Tea Party Republican Governors Embrace Socialism

(My latest column for the Huffington Post.)

One of the most brilliantly salient moments from The West Wing occurred in the episode titled “Game On” in which President Bartlet debates the governor of Florida and Republican presidential nominee Robert Ritchie. In case you haven’t seen it, consider this your spoiler warning.

In the opening remarks of the debate, Ritchie, played by James Brolin, makes a case against both federal spending and interference in state issues such as education and healthcare. He hamfistedly excoriates the Department of Education for forcing students “to learn Eskimo poetry” and mocks the idea of an “unfunded mandate” — suggesting it’s “a big word.”

President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, rebuts, “Well, first of all, let’s clear up a couple of things. ‘Unfunded mandate’ is two words, not one big word. There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs. And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights. You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year — from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry. 12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion. I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is: Can we have it back, please?”

Can we have it back, please? I can’t help but to return to this totally ass-kicking Sorkin interrogative whenever I hear Republicans, especially Republican governors, resurrecting the zombie corpse of Joe McCarthy and going full Red Scare against “socialist” liberals and “big government” federal spending programs.

They screech against “wealth redistribution” — “spreading the wealth around” as John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber used to say — and they tell us that rich people, who never pay the full marginal tax rate anyway, shouldn’t have to be punished with a three-percent tax increase, a laughably small hike in the top bracket, as a means of contributing to the common welfare, be it in the form of universal healthcare, education, infrastructure or unemployment insurance for middle and working-class Americans.

They suffer from outrageously selective amnesia by ignoring the unparalleled bloodshed of the Civil War and suggest that states could potentially secede from the Union and somehow continue to thrive without tax dollars from citizens in other states — dollars that are collected and redistributed by the federal government and provided to the states to pay for crucial programs. Or in the case of Rick Perry, your tax dollars and my tax dollars were spread around to Texas where they helped to balance the budget there, even though Rick Perry would probably call me a socialist for supporting similar $6.4 billion endeavors. As I wrote last time, Perry asked for federal money that was redistributed from taxpayers in other states to ameliorate his $6.9 billion budget crisis. I can’t help but to wonder how Rick Perry would have attained that massive bailout, funded by the president’s evil stimulus bill, had he acted upon his threat to secede.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Hurricane Irene bashed into the east coast and wreaked all varieties of destruction from North Carolina to Vermont. And, naturally, there were several states devastated by Irene that happen to be run by Republican governors, not unlike The West Wing’s Rob Ritchie, who have all made names for themselves as tea party favorites due to their anti-federal government, anti-socialism, anti-tax demagoguery. “Don’t Tread On Me” and the like.

Yet there they were, firing off letters to their arch-nemesis, the president, begging for federal emergency management assistance to relieve the disaster wrought by Irene. Emergency management dollars, by the way, that would not exist without a socialized system of wealth redistribution — without tax revenue from working and middle class (and, yes, wealthy) Americans in other states.

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, both of whom launched into office during the anti-Obama anti-stimulus tea party wave of the last couple of years, asked for and received FEMA aid from their president. Again, it wasn’t automatically gifted to them. They had to literally write to the president and ask for it. Assistance paid for by the federal government. Your money. Money that would not have been there had it not been collected from millions of taxpayers across the nation. It’s important to note that a considerable number of those taxpayers are low-income, working-class Americans who are too often told they shouldn’t take handouts from the government and ought to instead fend for themselves — no federal help for healthcare or education or unemployment or COBRA subsidies — self-hoisted bootstraps, etc… They’re told this line of hooey by the same tea party Republican governors who are currently demanding help from the rest of us.

Arguably the most vocal and visible of the east coast Republican governors is New Jersey governor Chris Christie. He’s another of these newfangled tea party Republicans who have a predilection for demonizing socialism while simultaneously engaging in socialism: big government handouts for corporations and the super-rich, but, you know, screw everyone else.

And there he was on television this week, demanding redistributed tax dollars from other states in order to augment New Jersey’s disaster relief effort. As reported in The Huffington Post, Christie made a passionate case for federal relief:

“Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And they (Congress) can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later,” the Republican governor told a crowd in the flood-ravaged town of Lincoln Park.

Once again, if this kind of socialism is acceptable to Chris Christie and Tom Corbett — if it’s okay to take money from the federal government and give it to New Jersey to heal its wounds and mitigate its “suffering now,” why can’t you and I have money from the federal government to heal our personal wounds? Why won’t Chris Christie and Tom Corbett support free and universal healthcare?

You simply can’t have it both ways. You can’t fling your tri-cornered hat into the air, slam your pudgy fist onto a podium and rally your people against one kind of wicked socialism, while concurrently requesting and accepting an equivalent form of socialism, without being utterly dishonest, hypocritical and contradictory, not to mention completely unfair. Speaking of tri-cornered hats, where in the Constitution does it include anything about FEMA and government disaster relief? If you’re a strict constitutional constructionist, as Chris Christie, Tom Corbett and other far-right Republicans claim to be in some form or another, you can’t possibly support the existence of FEMA. If you’re a so-called Tenther, you’re technically on your own.

