Robert Paul Wolff Explains Tea Party Rage at ‘Obamacare’

WHY DOES THE RIGHT HATE OBAMACARE? isn’t a use of Occam’s Razor by a famous philosopher, but rather a famous philosopher’s use of the other string in his bow, his many years as a professor housed in a department of Afro-American Studies.

I have to say that, even if Occam’s Razor isn’t invoked, as explanations go it has the virtues of clarity and simplicity:

The emotions aroused on the right by the ACA are quite mysterious. It is not at all surprising that large numbers of people in the United States have intense feelings about abortion or same-sex marriage. I may find those feelings reprehensible, but I am not surprised by them. Nor does it surprise me that many people feel strongly about taxation, or about America’s military involvements. These are quite naturally subjects of controversy, and though we may grow angry at those who disagree with us, we ought not to be surprised by the disagreements. But medical insurance?

Medical insurance is a bit like highways, supermarkets, or television — a familiar part of life that we more or less take for granted. Most of the time, those of us who have medical insurance [which is to say, eighty percent of Americans, or more] use it without giving it a great deal of deep thought. …

And yet, there is now a sizeable fraction of the American public, and a considerable number of Representatives and Senators, who say that they consider Obamacare an assault on everything they hold dear, a fatal blow to the American Way, a Socialist plot to destroy life as we know it, an evil so great that it is worth bringing the government to a halt and threatening the world financial system to defund it or even slow marginally the pace at which its provisions go into effect.

What on earth is going on? The answer, I think, is actually rather simple, although unpacking it will take me more time than I usually devote to a blog post.

To put the answer in just four words, the real, underlying reason for the hysteria engendered by the ACA is: Because Obama is Black.

There follows a sustained discussion of white-black relations in the colonies and then the US, noting that, “During all of this time, it remained the case that poor Whites, exploited and oppressed by White capitalists, could tell themselves that they were free, White and twenty-one, that they were, at the very least, not black.” Then, this:

The Civil Rights Movement, launched by African-Americans half a century ago, threatened, and eventually began to break down even these legal, customary, residential, and employment barriers. It was at this time that the old familiar political rhetoric about “working men and women” also began to change. The new rhetoric spoke of “middle-class Americans,” which, although no one acknowledged it, was a thinly veiled code for “not Black.” As economic pressures mounted on those in the lower half of the income pyramid, Whites wrapped themselves in the oft-reiterated reassurance that at least they did not live in the Inner City []which is to say, Black neighborhoods], that they were “Middle Class.” All of the political discourse came to be about the needs, the concerns, the prospects of the Middle Class, which to millions of Americans, whether they could even articulate it, meant “not Black.”

All of this crumbled, frighteningly, calamitously, disastrously, when a Black man was elected president. “Free, white, and twenty-one” ceased to be the boast of the working-class White man. Statistics do not matter, trends do not matter, probabilities do not matter, income distribution differentials do not matter. If a Black man with a Black wife and two Black children is President of the United States, then a fundamental metaphysical break has occurred in the spiritual foundation on which White America has built its self-congratulatory self-image for three centuries and more.

Hysterical Whites tried every form of denial. Obama’s election was theft. Obama is not an American. Obama is a Muslim. Obama is a socialist. Obama’s election was a one-time proof that we are not racist, to be followed immediately by restoration of the status quo ante bellum. When Obama was reelected, vast numbers of Americans went into terminal denial. They seized upon the ACA simply because it was, as everyone knew, Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment. To repeal it, to defund it, to make it as though it had never existed, would be in some measure to deny that he had ever been President. The actual details of the ACA matter not at all. Neither do the actual felt medical needs of those driven insane by the very fact of Obama’s tenure in the White House. None of that has anything at all to do with the real cause of the hysteria. Why are millions of Americans driven beyond hysteria by the ACA?

Because Obama is Black.

On balance I still think that the Republican elites, at least, hate and fear the Affordable Care Act because they think it will work — thus locking in the Democratic vote as Social Security did two generations earlier — and also because the GOP’s opposition will relegate its elites to the dustbin of history. I don’t pretend to understand why, even so, they would be willing to have the US default on its debts, a plan that will cost them and their supporters a great deal of money, not to mention hurting almost everyone else at home and abroad and vastly reducing US global power and influence. (Closing the government for a while, I vaguely get, I imagine they think it’s mostly evil anyway.)

Update: Corroboration for Prof. Wolff’s view in Digby’s They’d rather die than help the “others”. Works for PG County, MD too; but in Miami it’s poor Latins as much or more than anyone else. Remind me why our local GOP opposes a benefit for the majority of their constituents?

This entry was posted in Politics: US: Healthcare. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Robert Paul Wolff Explains Tea Party Rage at ‘Obamacare’

  1. Carolyn Kay says:

    Because Obama is a Democrat. And because he’s painted by the right-wing blowhards as a liberal (if only).

