particularly comic (sinful would be the better word, if American corporate journalism still had a soul with which to sin) is that the truth (and the lead) is right there in, well, Times Roman. It's just buried in the seventh paragraph:
More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent, compared with 11 percent of the general public, think that the administration favors blacks over whites. (emphasis added)
They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.
Considering the administration spent the better part of its first year in power shoveling money into the Aid for Dependent Wall Street Banks program it inherited from the Bush Administration, or rebuilding public infrastructure that primarily benefits suburban commuters and long-distance truckers, or promoting middle-class tax cuts, or pushing Congress to enact an elaborate and very generous system of subsidies for working-class and middle-class people who can't afford (or like to pretend they can't afford) health insurance, you'd think Obama would get a small break here. God only knows what the teabaggers would be saying about him if he really did try to do something big and expensive specifically to help those people.
Whatever it is, I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that it would include some fairly generous helpings of the "N" word.
What we have here, in other words, is the bedrock, indestructible, and apparently timeless conviction of white conservatives that the federal income tax is a device for stealing their hard-earned (or not) dollars and giving them to crack whores and their pimps (or ACORN, or all three) so that they can go out and buy shiny new Cadillacs and Kentucky fried chicken. Nothing -- and certainly nothing factual, like the actual allocation of tax revenues by the federal government (that "insurance company with an army," as Krugman calls it) -- is going to disabuse them of this belief. It is embedded so deep in the redneck psyche I'm beginning to suspect it's burned into their DNA.
Yet, according to the Times's reporting, this core libertarian belief manages to peacefully co-exist with some surprisingly benign views on at least some massive federal entitlement programs. And I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that the ones the teabaggers support are the ones that disproportionately tend to benefit older, middle-class white people (e.g. the teabaggers):
In follow up interviews, people said did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security -- the biggest domestic programs -- suggesting instead a focus on "waste."
"Waste," one suspects, being at least in part a synonym for "crack whores".
There is a rather exact historical analog to the teabagger social agenda -- but it's not an American one. Despite its fierce conservative reputation and anti-communist rhetoric, South Africa's old apartheid-era regime, the National Party, was actually quite bolshie when it came to economics -- that is, as long as you were on the right side (white side) of the color line. The National Party originally rode to power on the votes of working-class Afrikaners, and the architects of apartheid were always keenly aware that its survival depended on their continued unswerving support.
So in the old South Africa, working-class, middle-class and even upper middle-class whites lived in a cocoon of government-subsidized and/or mandated benefits cushy enough to make France or Sweden blush -- generous maternity leave requirements and child tax credits (to encourage the chosen people to out-procreate the kaffir hordes), health care benefits, social security benefits -- backed by strict racial hiring preferences (no crack whores need apply) and trade policies that promoted and protected domestic manufacturing. (The apartheid regime basically created an entire domestic auto industry, which South Africa didn't need and really couldn't afford, to provide high-wage employment for blue-collar Afrikaners.)
One of the reasons (not the main reason, but an important one) the apartheid regime finally ran up the white flag was that running a cradle-to-grave welfare state for the melanin-deprived, while politically essential for maintaining white racial solidarity, eventually became too expensive to support -- especially once the international sanctions campaign really began to squeeze the South African economy.
America's version of "Afrikaner socialism" (i.e. the New Deal era) was never as race-obsessed as its apartheid counterpart (not even in the segregated Deep South), but it, too, commanded the political support of working-class and middle-class whites only so long as it was seen as primarily benefiting "us" and not "those people". But the Great Society and the War on Poverty (as interpreted by George Wallace and Ronald Reagan) almost instantly replaced that perception with the haunting vision of taxpayer-subsidized crack whores.
Forty years on, the Great Society is neither and the war on poverty has mutated into the war on the poor (which is what some of us called it all along). Welfare as a lifestyle choice was abolished 15 years ago. Federal anti-poverty spending -- real anti-poverty spending -- is practically a rounding error on the cash flow statement of that insurance company with an army. But the core of "Amerikaner socialism" (those middle-class entitlement programs the teabaggers love so well) is still intact, and, like the South African version, getting more expensive all the time. Time to bash those crack whores again.
I don't expect the teabaggers to understand any of this, or recognize the racial overtones (hell, the undertones, tones, melody, harmony and refrain) to their ignorance and their anger. But is it asking too much to expect the New York Times to call it by its real name?