Tea Baggers: Out of Work and on the Dole

This is too rich.

See, during the campaign, I watched countless videos of McCain-Palin supporters. I compiled snippets of them for two post-election videos, and I collected the videos in an online playlist. (I’ve archived them offline, just in case they disappear and their existence is called into question.) Everywhere that McCain-Palin supporters encounters Obama supporters demonstrating outside the venue, they always said one thing that I found perplexing.

Invariably, one of them would say to the Obama-Biden supporters, “Get a job.”

Huh? Why is it, I wondered, that conservatives always assume progressive don’t have jobs?

So, I can’t help chuckling over the irony that the tea-baggers themselves are out of work, on the dole, and protesting for a living.

Mr. Grimes is one of many Tea Party members jolted into action by economic distress. At rallies, gatherings and training sessions in recent months, activists often tell a similar story in interviews: they had lost their jobs, or perhaps watched their homes plummet in value, and they found common cause in the Tea Party’s fight for lower taxes and smaller government.

Mr. Grimes, who receives Social Security, has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with the literature of the movement, including Glenn Beck’s “Arguing With Idiots” and Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law,” which denounces public benefits as “false philanthropy.”

“If you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own,” Mr. Grimes said.

The fact that many of them joined the Tea Party after losing their jobs raises questions of whether the movement can survive an improvement in the economy, with people trading protest signs for paychecks.

Get a job, indeed.

As a progressive, I don’t want to make fun of anybody’s misfortune. Yet it’s tempting to think that perhaps they and Senators Bunning and Kyl (not to mention Tom Delay) deserve each other. But the problem of unemployment, like the crisis of health care care coverage, isn’t just their problem. They may somehow believe that they will get by even if they get the smaller government they long for — too small to help them, but also anyone else.

Perhaps they’d be happy to give up their Medicare and Social Security, and see them privatized. (When it comes to health care, though, many of them over 50 — and thus are part of or aging into demographic that few insurers deem it profitable to cover.) Perhaps they aren’t aware that Medicare is a government program. Perhaps they’d rather do without their disability benefits too. Doesn’t matter, though. Facts, after all, are stupid things. Why bother with them, when you can just ignore the consequences?

He and others do not see any contradictions in their arguments for smaller government even as they argue that it should do more to prevent job loss or cuts to Medicare. After a year of angry debate, emotion outweighs fact.

“If you don’t trust the mindset or the value system of the people running the system, you can’t even look at the facts anymore,” Mr. Grimes said.

In other words, it doesn’t matter — even if health care reform means that they will have health insurance even if they lose their jobs, that they can no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions (and, with many of them being over 50, they’re more likely to have pre-existing conditions), even if it means that they can keep their 20-something kids on their health insurance until 26 (whether they’re in school or looking for work).

It doesn’t matter, either, if the stimulus saved jobs, created jobs, or helped states keep unemployment benefits coming.

Nor does it matter if mortgage relief might help them, their family-members, friends or neighbors keep their homes. Even if it means fewer people are homeless, and thus the burden on public services, food banks and charities lightened instead of increased — at a time when most have fewer resources to support their services.

It doesn’t matter. They talk about and idealize a “You’re On Your Own” brand of conservatism, while walking a decidedly different walk. (the operative word here is “YOU.” As the article points out, tea-baggers justify their government checks because they are merely getting back what they paid into programs like Social Security and Medicare. I guess they want such programs shut down once they’ve gotten theirs. So, really, the rest of us will be on our own. But right now, they’re not. Not really.

One tea-bagger reduced purpose of government to a single purpose — defense — saying: “All I know is government was put here for certain reasons… They were not put here to run banks, insurance companies, and health care and automobile companies. They were put here to keep us safe.” So one must assume they would rather do without. They would rather the government didn’t help anyone, including them.

Then again, perhaps not.

Ron Brownstein, at the National Journal, notes what a Gallup poll says white Americans believe about health care reform.

Compared with earlier presidents, Obama focused his case less on helping the uninsured and more on providing those with coverage greater leverage against their insurers. That shift was especially evident in his final drive toward passage.

And yet, polling just before the bill’s approval showed that most white Americans believed that the legislation would primarily benefit the uninsured and the poor, not people like them. In a mid-March Gallup survey, 57 percent of white respondents said that the bill would make things better for the uninsured, and 52 percent said that it would improve conditions for low-income families. But only one-third of whites said that it would benefit the country overall — and just one-fifth said that it would help their own family.

In both that Gallup Poll and the latest monthly survey by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, nonwhite respondents were much more likely than whites to say that the bill would help the country and their own families. Those responses reflect not only experience (African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to lack insurance) but also minorities’ greater receptivity to government activism. By meeting a tangible need in these communities, health reform is likely to solidify the Democratic hold on the one-quarter (and growing) minority share of the electorate, especially if Republicans define themselves around demanding repeal.

Where Brownstein sees Democrats caught a populist crossfire, Digby sees Brownstein missing the point — the tea-baggers don’t mind government helping people (after all, it helps them), but they mind very much if government helps the wrong people (i.e., not them).

But why is it that these voters don’t think the government cares about their needs when it just passed a health care reform that will help them since they currently lack health insurance. Is it possible that their issue isn’t the government caring for their needs at all? Is it possible that the issue is that they simply feel the government shouldn’t be giving help to people they think don’t deserve it? I think you have to admit that this is a likely scenario for a fair number of those people. They would rather do without health insurance themselves than have the same benefit going to black and brown people. It’s always been that way.

So when Brownstein argues “these trends frame perhaps the Democrats’ greatest political challenge today: convincing economically squeezed white voters that Washington understands their distress,” he’s failing to realize that it’s not about the government “understanding” their distress. It’s about the government passing out favors across the board including to groups who these people feel are inferior, thus devaluing these folks and their privilege. Emphasizing certain policy prescriptions in the health care bill isn’t going to change that.

Is that what they mean when they say they want their country back?

Perhaps that’s a topic for another post. This article doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t even shock me. It’s just another sign that the tea-baggers are a mass of contradictions, and that their level of tolerance for cognitive dissonance must be unbelievably high.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of it all. But I promise I will resist the urge to yell “Get a job!” if I ever happen upon a Tea Party protest.