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Take Tea and See

The Elephant in the Shutdown

by Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS

Most people find the going really tough when they have two strikes against them.  Barrack Hussein Obama had three strikes against him before he even got to the White House.  Though he was vetted, and demonstrated he could be trusted to serve the interests of the ruling elite, a powerful minority was adamantly opposed to his presidential candidacy.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the first strike against Barack Hussein Obama was the “birther” movement’s claim that he was not born in “the good old U.S.A.”  He was viewed as being different, in negative ways: the offspring of an interracial marriage with a Caucasian mother and an African father, and not born in the original “forty-eight.”  As reported, to counter the “birthers” charge, “the Obama campaign released a digitally scanned image of his birth certificate,” which merely “prompted more . . . skepticism.” (“Born in the U. S. A.: The truth about Obama’s birth certificate,” factcheck.org, Posted Aug. 21, 2008/ Updated Nov. l, 2008, Apr. 27, 2011)

The growing threat of the “birther” movement to Barack Hussein Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign led “the White House” to release the “long form” of his birth certificate, to prove he was legitimate and one of “them.”  The “long form” was reported to be “at the heart of the conspiracy-riddled discussion over Obama’s legitimacy to serve as the nation’s commander in chief.”  That birth certificate “clearly recorded that the president was born on Aug. 4, 1961 in the Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu.” (“Obama Birth Certificate Released,” By White House PHOTO), by Sam Stein, www.huffingtonpost.com, Posted 4/27/11, Updated 6/27/11)  That should have done it.  But it didn’t.

The “birthers,” and their political “midwives,” remained convinced that Barack Hussein Obama was “illegitimate.”  Such a political “midwife” was 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  At a campaign stop in Michigan, Romney was quoted as saying, “I love being home in this place where . . . I was born . . . No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” he said smiling.  And “the crowd laughed and applauded loudly”—as his vice-presidential running mate, “Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stood next to him on the podium.” (“Mitt Romney: ‘No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” By Felicia Sonmez, The Washington Post, Aug. 24, 2012)

The “birthers” were dogged.  At a 2012 “Blue Ridge Tea Party forum,” during “North Carolina’s 11th District runoff” between “Republican candidates Mark Meadows and Vance Patterson,” the belief that President Obama was not a true American reared its head.  According to a Huffington Post news report, when asked “if they, if elected, would investigate Obama’s birth, Patterson, with a smirking Meadows seated to his left, replied: ‘I hate the thought of being led by somebody who is not an American. . . . There’s something there that’s not right.  Yes,” Patterson continued, “he’s produced a birth certificate but it’s not the one that I’ve got and that most of us here in the room have as far as proving our origin (italic added).’”  (“Send Him Back Home to Kenya?,” Posted 6/28/2012)

When it was Mark Meadows turn to answer the question about investigating the President’s birth, “he simply answered ‘yes’ and slid the mic away to laughs from the crowd, before continuing with: “If we do our job from a grassroots standpoint, we won’t have to worry about it.  We will send him back home to Kenya or wherever it is.’” (Ibid)  Meadows won the election; and on his website today is the statement: “Rep. Meadows joined Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and several House Members at a press conference to demonstrate bicameral unity in the fight to defund Obamacare through the continuing resolution.” (“Congressman Mark Meadows: Home, meadows.house.gov)

Barack Hussein Obama!  The second strike against President Obama is that a significant number of Americans believe he is a Muslim.  What’s in a name?  The Pew Research Center tells us: “More than a year and a half into his presidency . . . a substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim . . . nearly one-in-five Americans (18%),” while “only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian . . . down sharply from 48% in 2009.”  And “the view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers.” (“Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim,” Religion & Politics 2010, www.pewforum.org, Aug. 18, 2010)

At the end of President Obama’s first term, a poll, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), found that “four years has done nothing to change the impression among a significant chunk of the American public that [he] practices Muslim faith . . . 16 percent of Americans—one in six.  . . .   That’s up from 12 percent in the 2008 campaign.”  Why?  According to PRRI lead researcher Daniel Cox, “It has a lot to do with his background . . . He’s said so himself: He has a funny sounding name.  It’s very non-traditional as far as American standard names go.  And,” Cox added, “there’s his upbringing—he spent a lot of years studying abroad.” (“AMAZING; More People Think Obama Is Muslim Now Than Four Years Ago,” by Brett Logiurato, www.businessinsider.com, May 10, 2012)  Another news story on the PRRI poll