    The crazies hated Bill Clinton just as much as they hate Obama.

  2. Vic says:

    Why would you give space to someone making such an absurd, race-baiting accusation, thus lending your support for it?

    If that’s what he believes, that’s his business, but it is ridiculous in the face of constant detailed arguments, not based upon race in the slightest, made by conservatives and even some liberals, as to why the ACA needs to be at least amended in some critical ways. Some very real and very serious arguments have been made regarding the ACA and to trivialize them as irrelevant or as disingenuously made is simply wrong.

    You might agree or disagree with these arguments, but to ignore them, and cite racism as the “real” reason is absurd, and should be beneath repetition by you. Certainly in light of the apparent fact that the GOP is the ONLY group that has its opposition to the ACA as currently in place as based upon racism (and not other groups, such as unions, Democrats in Congress, Federal workers, certain businesses, etc.).

    You’re better than this.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    It isn’t because Obama is black anymore than the big shootdown in ’93 was because Hilary Clinton was a woman. Race, however, may be a factor in the form of racial resentment. A lot of people resent blacks getting a fair share of anything. It’s a pretty common feeling, even if it is vicious and evil. At an extreme, you get explicit racial policies, like those in Nazi Germany that set pay for the racially French at 70% of an Aryan and so on down the line to the “subhumans” who were lucky to get 0%. More often, you get various norms and customs by which white farmers, for example, could get D of A loans and subsidies that black farmers in similar situations were denied.

    • Vic says:

      First, this isn’t 1940, so there is no need at all to make comparisons with ANYTHING that happened then. NOBODY in America is Hitler and neither party has the ability, or even the desire to institute such laws. To assert such is pointless.

      Second, you assert that “A lot of people resent blacks getting a fair share of anything. It’s a pretty common feeling, even if it is vicious and evil.” What circles do you move in. Do you seriously find this to be true (I mean through personal experience, not because people around you also claim it’s true). I’ve been in the Military and a professional for some 30 years, moving among many people both conservative and liberal – to ALL extremes – and I can honestly say that the number of people (out of hundreds I’ve dealt with extensively) that have expressed any sort of racist desires or resentment against blacks have numbered somewhere less than five. And I’ve had this very discussion with many colleagues every time some politician makes this claim and I’ve never had anyone tell me that they experience this more than very rarely. Does it exist – sure – but is it significant? Hardly.

      I’m willing to imagine that some circles of folks might have a higher incidence of such behavior, but I can tell you that at the professional level and above, nobody has time for garbage like that. When you see it at all, it is always to self-detriment, which is why most people don’t bother. It serves no purpose.

      I believe this is just a story, repeated so often and so adamantly, that people no longer question whether it’s actually true.

      But I see that Michael, as too often the case, just drops a bomb and wanders away, ignoring his own thread. For a guy with a blog named “discourse,” he sure doesn’t like discussing anything.

  4. I really don’t see what I’m supposed to say: Wolff’s assertion seems plausible to me. I don’t know exactly how you would prove it — or disprove it — so I don’t claim (or believe) that it is right, just possibly right.

    The ‘Obama is Muslim’ and the birther stuff seems far more widespread and virulent than one would expect from easily understood political opposition. It does call for some explanation. Wolff’s is a simple one. I can also give you a more complicated one that has elements of gerrymandering and propaganda. That could be it. One could be true or the other or both in varying and overlapping degrees.

    As I said above, I think the leadership is driven more by naked politics; the issue here is the base.

    • Carolyn Kay says:

      The Muslim thing and the birther thing are EXACTLY like the Clintons as drug dealers and murderers thing.

      Maybe you’re too young to remember.

      • That’s an interesting point. My recollection (I’m not too young) is that the Vince Foster stuff was a much more fringe phenomenon. Am I wrong about that?

        • Carolyn Kay says:

          The murder conspiracy movie promoted and sold by Jerry Falwell and the whole right-wing conspiracy. In those days, the “fringe”, as you call it, didn’t have the national media by the throat, the way they do now.

    • Vic says:

      Who in Congress is making the argument that the ACA should be stopped because Obama is black, or a Muslim, or not born here, or whatever. Not who is accusing another of being racist, who actually is using it as an argument? Who?

      Remember: We’re specifically talking about it in the context of a reason to repeal the ACA. The premise of your post.

      There are some very reasonable arguments to take another look at the ACA as a whole, or at least some aspects of it. NONE of these arguments, as expressed, have been based on racisim, anti-muslim sentiments, birtherism, or any other pointless reason. While you may disagree with the MERITS of these arguments, you CANNOT claim that it is reasonable or plausible to think that they are racially motivated at their core. THAT’S what I take issue with.

