That phrase has come up at the tea party protests and from the town hall mobs. It's not a new phrase; it was used by anti-Bush protesters during America's darker years. But where the anti-Bush folks used it to mean "I want to live in a country that doesn't torture, start wars of naked aggression, stifle free speech, or treat the majority of Americans as a support system for the wealthy," it's a lot less clear what these fools mean. Do they want the Bush years back? Not if we assume they're honest. If Obama's spending is a bad thing, then Bush's was worse. After all, Bush took a booming economy and a budget surplus and turned it into a smoking wreck and a trillion-dollar deficit. If that's the country they "want back," they already have it. It'll be a year at least before there's any danger of the economy coming out of the recession. They've got a while yet before they'll be forced to live in a socialist nightmare of prosperity.
Of course, it may be that they want the country to return to what they think of as constitutional principles. But the fact is that these people have the constitution bass-ackward; you don't get to torture people or wiretap without a warrant. You don't get to arrest people and keep them without a writ of habeas corpus. You don't get to pretend that the office of the vice president is neither executive nor legislative. The Constitution's actually pretty clear on those kinds of things.
Yet you hear them say, "Show me where in the Constitution it says health care is a right!" The statement itself shows a deep misunderstanding of the founding document. The Constitution doesn't grant rights, it recognizes them. In fact, the founders went out of their way to spell this out by adding the Ninth Amendment to the Bill of Rights; "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
In other words, "Just because a right isn't listed in this document doesn't mean you don't have it." So they can't be talking about wanting their Constitution back. Recognizing a right to health care is entirely constitutional.
A lot of people are guessing that the country the teabaggers want back is a white country. I think that's probably as true to say of many as it is untrue to say of many others. I'm not interested in broadbrushing the teabaggers, other than to conclude that nearly all of them have no idea what the hell they're talking about. Some are racist, some aren't. Saying they're all racist just feeds into the anger of those who aren't.
Still, it's hard to ignore the dwindling power of the white electorate -- especially in overwhelming white protesters. I did the math back in June, for one of my roundups:
...In 1980, Reagan took 55% of the white vote and won in a landslide. In 2000, Bush took 55% of the white vote and stole a squeaker. In 2008, McCain took 57% of white men and 53% of white women and got his ass kicked.
I've got news for the teabaggers who want that particular country back. It's not going to happen. That country's going away and there's nothing -- short of ethnic cleansing -- that any government can do to stop it. You want a white-dominated America forever and ever and I want a constitutional amendment recognizing me as the sexiest man alive. Frankly, my odds are better by virtue of not being completely impossible.
Still, racism aside, I think the "country back" thing is a cultural worry. No one is really terrified that government is going get people health care. They can't possibly be. That'd just be insane. The town hall mobs are getting all the press, but if you look at the tea party protests, you'll notice that there was no overarching message to them. They weren't angry about any one thing in particular, they were just angry. The health care debate gave them an excuse to focus their anger, but previous to that, it wasn't really about anything. It was just anger.
Part of the source of that anger can be expressed in a map from Gallup (fullsized map available here)
The states in red are solid Republican, the states in blue are Democratic. "As was the case in Gallup's analysis of 2008 yearly data, most states are currently Democratic in their party orientation, with the greatest number (30, including the District of Columbia) classified as solidly Democratic, with an additional 8 states leaning Democratic," Gallup reported at the beginning of the month. "Meanwhile, only four states can be considered solidly Republican -- Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska, with Alabama falling into the leaning Republican category." If we include the leaners, America is blue, with Democrats having a state-by-state advantage of 38 to 5.
That'd kind of make you a little uncomfortable if you were a Republican, wouldn't it? In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the majority of these teabaggers are talk-radio mis-educated -- meaning they really do believe that Democrats are the living embodiment of evil. They see things like this and see their country slipping into the hands of people who aren't "real" Americans. That's where all the weird conspiracy theories come from; there can't possibly be that many people in America who hate America. It's got to be some kind of a lie. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Something very profound is changing America and, from the wingnut's perspective, not just for the worse -- for the absolute worst possible.
And they see it happening in their own families. Huge demographic shifts like this aren't isolated. People they know have gone from Bush voters to Obama voters. Worse, they've become heathens as well. A report by the Pew Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that 44% of Americans are longer following the faith they were born into. Protestants are taking the biggest hit here, if only by virtue of there being more of them. But there are also the reasons people give for leaving their faith. Pew reports "many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money." Sound like any Southern Baptists you know?
And many are choosing, from the wingnut's perspective, pure evil. "Sixteen percent of American adults say they have no religious affiliation," Pew found. "The category, which includes atheists, agnostics and people who leave open the possibility of one day joining a religion, has grown more rapidly than any other religious group in recent decades." The fastest-growing religious group in the United States in the non-religious. For people who think "God and country" is an equation, the fact that a growing segment of the population isn't religious means they aren't really American.
Taken altogether, America is becoming less white, less Republican, and less religious. That's what they're angry about and that's what they can't really express. So they stomp around with signs that read "OBAMA=HITLER" and have tantrums over the idea that their government might just consider looking out for them, instead of corporations. It's not about taxes, it's not about health care reform, it's not about the myth of the illegal alien president or the government institution of "death panels." It's about being deeply, deeply afraid of the country they live in, because it's doing what it's always done -- changing. And there's a president in the White House who ran on the slogan "change."
Clearly, this is all his fault. So let's hate him.
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