Identified the people who especially believe Obama is a Muslim: “While Americans across the board get the president’s religion wrong, the religious group that most often thinks Obama is Muslim is white evangelical Protestants (24) percent.” (“One In Six Americans Believe Obama Is Muslim, Only One In Four Identify Him As Protestant, ”Filed by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, www.huffingtonpost.com, Posted 5/10/2012)

Certain Tea Party-supported political leaders are accommodating the belief that President Obama is Muslim, and encouraging the irrational hatred of him and his administration’s policies that belief is producing.  As an example, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives caused the government shut-down and risked national debt default by refusing to approve a bill funding Obamacare.  The shutdown included the closing of national monuments and memorials.  Yet, an obvious Tea Party-inspired veterans group staged a “MILLION VET MARCH ON THE MEMORIALS” protest at the World War II Memorial in Washington. They blamed President Obama for the shutdown, as stated on their website: “The Administration has closed down war memorials that are normally open 24/7 and that do not have any staff to guard them under normal circumstances.”  (‘MILLION VET MARCH ON THE MEMORIALS,’ 1mvetmarch.wordpress.com)  These veterans were angry at being deprived of entering the memorials, and not at the widespread deprivation to millions of Americans being caused by the shutdown.

CNN reported that the veterans march “evolved into a protest that resembled tea party events from 2009, with yellow ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags throughout the crowd and strong anti-Obama language from the podium and the audience.”  One speaker, “Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group . . . went so far as saying the president was a Muslim and separately urged the crowd of hundreds to initiate a peaceful uprising.”  Klayman said, “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.” (“Rallier tells Obama to ‘put the Quran down,’” Posted by CNN’s Ashley Killough and Shannon Travis and Brian Rokus, politicalticker.blogs,cnn.com, 10/13/2013)

The CNN story reported that “high-profile speakers with close ties to the tea party appeared at the event, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.”  Cruz, who played a major role in shutting down the government—and thus the national memorials—talked out of the other side of his mouth: “This is the people’s memorial.  Let me ask a simple question,” he continued.  “Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?  . . . Our veterans should be above politics.  Enough games.”  Cruz’s own use of the veterans was the height of political game-playing.

Sarah Palin also joined in: “You look around . . . and you see these barricades and you have to ask yourself, is this any way that a commander in chief would show his respect, his gratitude to our military?,” she said.  “This is a matter of shutdown priorities.” (Ibid)  Neither Cruz nor Palin repudiated Klayman’s hateful anti-Obama rant.

The “tea”-drinking ’MILLION VET MARCH’ organizers evidently copied their march’s theme from a man they probably hate even more than President Obama: Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, whose most effective 1995, original, “Million Man March” drew over a million persons to Washington, D.C. (See Alberts, Mainstream Media as Guardian of Racial Hierarchy: A Study of the Threat Posed by Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Million Man March, research report published in 1997, by the William Monroe Trotter Institute, Univ. of Mass. Boston)  The “MILLION VET MARCH’ drew “hundreds.”

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King is another Tea Party favorite who sees Barack Hussein Obama as casting an evil, Muslim shadow.  King is reported by The New York Times to be “one of the most outspoken advocates for blocking Obamacare, even if it means shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt.”  The Times story states, “He claimed that ‘radical Islamists’ would be ‘dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept 11’ if Obama was elected.”  King also “warned that Iowa was in danger of becoming a ‘gay marriage mecca’ and led a successful effort to recall three State Supreme Court judges who ruled in favor of gay marriage.” (“In Rural Iowa, Spending, Not the Shutdown, Raises Worry, By James B. Stewart, Oct. 5, 2013)

The Times story also points out that Rep. “King has really come to the fore in the current debate over paying for Obamacare and the government shutdown, emerging as a leader of a hard-core group of about two dozen Republican representatives in the pursuit of the holy grail of ‘the end of Obamacare,’ as Mr. King puts it.”  Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt said of him, “Steve King was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.” (Ibid)

No matter how hard President Obama adjusts his stance and swing, he can’t shake that third  and biggest strike: he is black.  In the eyes of most Tea Party supporters and many other Republicans, being black is President Obama’s original sin.  The obsessive, irrational hatred toward all things Obama is expressed, often indirectly, in various media.