      It has become a common syllogism to state:
      -All conservatives oppose the ACA.
      -To oppose Obama is racist.
      -Obama supports the ACA
      -Therefore all opposition to the ACA is racist.

      That’s just absurd, and you, as a lawyer, know better that to repeat such nonsense as fact. And NOW you admit that you actually think there is some MERIT to this!?

      Address the arguments, or don’t bother.

      • I am tired of your insults. Raise your game.

        On the (very limited) merits: anyone who is paying attention will see that a very substantial fraction – not the whole, but a good part – of the opposition to the ACA is (a) because it is Obama’s (“ACA” polls substantially better than Obamacare, and state plans that implement under different names poll better still); and (b) because it is going to give money to “those people”, the lazy undeserving poor. For all my lifetime, the opposition to giving money to the lazy undeserving poor has been strongly racially coded, whether overtly (“welfare queens”) or covertly (“those people”). It really takes the cake to call noting this long-running trend “absurd”. And it is cheap and, yes, stupid, to caricature what I’m saying as you do above.

        Sometimes you post good things here. But sometimes the only response what you write deserves is dignified silence. The suggestion that I ever said anything like the stupidity above is one such example.

        None of which is to deny, which I have not, that the ACA (like any big rush job) could use a serious version 1.1. As it happens, however, the GOP have blocked every attempt at tweaks because they want the ACA to fail, and every tweak which improves it undermines their agenda. It’s much like the shutdown: the agenda is basically inflict pain to make the system give us what we want, and to hell with the incidental casualties.

        Recall also that I’m in the single-payer camp if we’re talking ideals. But we’re not.

        Get some rest.

  5. Further support for the Wolff theory: See Kathleen Geier, The government shutdown and the Republican war on Obamacare: it’s the racism, stupid (collecting sources).

    • Carolyn Kay says:

      Yes, but it’s all just speculation and opinion. And I can tell you that I was mightily offended when Obama supporters accused me, in 2008, of being a racist for supporting Hillary.

      Besides, these accusations of racism aren’t productive. What does anyone gain by making them?

      • To the extent one is trying to work out a negotiating strategy, one needs to know what one’s opponents (or, in this case, ones’ opponent’s supporters/base) want.

        • Carolyn Kay says:

          Then let’s make sure we get it right.

          From Psychology Today: “A new study shows that seeking help causes you to be viewed in a positive light if you’re high-status, but a negative light if you’re low status.” (

          That’s not mere supposition. Right wingers despise what they consider to be low status people, no matter what their color is. And they despise all people they believe to want to help those low status people using any collective effort. Some, of course, are racists, but there’s no evidence that they all are.

          We might also say that the repression of the right wingers hits women and children disproportionately, so does that mean they hate women and children? Some do, probably, but others most likely don’t.

          Let’s base our strategies on reality.

          Why don’t we pound the table constantly and consistently with the argument that when the person so many right wingers claim as their savior told them to love and help the poor, he didn’t say to help them only if you think they’re worthy of your help?

          Why don’t we say over and over and loudly and from every platform that yes, the poor tend to make bad decisions, but it’s likely due to the stresses of poverty itself, rather than any innate stupidity or laziness ( Which opens the door to bringing in the need for fairness. Americans sometimes respond well to appeals for fairness. I believe it’s what has propelled the gay rights movement so strongly in recent years.

          We need to find ways to fight the right that are SUCCESSFUL. Calling them racists and mysoginists won’t help.

          • I suppose another reason might be if it were true. Certainly some observers think it is. As I said above, I do think the leadership at least primarily is driven by political calculation, not prejudice. But of course that calculation has to take into account the beliefs of the base. It matters whether the base really is driven primarily by misinformation or something even harder to shift.

            • Carolyn Kay says:

              How hard was it for the LGBT community to overcome the same kind of hatred? Once they started to come out in droves, people realized that people they knew, some that they loved, were gay and deserved the same rights as everyone else.

              Once it became an issue of fairness, there was a tidal wave of sentiment in favor of doing the right thing.

              Now that most people have been hit by recession and uncertainty, the time is right for building that same awareness and demand for fairness. It won’t matter that there are some racists in the pack.

            • Carolyn Kay says:

              “In ‘The Fairness Instinct’ biologist L. Sun argues, using research from the biological and social sciences and humanities, that fairness is a DNA-based emotion rather than a product of ideology or convention.” (

              The funding families have done an amazing job of convincing Americans that advantages for them is equivalent to fairness for all. We have to convince Americans that fairness for all is fairness for ALL.

            • Carolyn Kay says:

              Now is the time to promote fairness for the “lower class”:

              “Amid slow economic recovery, more Americans identify as ‘lower class'” (

Comments are closed.