Did you happen to see Jimmy Kimmel’s interesting skit last week, where he asked people on the street whether they preferred “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act”? Far too many people chose the “Affordable Care Act” over “Obamacare” without realizing that they are one and the same law.
Even worse, several of Kimmel’s interviewees rejected “Obamacare” after having already endorsed major pieces of it! Some of this cluelessness is no doubt because of propaganda. Some of it is no doubt because of partisan dislike of the president. But we must not shy away from the truth that too much of this is still about race. This shutdown over the Affordable Care Act is not just about John Boehner’s weak leadership.
It’s not just about Ted Cruz’s misinterpretation of “Green Eggs and Ham,” or even his rude and crude attempt to jump to the front of the 2016 GOP presidential contenders in Iowa. It’s not just about personalities, and positioning, and day-to-day politics. This shutdown is also a showdown. Its roots run deep — all the way back to John Calhoun, to the Confederacy, to nullification.
This shutdown is about the fear that drives the Republican Party’s hatred for Barack Obama. Democracy Corps’ just-released study on the core groups of the GOP does make this relevant point: “Obama is big government — but much bigger. They believe he is building dependent minorities that will give the Democrats a governing majority.”
This shutdown is about race. Consider another Democracy Corps conclusion: “They are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority — as Democrats use government to build dependency and therefore also their support with minorities. The race issue is very much alive.” Half a century ago, George Wallace stood in a schoolhouse door in Alabama, to try to deny entry to African-American students. He failed.
The American people were better than that. Today, almost all Republican governors are standing in the hospital door, barring entrance to poor and working people — a huge percentage of whom are African-American and Latino — for health care through Medicaid expansion.
The New York Times ran the census numbers a few days ago. Here’s the money quote on who will be excluded: “ . . . two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance. . . . Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the 8 million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help.”
These GOP governors are using a loophole created by the Roberts Supreme Court, which managed to sneak in a “state’s rights” loophole to weaken the Affordable Care Act, even as the court judged the overall law constitutional. This loophole allowed Republican governors in half the states to mistreat their own constituents by denying Medicaid to millions of politically voiceless people who need the health care. It’s not just a coincidence that a disproportionate share of African Americans who need Medicaid, and working poor people who need Medicaid, live in those states.
It’s not just a coincidence that Arkansas, that rare Southern state with a Democratic governor, is the only state from the Old Confederacy that is not denying Medicaid expansion. Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to the words of analyst Michael Lind in Salon: “Right now most conservative white local notables in the South and elsewhere in the country don’t want black and Latino support. They would rather disenfranchise blacks and Latinos than compete for their votes. And they would rather dismantle the federal government than surrender their local power and privilege.”
Unfortunately, for Boehner, Cruz, the GOP governors, and the Tea Party, they are standing in the way of history. Like their predecessor, Gov. George Wallace, they are trying to deny innocent and needy Americans access to a universal right that the rest of the civilized world has already agreed upon. So if we stick together in this fight, the odds are that the Calhounites and Cruzies will fail in their quest to roll back progress.
The odds are that they will fail in their short-term goal of shutting down the government, and in their longer-term quest to destroy the Affordable Care Act. This is not just a shutdown, it’s a showdown. And our future’s at stake. Keep Hope Alive!
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is President/CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.