Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Tea Party Makes GOP Mean

In the Washington Post, Greg Sargent asked Pew and CBS to give him a breakdown of recent poll data, and has some useful insights into the Republican Party.

These days, the GOP blames poor people for being poor, blames the unemployed for not having jobs, blames the sick for being sick, these are their official platform positions. It's weird, can you imagine that anyone thinks we should stop paying unemployment insurance benefits to people who are put out of work by a bad economy? How did they get so mean?

Looking into the data, Sargent says that the Republican Party's official positions represent the beliefs of Tea Party members a lot more than the regular membership of the party.
As Jonathan Chait explains, this [GOP economic] agenda continues to be premised on the ideas that there is, if anything, too much downward redistribution of wealth, that government shouldn’t interfere in the market by, say, raising the minimum wage, and that safety net programs lull people into dependency (Paul Ryan’s Hammock Theory of Poverty).

But here’s the thing. That basic set of assumptions — and the resulting positions on some of the individual policies being discussed – are held overwhelmingly by Tea Party Republicans; and not nearly as much by non-tea party Republicans. Key findings:

On government action to combat inequality:
  • The Pew poll finds Republicans divided on whether government should do a lot or some to reduce inequality, versus doing little or nothing, by 49-46. But tea party Republicans overwhelmingly tilt against government doing something by 66-28, while non-tea party Republicans overwhelmingly favor doing something by 60-35.
  • The CBS poll is less pronounced, but even here, Tea Party Republicans overwhelmingly oppose government acting to reduce the gap between rich and poor by 82-17, while non-Tea Party Republicans believe this by 66-29 (so nearly a third of non-Tea party Republicans believe it).
On unemployment benefits:
  • The Pew poll finds Republicans oppose extending unemployment benefits by 53-44. But Tea Party Republicans overwhelmingly oppose this by 70-29, while non-Tea Party Republicans support it by 52-44.
  • Similarly, the CBS poll finds that Republicans oppose extending unemployment benefits by 49-40. But Tea Party Republicans overwhelmingly oppose it by 58-31. Non-Tea Party Republicans favor extending them by 46-43.
The Tea Party and the Hammock Theory of Poverty
The "welfare queen" is a kind of latently-racist image that has rallied the Nutty Ones since the Reagan Years. People too lazy to get up off their fat butts and find a job, living off welfare while the rest of us work hard for a living, oh yeah, that'll get white folks to the ballot box on election day. But sometimes it's you and me who need some help, and then what're you going to do?

A couple of years ago Paul Ryan evoked that stereotype when he said, "We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives."

The Post tells us what people think about that:
On the Hammock Theory of Poverty:
  • The CBS poll finds that Republicans believe unemployment benefits make people less motivated to look for a job by 57-40. But Tea Party Republicans overwhelmingly believe this by 67-32. By contrast, only a minority of non-tea party Republicans believe this (47-51).
  • The Pew poll has a similar finding: Republicans believe government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people dependent on government, rather than doing more good than harm, by 67-27. But Tea Party Republicans overwhelmingly believe this by 84-11, while non-tea party Republicans are somewhat more closely divided, 59-35.
Somehow the Republican Party has let the teabaggers dominate their agenda. I think it's because you have to appear rabid to the GOP base in order to win a primary election, it is much better to appear to be a mean-spirited, greedy nutcase than somebody who would negotiate with liberals. So the whole party kowtows to the extremists, even though most people who call themselves Republicans do not agree with them.

It is a subculture of meanness, a denial of empathy, the tea party people are not usually the wealthy capitalists of the party, it is a working-class populist movement that builds on white workers' resentment when less fortunate citizens need help.

As Sargent writes:
Both the Pew and CBS polls find large majorities believe the income gap is growing, and both find that more Americans want government to do something about it. Both also find solid majority support for raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and (in Pew’s case) taxing the rich to help the poor.
Those are the beliefs of Americans, except for tea partiers. Most Americans -- Democrats as well as mainstream Republicans -- are sympathetic to those who are experiencing hard times, most Americans want the government to make our lives better, more prosperous and more secure. Most Americans do not want to see a tiny greedy minority end up with all the money and all the power. Yet somehow a band of extremists is driving the dialogue, speaking for the Republican Party, and forcing the whole rest of the country to stop everything and deal with them.

Friday, January 17, 2014

State Gender Bill Introduced

Last year there was a lot of disappointment when the Maryland legislature let a gender-identity nondiscrimination bill die in committee. The state Senate president had said he only had time for "one gay bill" and that wasn't it.

This week the bill was reintroduced, and strangely it has the same number in the Senate -- SB212. A lot has changed in recent years regarding gay and lesbian rights, but the rights of transgender citizens are a little slower in coming. Let's hope this is the year for them in the state of Maryland.

The Baltimore Sun:
A bill to protect transgender Marylanders from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations was filed Tuesday in Annapolis by Sen. Richard Madaleno.

The bill's language is similar to that of past bills that also sought to establish a statewide ban on discrimination based on gender identity or expression, but which have all failed in recent years.

Madaleno, a Democrat from Montgomery County, formally filed the bill with the Senate clerk on Tuesday, though it likely won't be considered until later this week.

The bill has 24 co-sponsors, including Sen. Brian Frosh and Sen. Robert Zirkin, who were not co-sponsors of the failed transgender rights bill Madaleno introduced last year.

Both Frosh and Zirkin sit on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where Madaleno's previous bill died and where the new bill will first be introduced. Transgender rights bill introduced in Annapolis
I think a lot of the difficulty here is that transgender people make up a very small proportion of the population, and it is a hard thing to wrap your head around. Some people, like for instance the nutty psychiatrist on Fox News, simply deny that being transgender exists -- it might require some effortful perspective-taking to empathize with someone who has been assigned to the wrong gender category, and some people want the world to be easy to understand. Transgender people are discriminated against constantly, though, and need some legal support to be equal participants in our society.
Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, is expected to bring the bill forward in the House of Delegates, where a similar bill previously passed.

The bill is also expected to receive the support of many top ranking officials in Maryland this year, including Gov. Martin O'Malley. The three Democratic officials looking to take O'Malley's job -- Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur -- all support the legislation.

Equality Maryland, which is the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization, named the transgender rights bill its top priority this legislative session.

Carrie Evans, Equality Maryland's executive director, said she believes there are the votes this session to pass the bill. She said getting it passed is Equality Maryland's "laser focus."

"No one deserves to be fired, refused work, denied housing, education or credit, or suffer harassment or violence just because of who they are," the organization has said of the legislation.
It is notable that the Baltimore Sun talked exclusively to Equality Maryland about this, especially after a series in Baltimore Outloud by Sharon Brackett, board chair of Gender Rights Maryland, which is a group dedicated to getting this bill passed. The three-part series is quite candid and critical of EQMD and describes years of power struggles between the two groups. In the end it only matters that the bill passes and transgender Marylanders are treated fairly.