donaldjones_fc&bw.jpgIn the last few weeks, three major episodes of gang activity have taken place. One was the “flash mob” violence that took place in the streets of Philadelphia. Another was the rioting in Great Britain.

The third was what took place in Washington during the so-called deficit debate. When a gang perpetrates a kidnapping, takes a baby hostage and demands a ransom, we call it extortion. When rightwing Republicans hold the economy hostage to their narrow ideological agenda, we call it Tea Party politics. As Al Sharpton said, “We got back the baby” – the American economy — but the price was Obama had to shoot himself in the foot.

Of course, to see through the smoke and mirrors about deficits to the ruthless politics behind it requires one to decode the rhetoric.


When Republicans refer to “cuts,” “caps” or “balancing” the budget, they are merely talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare and what historically was called “welfare.” When they talk about reducing the “size” of the federal government, they are talking about laying off public employees who work for the federal government.

This strategy of creating unemployment in the face of a situation in which there are already 25 million people seeking work is more destructive than anything that the flash mobs, the Crips or the Bloods could conceive. Unemployment cancels out demand and lack of demand cancels out employment. Private enterprise is sitting on billions of dollars but businesses are not hiring because no one is buying — because no one can buy. 

Deficits were never the issue. The issue – for anyone who is not part of the right wingnut mob – is jobs.

There is a racial dimension to this.  Blacks in vast disproportion depend on these programs and jobs.  Of course, putting thousands of federal employees out of work is just the beginning. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the federal government itself.  Grover Norquist has stated it this way, “We want to reduce the federal government to a size that we can drown it in a bathtub.”

That, too, is code.  None of the Republicans seek to dismantle the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense. When they speak of dismantling the federal government, they are speaking of everything that has to do with regulation, taxation and entitlement programs.

The federal government as we know it is the product of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Ironically, the New Deal was the means by which Roosevelt put America back to work and turned around an economic depression.

The Tea Party’s grand strategy is to reverse the New Deal, to turn back the clock of society to 1910.  They want a government which has no minimum wage, no tenure for teachers, no unions, no Social Security, no Medicare, only pure laissez faire capitalism, the kind that Upton Sinclair wrote about in The Jungle.

When members of the Tea Party movement say they want to take back America, they really mean they will take us back to 1910. Part of that era was segregation. Without the apparatus of the federal government, blacks would be at the mercy of state governors, like Rick Scott in Florida, for their civil rights protections.

To achieve this grand design of drowning the federal government, they must first get rid of Obama. To do this, they have mainstreamed a narrative that Obama is unfit to serve, that despite his heroic efforts to conciliate, he is unreasonable. The true source of all this hating is that he is black.

The Tea Partiers did not get the memo that we are a post-racial society.

In the movie Birth of the Nation, blacks were portrayed as incompetent buffoons  put in power by the North to oppress Southern whites. We seem to be having a birth of the nation moment. The attack on Obama as unfit, where is his birth certificate? – appeals to the same us vs. them racialism that was at the heart of the Birth of the Nation story.

There are many who say Obama caved. True that. He did. But Obama’s weakness reflects our own.  As Harry Belafonte stated in earlier crises with Kennedy and Johnson, they had a civil rights movement behind them. 

Unless progressives get their, let’s say, stuff, together and massively shout, demonstrate and denounce the rise of the extreme right, we need not worry about Obama. It is our own future which is at risk.

Donald Jones is a professor of  law at the University of Miami.