Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tennessee
If there remained any doubt about the connection between American racism and "small-government conservatism," the Tea Party-dominated House Republican majority helped remove it last week in its handling of the farm bill. The Republicans larded on extra money for agricultural subsidies benefiting mostly white-owned agribusiness and then lopped off the food-stamp program entirely. It, after all, benefits a disproportionate share of blacks and other racial minorities.
In this exercise of government favoritism for wealthy whites and cruelty toward the poor (many blacks and other minorities), the pretense of free-market economics was even stripped away. If "libertarianism" were not just a polite cover for racism, the House Republicans would have killed agricultural subsidies, too.
In justifying the House action on food stamps, Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tennessee, referred to the New Testament but ignored the teachings of Jesus, who told his followers to feed the poor and care for the needy. Instead, Fincher extracted a line from Thessalonians, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." But the Republicans didn't. They seemed fine with various forms of taxpayer giveaways to white-owned agribusinesses, but they were determined to inflict as much pain as possible on blacks and minorities who already have suffered the most from the Great Recession. There was even a cruel vindictiveness to the process.
But it turned out that the starving mandate did not apply to Fincher, who has been a recipient of several million dollars in farm subsidies, including $70,000 in direct payments in 2012 alone for doing nothing. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote on Monday, "I don't think the word 'hypocrisy' does it justice."
Obviously, the Republican mean-spirited behavior is not entirely aimed at minorities. As Krugman noted, "almost half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites" and the percentage is 63 percent in Fincher's Tennessee district. But race remains a powerful driving force for the GOP's behavior.
Indeed, whenever you run up against right-wing hypocrisy, it's a safe bet that race is a factor. For instance, Tea Partiers love to go to Washington, dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and protest their taxation with representation. But they are remarkably silent about a continuation of "taxation without representation" for the residents of the District, many of whom are black.
Yes, it's true that D.C. whites are also denied congressional representation but you can bet that if D.C. were overwhelmingly white (and right-wing) rather than substantially black (and liberal), the Tea Partiers would be screaming about the injustice of it all.
It's also true that the Republican insistence of voter IDs (to eliminate the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud) will disenfranchise some poor and elderly whites who may not have drivers' licenses. But the right-wing politicians who are pushing these laws know that on balance it will keep more black- and brown-skinned Americans from the polls.
That's the numbers game they're playing. But to rig the elections, they must frame their maneuvers in "race-neutral" ways, which means that, sadly, some whites must be disenfranchised along with blacks and other minorities. Those whites shut out from elections amount to collateral damage in the war to "take our country back."
"Free market," "libertarian," "contract rights" and "small government" are the current in-vogue euphemisms for maintaining white supremacy. Though you still hear "states' rights" from some right-wing politicians, the phrase does have a stigma from the battles to protect segregation a half century ago.
But these various concepts -- all targeting the possibility that the federal government might reflect the democratic will of the American people and act against racial bigotry or other injustices -- can be traced back to the original political battles of the young Republic over slavery.
The Federalists, who were the prime movers behind the Constitution, were what you might call "pragmatic nationalists." They understood that the point of the document crafted in Philadelphia in 1787 and ratified in 1788 was to centralize power in the federal government and enable it to take the actions necessary to build the country.
Their "originalist" view of the Constitution could be described as the federal government doing whatever it must to protect the country and advance the nation's "general welfare." Many Framers were troubled by slavery but they were not purists. They even accepted repulsive compromises that counted black slaves as three-fifths of a person. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Right's Made-up Constitution."]
Nevertheless, Southern Anti-Federalists -- the likes of Virginia's George Mason and Patrick Henry -- argued that the Constitution, by centralizing power in the federal government, would inevitably lead the United States to outlaw slavery and cost wealthy plantation owners their massive capital investment in human chattel.
Though these Anti-Federalists narrowly lost the fight over ratification, they didn't fade away. They organized behind the charismatic Thomas Jefferson, who had been in France during the writing and ratifying of the Constitution. Jefferson served as Secretary of State under Federalist George Washington and as Vice President under Federalist John Adams, but he fought the ambitious nation-building plans of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and undermined Adams. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Rethinking Thomas Jefferson."]