Corporations in support of the Tea Party have pitt themselves against GOP establishment Republicans who take their cue from Wall Street. (Part 2 of extended interview.)
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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The government, the federal government, has shut down, and we essentially have mass media portraying the Tea Party versus the more, quote-unquote, pragmatic Republicans being the reason behind this big shutdown.
Now joining us to discuss all this is Paul Street. He is an author and journalist. And we are continuing our conversation about the government shutdown.
Thanks for joining us, Paul.
So, Paul, let’s pick up from where we left off. Can you just break down for us this divide between the capitalist elite? Who is actually funding the Tea Party? And what is their agenda? And who is on the other side of that, funding the, quote-unquote, more pragmatic Republican side?
PAUL STREET, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Well, you know, the Tea Party phenomenon has always had a lot of money from oil and from more traditional nationally oriented corporations. Military investors, oil and petroleum, small- or medium-size manufacturing always sort of tended to be in the vanguard of the Tea Party phenomenon.
The big elite interests behind both of the parties, the ones with the most money, are more multinational and they tend to be more tied to Wall Street, and they think more in global terms than in terms of the overall health of the national economy. A lot of these elite interests, the very top sort of multinational financial corporate elites on the Republican side were willing to bring these sort of shock troops, this sort of frothing base funded by the Koch brothers and the rest into being in order to smash labor, in order to smash the welfare state, in order to go after Social Security, and basically [incompr.] to undo the last remnants of a social and welfare state, of the Great Society, of the New Deal, and so on, that’s fine, you know, willing to sort of bring these people into being as sort of proto-fascists, proto-fascistic shock troop. But at a certain point they go too far, and now they’re stepping back and being almost sort of horrified by this Frankenstein that they brought into creation. I mean, basically you sort of—it’s like the old the John Birch Society of the late ’50s and the 1960s now has its own television network and its own talk radio network and this whole huge, vast, well-funded foundation network. And those folks, those far-right shock troops, are, you know, stand your ground. They are ready to go all the way to the wall and don’t seem to [incompr.] to shut this government down in ways that only financial interests just don’t find functional and in fact find dysfunctional.
I think this shutdown right now that we’re in, there have been 15 of these in American history, and they tend to be fairly sort. And, of course, not the entire—the entire federal government hasn’t been shut down, so-called nonessential services. It’ll probably be a fix of some kind in the not so distant future.
What I think really horrifies elite interests is the notion that the right, in its ideologically, culturally driven paranoid obsession with supposedly socialist Obamacare will refuse to allow the raising of the debt ceiling. And I think that’s when things really get serious, because then you’re talking about the undoing of America’s status as the investment location of last resort for multinational capital. And you’re talking about undoing the favored status of Treasury bills and you really start attacking financial institutions. And so, you know, the capitalist elite is sort of caught in the conundrum, on the contradictions of its own cultivation of these horrific elements, these paranoid elements who now threaten to bring down the whole house in ways that the elites never had in mind and they’ve never wanted. And so you hear these sort of horrified comments from people like McCain.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Then people like McCain, they’re being backed by a lot of Wall Street interests. Is that sort of the other faction that we’re seeing? What do they want?
STREET: They want continuation and deepening of tax cuts. They want a rollback of welfare state. Many of them are not pleased with increased taxations on the elite to pay for so-called Obamacare. They tend to come from elements of the financial elite that are not interested in environmental regulation or [incompr.] who work to undermine anything about the deepening environmental catastrophe compared to climate, what related to climate change, anthropogenic global warming, and so forth. But they don’t want to undermine the full faith in the credit of the United States and to downgrade its bonds and to make it a territory where holders of surplus capital in the Middle East or in China or in Europe are reluctant to invest anymore and to stash their savings and to really undermine the globally favored status of American capital. They’re going too—that’s when they’re going to far. And so you’re are seeing class divisions of a sort within the GOP. Much of their base don’t think about those things, don’t care about their things, particularly those a sort of white rural working-class folks who have been worked into and egged on to a froth against so-called supposedly socialist Obamacare.
DESVARIEUX: And let’s talk about that group of people that you mention. You know, there’s this age-old question is: why do people vote for those who don’t serve their interests, for example, like you said, the working-class American? Why do they vote Republican, a party that is clearly against the interests of labor? What do you see being behind that?
STREET: Well, you know, we should not give the Democrats a free pass on this, the Democrats themselves. It isn’t just the Republican Party. It isn’t just the Tea Party and it isn’t just the Republican Party that have been moving to the right. The Democratic Party has been moving well to the right and moving off of Joe Sixpack lunchbox issues for more than 30 years. And the Obama administration has been a monument to the captivity of both parties, to what Ed Herman calls the unelected dictatorship of capital. It’s done very little in the way of backing up any of its campaign promises to working-class people. Card check, labor law reform, so-called Employee Free Choice Act, it did almost nothing for it. The minimum wage continues to linger well below anything close to remotely adequate living standards. Most of the population actually wanted real health care reform, Canadian style single-payer insurance, and has for many years. It did not want this massive bailout and continuation and rollover of the leading Wall Street financial institutions that just got bigger and bigger. So there’s this great big vacuum for working-class anger that the Democratic Party in its move to the right, which has a lot pragmatically to do with who pays for campaigns and what campaigns cost these days, that the right has been able to move into and cultivate anger. You know, people are very angry [incompr.] they ought to be. Four hundred people of—the 400 richest people in the country own more than half of the wealth in this country. And Democrats don’t seem to be very good about telling them about the processes that are producing that kind of incredibly unequal outcome. The Republicans are very good at cultivating anger, even working-class anger. They don’t tell people who’s really screwing them over. They don’t really talk about capitalism and how it’s sort of involved in the upper distribution of wealth and income and so on, tell them about that, but it’s very good at displacing popular anger and putting it on against immigrants, against terrorists in the Middle East, against Muslims, against African Americans, against minorities, against gays, and really diverting people’s issues. And so you have these kind of culture wars in the political system with the Upper West Side in New York and the lakefront liberals in Chicago and the Campustowns being pro-abortion and pro gay rights, and yet nobody’s actually talking about Goldman Sachs and one’s really talking about class and no one’s talking about how 1 percent of the population, you know, owns more than a third of the wealth in the country. And so the Democrats kind of give that up and the Republicans tend to take that over.
And I think one of the things that definitely drove the Republicans to take this insane gambit, which I think is going to work to their disadvantage, just like the shutdown in the 1990s did, was a calculation, among other things, that Obamacare is not particularly popular among much of the population, because it’s not particularly progressive, because it’s bewildering. It’s 900 pages and very difficult for many people to understand. And I think this was part of the flawed sort of calculations. I can understand that calculation [incompr.] that led the GOP to think that they could get away with this, ’cause the Democrats’ passed this very centrist and corporate health care bill, not really what for decades American—most American—majority working-class Americans said they wanted, which was single-payer.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Paul.
STREET: You bet.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Paul Street is an independent journalist, activist, and author. Among his recent books are They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014); Crashing the Tea Party (Paradigm, 2011), The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010), Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis ( 2007), and Segregated Schools (Routledge, 2005). Street’s many articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Truthout, Counterpunch, In These Times, Dissent, Z Magazine, Black Commentator, Black Agenda Report, Al-Alkhbar ( Beirut, Lebanon), Z Net, Monthly Review, Journal of American Ethnic History, Critical Sociology, Critical Education, Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai, India), Tinabantu (Cape Town, South Africa), Opportunity, Dollars and Sense, Journal of Social History, New Left Project (UK), and numerous other outlets.