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October 18, 2015

EDITORIAL: White Washed Democracy is Not Freedom

By Jim Wallis

In case you missed it, a strong and militant group of Republican members of Congress have pushed out their caucus leaders, paralyzed the House of Representatives, and can’t seem to find anyone who is as right-wing as they are to be the next Speaker.

These guys — and they are almost all guys; among 36 documented members, only one is a woman — call themselves the Freedom Caucus. And with the exception of one Latino from Idaho, the members of this invitation-only group are all white.

The ideology of the Freedom Caucus is far to the right and they want procedural commitments from any new Speaker that would allow them to effectively prevent any compromises with Democrats, and allow them to shut down the government when their extreme demands are not met.

An analysis in The Washington Post summarized the goals of the Freedom Caucus: to attain “explicit commitments from the next speaker to fully repeal Obamacare in a filibuster-proof bill, to make increases in the debt limit conditional on entitlement reform, to impeach the IRS commissioner, to forswear stop gap spending bills, and to defund Planned Parenthood, the president’s immigration orders, and implementation of the Iran deal.”

Moderate Republican Charlie Dent (Pa.) has been a leading critic of the Freedom Caucus because he still believes in bi-partisan governance.

“Whoever’s going to be the next speaker should not appease this group of rejectionists, who have no interest in governing. They can simply not get to yes,” said Dent.

“I don’t think that any of our leaders should make accommodations to those who are going to make unreasonable demands.”

I would also call them the “veto caucus.” Their ultra-conservatism can’t even win in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, much less in a general election, so they’re trying to obstruct and delay anything they don’t want to happen in the country. This means a minority of Republican House members can essentially veto democracy on a host of issues and prevent forward movement on things they don’t like. And among the things they most dislike are the changing racial demographics of the new America we are becoming.

In the 36 districts represented by members of the Freedom Caucus, the population ranges from 61 percent white at the lowest, to 93 percent white at the highest. On average, across the 36 districts, the population is roughly 82 percent white. This is no coincidence: their districts have been deliberately gerrymandered to be heavily majority white districts and they vote — or veto — accordingly.

Here is the most tragic example of the veto caucus’ power. The increasingly diverse immigration reform movement in America won over a majority of the country, a majority of Republicans, a majority of evangelicals, even a majority of white evangelicals. And it helped win a bi-partisan bill to reform our broken immigration system in the Senate. But a powerful, white, right-wing minority in Congress blocked immigration reform, leaving millions of people of color imprisoned and imperiled in a cruel system, prevented from ever becoming citizens.

So in addition to the rejectionist, veto caucus, I will also call these guys the “white-washed caucus.” As white-washed elected officials from white-washed districts, they want to keep America white, or white-controlled, for as long as they possibly can. That means doing more racially motivated gerrymandering in congressional districts; engaging in the suppression of minority voters; blocking immigration reform; cutting virtually every program that benefits poor families and children of color; and undermining any progress toward racial and criminal justice.

Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism,” says conservative columnist David Brooks, who refers to the group as the “Republican Incompetence Caucus.”

Hearkening back to traditional definitions, Brooks explains that “conservatism stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured, and responsible.”

But over the past 30 years, “the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic, and imbalanced,” says Brooks.

“Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal...This anti-political political ethos produced elected leaders of jaw-dropping incompetence.”

Because this extreme faction of the Republican Party is so active in primary elections, they strike fear into the political hearts of other Republicans who genuinely want a larger and more inclusive party. The members of the Freedom Caucus are angry outsiders from an extreme white and right minority with constituencies who are motivated by anger, fear, and even hate — and they intend to veto a better American future. Their exclusive politics are the antithesis of Christian values. If they can’t be spiritually won over, their agenda must be defeated.

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