The Stalking Horse


    Much has been made recently of the many angers of the Tea Partyers, to wit: the swollen big federal government, taxes, the national deficit (both budget and trade), Second Amendment rights, states’ rights,  restoring the Real Constitution, President Obama’s socialist/fascist agenda with special fury reserved for the Health Care reform bill, and so on. Now there is another anger-trigger: anyone who implies that the Tea Party members and its many angers are in any way racist, or even slightly prejudiced. No, no, you elitists, the Tea Party’s anger is pure! “Give us our country back!” ” Restore the Constitution our Forefathers’ created!”

    Closer examination reveals what is really going on under all the cacophony: almost all of these hot issues are in fact a stalking horse. A stalking horse, you will recall, originally meant a figure behind which a hunter stalked game, and came to mean something used to “mask a purpose,” or to hide the true objective. That is, a pretend goal or project which conceals the real objective; the pretend object can even create so much excitement and hysteria that it can convince not just outsiders but the participants it is a serious matter—- yet it still is a mask.


    More than one observer has noticed how the Republican and Democratic Parties have exchanged places over the past generation when it comes to the South: those in a state of nostalgia for the vanished Southern agricultural way of life based on slavery (gone with the wind of the Civil War), those evangelicals awaiting the Second Coming which will restore them to their favored position of comfort and authority under God, those enamored with the social Darwinism of a muscular alpha male-dominant unregulated free market libertarianism, those who socially and politically go along to get along and want to retain their special position (like big frogs in small ponds), all those have taken their fantasies and migrated from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party— which welcomed them gleefully, and has relentlessly cultivated their new-found best friends.

    If this seems harsh, just wait, there is more. Now, this is not to say there are not many charming and seemingly sincere and gentle people in this Republican migration—- some of them my own relatives, by the way. There is, however, a straight historical line from the politics of writing the Constitution in Philadelphia through the Civil War to today’s Tea Party.  

    Many of the delegates came to Philadelphia in 1787 with the express purpose of replacing the Articles of Confederation with a strong national government, among them Madison of Virginia, whose Virginia Plan he himself said was based on “the idea that the states should be nearly annihilated.” (p.285, A Leap in the Dark by John Ferling). This idea  ran into opposition from the small states, who fought against  representation based on population in a national legislature. Although many Northerners held slaves, it was the slave-holding states of the South that arrived with some non-negotiable demands to protect their “peculiar institution,” including counting slaves for purposes of representation based on population in order to secure power in the future legislature.  

    In the end the Great Compromise, which never used the actual word slave, created a bicameral legislature with a Senate in which states were given equal representation regardless of population thus satisfying small states, and a House where representation was apportioned based on population. Article I sec. 2 included in the population count three-fifths of  “all other persons” (i.e., slaves), thus confirming slave states’ power since the count applied not just to the legislature but  to the electoral college as well. Slave holders demanded and got even more: Article IV, Sec. 2 required fugitive “persons held to service or Labour” to be returned to their masters. Also, the national government was committed to helping a state to put down an insurrection (which could mean a slave insurrection), and the importation of slaves was not to be prohibited before 1808 (Article I, Sec. 9), nor was the slave trade to be subject to excessive taxation.

    Without these clauses protecting slavery, it was obvious that no Southern State would have accepted the Constitution. That acceptance was ultimately based on the belief that the national government could never meddle with slavery because slavery was a matter subject only to state governments. There would have been no Constitution for the 13 states without protecting slavery; the emphasis on the powers of the states compared to the national government was an invention required by slave-holders to protect that peculiar institution.

    When Tea Partyers clamor to return to the Constitution, believing the federal government has overstepped its bounds, they are in fact applauding devices intended originally to protect slavery.  Insistence on states’ rights always comes down actually to meaning the right of certain whites to maintain their privileges through local political control. Even today they do not in their hearts believe non-whites have the intelligence and skills to be anything more than low-level laborers, a permanent underclass of servants. States’ rights is the cover story, the stalking horse.  