“In a New York Times piece on the “Wrong Side of history,” Timothy Egan refers to the Tea Party as “a militant fringe of one party in one house of Congress . . . trying to nullify an established law by extortion.”  He puts the hatred of President Obama in perspective in quoting former president Bill Clinton, who asks, “Can you remember a time in your lifetime when a major political party was just sitting around, begging for America to fail?”  Egan continues, “The answer is no.”  He then become specific about the irrational destructiveness of Tea Party Republicans:

What kind of failure are we talking about?  Not just to equity markets, jobs, the mechanics of daily life in the world’s biggest economy.  The shutdown  stops research on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, cancer treatments. Two-thirds of the employees at the Centers for Disease Control were sent   home.  Many food inspectors, people who train air traffic controllers, anti-terrorism experts—all furloughed. (Oct. 3, 2013)

A New York Times editorial on “John Boehner’s Shutdown” suggests the driven hatred of America’s first black president: “The Republicans’ reckless obsession with destroying health reform and with wounding the president has been on full display.  And,” the editorial ends, “as the public’s anger grows over this entirely unnecessary crisis it should be aimed at a party and a speaker that are incapable of governing.” (Oct. 2, 2013)

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader asks, “Why is this Republican faction—a minority in its own party—so extortionately against Obamacare that they would shut the government down?  The answer is simple: Obama.  They do not like him.  Moreover,” Nader writes, “these Congressional ‘mad dogs,’ well paid and insured by taxpayers, prefer the present ‘pay-or-die’ gouging marketplace that, according to a peer-reviewed study by Harvard Medical School researchers, takes the lives of 800 Americans each week who cannot afford health insurance to be diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.” (“Congressional ‘Mad Dogs’ Render the Powerful Powerless, Counterpunch, Oct. 3, 2013)

The racial fear and hatred of President Obama are seen in a New York Times/CBS News poll of Tea Party supporters. They “tend to be white and wealthier,” yet “far more pessimistic than Americans in general about the economy.”  And they hold a “fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular.”  There is something about him: “The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves.”  And here’s another racial rub: “More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites—compared with 11 percent of the general population.” (Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated,” By Kate Zernike and Megan Thee-Brenan, The New York Times, Apr. 14, 2010)

In their book, It’s Even Worst Than It Looks, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein describe the “cancerous” leadership of the Republican Party, as columnist Carl Bernstein put it.  (“Carl Bernstein: GOP leadership ‘cancerous,’” By Tal Kopan, POLITICO.com, Oct. 16, 2013)   Mann and Ornstein write, “Today’s Republican Party . . . has become ‘an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition . . . all but declaring war on the government.” (“’It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism,’” by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, articles.washiingtonpost.com, Apr. 30, 2012)

It is not just about the Tea Party and its supporters.  On the eve of the 2010 midterm elections, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, in a National Review interview, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” (“When did McConnell say he wanted to make Obama a ‘one-term president?,” Posted by Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker, The Washington Post, 9/25/2012)  Similarly, Huffington Post writer Sam Stein’s column on “Robert Draper Book: GOP’s Anti-Obama Campaign Started Night of Inauguration,” begins, “As President Barack Obama was celebrating his [second] inauguration at various balls, top Republican leaders and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington.”  It was about creating  a “united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.” (www.huffingtonpost.com, 4/26/2012  Like McConnell, these other Republican leaders are not concerned about what is good for the country, but about gridlock to make Obama’s economic and job-creation policies fail.  It is about regaining power, especially at the expense of the people.

Many white evangelical Christians and other conservatives cannot stand the thought of a black man living in their White House—and being their president and “Commander-in-Chief.”  It violates their historical and cultural conditioning of white superiority, which they have unconsciously integrated into their being, and which continues to be reinforced by the white-controlled hierarchical systemic arrangements of most political, corporate, media, educational, legal, healthcare, religious and other structures.

In their racially conditioned minds, black people are supposed to be at the bottom of the white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, legal and religious power.  They are supposed to be the servants and aides and assistants and followers and security providers and lower level managers and professionals—with enough exceptions making it up the white-dominated hierarchical ladder to legitimize it.  A few success stories actually bless the status quo.  But a black person in the White House!  It is enough for people to want to “take back America” to “good old” white supremacy days.

President Obama does not represent post racial America.  Rather, his election brought out the racism that still exists in America.