So while disaster relief is now and always a critical function of the federal government, I can’t help but to ask Chris Christie and the others that famous Bartlet question: If you’re seriously opposed to socialism and government interference in state matters, can we have it back, please?

Uh-huh. I didn’t think so.

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  • Dave Krebs

    Excellent column, Bob!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-Janes/607039439 Rick Janes

    Funny that actor James Brolin resembles Rick Perry. Of course, you’re right, but getting people on Medicare and Social Security who drive to their Teabagger meetings on Hoverounds paid for by the gov’t to understand how reliant on ‘big gub’mint’ they truly are is like trying to get milk from a bull. They see politics the same way they read the New Testament — it’s God’s Eternal Literal Word, except for the Sermon on the Mount. That must have been inserted later by some liberal hippie Catholic inscriber in the first or second century.

    “After all, everybody only hears what they understand.”
    – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    And the Teabaggers don’t understand much about anything.

  • mikecz

    Rick Perry is in trouble. Dem’s have a rich goody bag of dumbS*&^ he’s done while governor that completely contradicts everything he now portrays. Really, the smart move would be to stay quiet, let him win the nomination, then bring down the hammer. No snark here.

    Either way, FEMA is an unbelievable waste of an organization. Disaster relief is necessary don’t get me wrong, as are roads, but waste in FEMA is border unethical.

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      If you truly believe that Rick Perry can’t win, you have no grasp of the political reality in this country.

      As to FEMA…..throwing out the baby with the bath water is more of a right wing talking point.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-Janes/607039439 Rick Janes

      Like any large organization, FEMA does some things well and others not and, like any large organization, there will always be waste of some kind. Unfortunately, FEMA needs to be large to handle huge emergencies but attendant to that size there is inevitable bureaucratic bumbling and some squandering of resources and money. It works the same in the private sector, no matter how many times global corporations like GE or AT&T pat themselves on the back for being ‘lean and mean.’

  • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

    Nice column Bob! BTW typo in paragraph 6, you said thread instead of threat

  • Robert Scalzi

    Nicely done !! WOW you sure split some batshit heads over @ The comment thread at FluffPo . Great column, too bad not enough will ever read it , you should send this to every
    Media outlet in the country, especially the Idiots in Main Stream 4th estate

  • dildenusa

    Excellent job of research and writing. Hats off to you Bob. Huff post allows you to write stuff like this? If I wrote a comment like this on Huff post they would put it in pending purgatory.

    Chris Christie has no clue what he is talking about and neither do any of the other tea party republic gubners. Socialism is not a political system. It is a macroeconomic system and so is capitalism. Libertarian socialism is a system of small worker cooperatives that control production and technology for the betterment of the community in which the cooperative is organized. It is libertarian to the extant that citizens are socially free from government involvement in their private lives. There is still a federal government to regulate food, drugs, water supplies, environment, etc. These clowns like Perry and Christie would have a United Corporatist State running our lives for the betterment of the corporatists. Personally, I prefer the federal government regulating my water supply, not the corporatists.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-Janes/607039439 Rick Janes

      In the days when teachers were still allowed to speak their minds in the classroom, one of mine used to say that there has never been a purely communist state, nor a purely socialist one, nor a purely democratic one, nor a purely capitalist one, and, of course, never a Christian one. The original ideas are always twisted by politicians and monied interests to serve their ambitions and desires. Even the socialist democracies of the world, such as Norway and Sweden, have plenty of wealthy capitalists living in their midst. The only difference is, there the wealthy actually pay the full tax rate and the average person has a measure of security from their government.

  • Brutlyhonest

    Like perry, mcdonnell (I’m a jobs guvnah) is touted as a great conservative for creating a surplus in VA . Of course, he did it through fed stimulus and bookkeeping asshattery. As a side benefit of his budgeting shenanigans, the VA public employee pension system will be weakened and, he hopes, eventually killed. Pensions are bad, dontchaknow, cuz fat cats don’t make a shit-ton of money off individuals like they do w/401k setups.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-Janes/607039439 Rick Janes

      Which, of course, is why the GOP, despite their tea bag bluster, doesn’t want to kill Social Security and Medicare, but transfer it to the tender touch of the Wall Street grifters. If that happens, in ten years SS and Medicare will cost twice as much as they do now and the Republicans will quietly sign off on the expense without question, even as Goldman Sachs cuts jobs from the administrative offices to save money and the checks stop arriving on time. Wall Street is desperate for a new scam now that their bad mortgage paper isn’t selling and another bailout might cause even the supine middle-class to revolt.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    LOVE it! Brilliant, and it almost tempts me to go over to HP and kick some teabagger ass while I lmao.