    The belief that the Health Care bill is socialism is embedded in the Tea Party dogma, despite the fact the legislation actually promotes business for private insurance companies. Indeed, Tea Partyers and their Republican partisans accuse Obama wildly of socialism, Marxism, communism, Islamism, and being a complete radical. As it happens, Norman J. Ornstein, a notable conservative at The American Enterprise Institute, demolished these epithets in an article in The Washington Post on 14 April, calling them “frankly, bizarre.”  The individual mandate, he said, comes from the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), and has many features of Republican Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care “crossed with the managed-competition bill proposed in 1994 by Republican Senators Chafee, Durenberger, Grassley, and Dole.” Ornstein’s conclusion: “This president is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate…. center-left, perhaps, but not left of center.”  

    So, if President Obama is clearly not a socialist, etc., but rather a mainstream American, why would Tea Partyers become apoplectic about him, calling him (as Newt Gingrich does), “the most radical president in American history,” and pretending that absolutely everything he does is socialism or worse? Insistence on smearing Obama as a socialist is a cover; they really want to call him a damned uppity n****r who is plotting to steal the rightful superior position of whites, taking away all their goodies and even their livelihood; besides, he is inferior because he is not “white.” Socialism, Islamism and so on are the cover story, the stalking horse.


    • teacherken

      You write Insistence on states’ rights always comes down actually to meaning the right of certain whites to maintain their privileges through local political control.   That is not historically accurate.

      The first real insistence on States’ Rights were the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, both written in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts, and neither of which mentioned slavery.  These documents were the first assertion of the idea of nullification, and slavery was not the issue.  You might argue that the landed gentry were represented by the writing of Jefferson and Madison, but this was more an issue of political expression and discourse rather than of the kind of power structure you imply.

      The first open discussion of Secession was not in the South, but rather New England, in the Hartford Convention when some in the North East openly considered the possibility of secession because of their opposition to the War of 1812.  Certainly not the argument of Southern Whies.

      Even John Calhoun’s arguments for nullification were more over the issue of national tariffs rather than slavery.  However here at least one can see the clear economic interests of Southern white slaveholders being asserted, so this might support at least partially the phrase you offer.


    • KathyinBlacksburg

      Just one thing… the first sentence is written from the radical conservative frame. I am not blaming you.  We all do it.  That’s one of our biggest problems.  We have let the GOP get away with it for far too long.  We let the media get away with it.  Frankly, Dems ought to demand that the media cut it out, or refuse to give them stories and press releases.  The way it is now, they report that Obama did such and such.  And then they report in response that so-and-say called Obama (fill in the blank with the name-calling of the day).  And then they go on, letting the outrageous name-calling or made-up charge stand. We shouldn’t do it here.

      You stated the descriptive of Obama as if it were true.  President Obama is a moderate who is running the govt from the slightly-left-of-center.  He isn’t even close to a “socialist.”  It turns out he is more conservative on most things that Bill Clinton, which may have come as a surprise to many of us Obama supporters.

      Some of his polling numbers are because 1) the right wing thinks it can bully the opposing party even when they lose an election; and 2) Some discouraged Dems see that he keeps compromising with the GOP and gets nothing in return, usually not a single vote.  The country gets left with a watered down bill on whatever and he still gets the name-calling.  No sense passing it on.  It ain’t true.  I know you don’t think it is, but the first sentence almost incorrectly concedes that point.

    • jack

      …not the government’s.

      We produce a certain amount of goods and services — our GDP.  The trade deficit is the difference between our consumption and our production, GDC-GDP, if you will.  So, how do we pay for those extra goods and services?  Debt.

      If we were not willing to go into debt to buy things, we would not have a trade deficit.

    • Teddy Goodson

      of this diary (“other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”), is there a sense that many of the topics about which Tea Party anger is being reported are, so to speak, stand-ins for what is really bothering these folks deep down? It’s just that today it is not acceptable to admit to that deep down reason, so it is covered up or disguised.

      How else to explain the intensity of anger over what is demonstrably untrue, like Obama’s “socialism?”  I also understand that maybe the word socialism has been re-defined by Republican wordmasters into a catch-all boogeyman unrelated to what “socialism” really is, but that begs the question of why that was done so successfully: the word “socialism” demonized is another stalking horse, a substitute for what they really fear, which scares them spitless.