The Tea Party Republicans and certain others would have us believe that their opposition to President Obama is about the “big government” that his administration has created.  A 2010 survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality found otherwise.  The Institute surveyed “over thirty official tea party websites from close to a dozen different states,” and compared their content with “the content from the National Review online, a mainstream conservative commentary.” The survey found that “only 14% of the content from tea party websites focuses on big government or states rights, issues that are supposedly the ultimate concern of the tea party,”  This finding is “compared to 39 percent of [such] content examined from the National Review online.”   Similarly, “19% “ of tea party content “focuses on immigration, the gay community, race and personal attacks on Obama,” compared to only 10% of the National Review online content.”  Also, “10% of posts and articles on tea party websites focus on patriotism and taking back the country while less than 1 percent of the content from the National Review online have this focus.” (“Tea Party Preliminary Content Analysis,” 2010 Multi-State Survey on Race and Politics Content Analysis, depts.washington.edu)

It is not about big government, but about President Barack Hussein Obama.  The racism of the Tea Party is seen in the NYT/CBS News poll, which found that “nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government say they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.”  Of course, Tea Party supporters believe the Obama administration’s domestic programs “favor blacks over whites.” (“Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated, Ibid)

The other racial disclosure in the above poll is that “the percentage [of Tea Party supporters] holding a favorable opinion of former president George W. Bush [is] 57%” (Ibid)   According to The New York Times, Bush inherited “healthy surpluses” upon entering office, and left a big  government with a “projected $1.2 trillion deficit . . . largely” because of “the Bush-era tax cuts, war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recessions.” (“How the Deficit Got This Big,” By Teresa Tritch July 23, 2011)

Former president George Bush launched unnecessary, falsely based, illegal, pre-emptive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq—committing horrible war crimes against the citizens of these countries.  On prayerful bended knee, this white, evangelical Christian sacrificed the lives and wellbeing of tens of thousands of young Americans on the altar of American imperialistic corporate greed, and squandered the nation’s resources.

President Obama followed in George Bush’s imperialistic footsteps, and nobly carried on.  He increased U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.  He intensified the criminal drone warfare, violating the national sovereignty of other countries, indiscriminately killing and injuring thousands of civilians and creating countless enemies.  He created an extra-judicial “kill list” of enemies to be assassinated, including Americans, without due process.  He even had Osama bin Laden killed, where all former president Bush could do was put up the “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster.

Under Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency, the National Security Agency is now conducting blanket spying on all Americans, and on citizens in numerous other countries.  Obama has demonstrated a willingness to participate in austerity farce, that protects the wealthiest Americans and makes economically-distressed people of color and white persons sacrifice even more.  His administration has prosecuted true democratic patriot Pvt. Chelsea Manning for exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq; and Obama himself relentlessly tried to deny sanctuary to true democratic patriot Edward Snowden for disclosing the National Security Agency’s extensive, illegal spying on Americans.  Obama fits in and serves the status quo, like certain other black leaders in white-controlled structures—which give these structures the appearance of being equalitarian, while doing business as usual.  And those black leaders who refuse to do business as usual find the going tough in the hierarchy.  The same is true for white leaders who threaten the status quo.

In Barack Hussein Obama’s case, no matter how hard he tries, he is no George W. Bush.  He is different: more likely to favor those who look like him.  He can never measure up as “Commander-in-Chief.”  He can never be like Bush, who is white and evangelical—and “exceptional” like “them.”  Take tea and see.

During the costly government shutdown, a sincere Senate chaplain prayed: “Have mercy upon us, oh God, and save us from the madness.” (“For God’s Sake: Senate Chaplain Prays to End Shutdown ‘Madness,’” By Arlette Sanez, ABC News, Oct. 10, 2013)  And a well-intentioned group of interfaith leaders tried to meet with Representatives in Congress, and sang “Amazing Grace” in the Congressional hallways.  The problem here is that the god of many of these politicians drinks tea.

The Tea Party Republicans and their supporters show utter disregard for the well-being of the 99%.  Their treasonous racism presents a grave threat to America’s security.  Thus, what is needed the next time– and there will be a next time– are tens of thousands of people of faith and other Americans descending on Washington, and sitting in and occupying the offices of obstructionist—and other, accommodating– politicians until they put the people first.  Until then, strong prophetic voices are needed to call Tea Party-racism for what it is on behalf of all Americans—and the victims of America’s imperialistic foreign policy.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.  Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care.  His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling.  It is available on Amazon.com.  His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.