President Jimmy Carter was right when he linked some of the now infamous “teabaggers” (caution: this word has more than one meaning) and the at times undignified town hall meetings over the summer to overt racism under a very thin guise of anti-government fervour.
Carter’s intervention may not have suited Barack Obama, as he has always sought to defuse race as part of the policy debate on many issues, although he has addressed the continued racial divide in America very eloquently on many occasions. The 44th president does not want healthcare to become tied up with race because it is not about that and it would prove an unwanted and potentially destructive distraction.
As Obama put it on the David Letterman show, he was black before he was elected to the Oval Office. The American people voted for him by a democratic majority.
The fact remains that Carter, the 39th president, was hitting a far more powerful note that transcends the issue of healthcare and goes to the heart of what the so-called “religious right” is all about.
Much of the “religious right” hails from the South of the United States. But it is motivated by more than religion. There are plenty of deeply religious people, the late Ted Kennedy being one of them, who are the antithesis of the “religious right”.
The truth is the “religious right” is a political group galvanised by powerful evangelical leaders and appealed to by Republican politicians desperate to grasp this base in the way that Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush did so successfully. Let’s not forget Reagan was divorced and George Bush had led a far from exemplary life. So it’s not just about religion.
The “religious right” is a conservative movement but it is more than that. It’s made up of many groups, mainly in the South, who have an inherent distrust of government, are not well-educated or well-informed, are often religious zealots and frankly represent the old-style Southern Democrats who deserted Lyndon Johnson after civil rights legislation and found their political messiah in Ronald Reagan.
This group does have inherently racist elements. That is not going away any time soon. In the land of the free, they have a right to be heard, to be broadcast and not to be censored (assuming they are not inciting hatred, which many have) yet they should not be allowed to dictate events however loudly they shout. This is a group that has been created in many ways by politicians who mobilise this vote but then invariably act against their economic interests. Republican politicians will give them crumbs in the form of anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia comments or legislative promises but all too often let them down more than the Democrats do.
The “teabaggers” moan about excessive government spending, but it was George W. Bush who almost broke the bank by going to war in Iraq alone and having to bailout the banks he failed to regulate. These are the failings of Bush, not the new president.
This group is incoherent in their arguments, angry that politicians (mainly Republicans, although rarely acknowledged) have let them down in their eyes and yes, often racist. Republicans will continue to court them but the rest of America and its media need to get some perspective.
As former evangelical and former lifelong Republican Frank Schaffer puts it:
“You don’t work to move them off this position, you move past them. Look, a village cannot reorganise village life to suit the village idiot. We have to understand that we have a village idiot in this country, it’s called fundamental Christianity.”