Tag Archives: Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz’s religious horror: Why he’s really running for High Priest of America

Read Cruz's words and watch his stagecraft -- and you see this is the deeply fundamentalist vision he's propagating.

Read Cruz’s words and watch his stagecraft — and you see this is the deeply fundamentalist vision he’s propagating.

My latest piece is an article for Salon that explains why Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential ambitions are driven, in part, by a strangely fundamentalist  interpretation of American civil religion.

In many ways, America deserves Ted Cruz. After all, it’s been nearly eight years since voters (and the Supreme Court) elected a cocksure, right-wing adopted Texan, long on discredited ideology but short on wits, who plunged the United States into a sinkhole of economic and foreign policy chaos from which it has yet to fully emerge. The American political attention span is notoriously short.

Read the whole thing over at Salon.

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47 Vallandighams: The GOP’s Iran Letter and the Shadow of Civil War Treason

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R-Confederacy) and his GOP collegues don't take kindly to Obama being president of 'Murica.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R-Confederacy) and his GOP colleagues don’t take kindly to Obama being president of ‘Murica.

What exactly is treason? Well that’s an easy one, innit? Treason is when a scheming, disloyal jerk betrays a sacred oath they took to their country, usually in the service of an enemy power or for shallow, partisan, political gains. It’s one of those concepts that everyone intuitively understands, but it gets really thorny when brought under the parsing nuance of the law.

Thus, when 47 members of the Republican-dominated Senate sent “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” (seriously, they used a generic salutation more akin to an editorial in a local newspaper) for the express purpose of undermining the Obama Administration’s ongoing diplomatic nuclear talks with Iran, they probably weren’t concerned about committing treason against the United States (besides, Obama’s from Kenya anyhoo, right?). And while their boneheaded attempt to score political points with their war-happy, right-wing base by giving said knuckle draggers yet another collective, foreign-conflict buzz may or may not constitute treason in a constitutional sense, there’s another conception of treason — the popular conception — that’s played a major role in U.S. history, and 47 GOP senators have skirted this line closer than Cubans in a missile crisis.  Continue reading

Rise of the paranoid South: How defending against “outsiders” brought the region together

Ted Cruz (R-TX) certainly knows that he's  an exceptional southerner.

Ted Cruz (R-TX) certainly knows that he’s an exceptional southerner.

My latest post is an article for Salon that explains why the American South continues to be exceptional in its own unique way.

The Civil War ended in 1865. Before the war, it was common parlance in America to speak of two regions: the “North” and the “South,” which were divided, above all else, over the issue of slavery. After the war, however, the idea of the “North” gradually disappeared from American culture, but “The South” as a regional, cultural and ideological construction has lived on.

Read the whole thing over at Salon.

Ted Cruz, “Bourbon Dave,” and the Legacy of Border Ruffianism

Ted Cruz, the junior Reublican senator from Texas, likes to smite his political foes by angrily faux-filibustering. Because freedom.

Ted Cruz, the junior Republican senator from Texas, likes to smite his political foes by angrily faux-filibustering. Because freedom.

The two-week long, Tea Party Republican-engineered shutdown of the federal government is finally over. This week the Senate reached a deal that a politically battered House GOP reluctantly endorsed because it kicked the can of U.S. fiscal and political dysfunction down the road until December and February, when they can again wage scorched earth politics against all-things Obama.

Meanwhile, the horse-race junkie American political media has been focusing on the “winners” and “losers” of the shutdown. Most media outlets, save the hand-wringing experts at the Center for American Progress, have declared the Tea Party Republicans the tail between their knees losers: the victims of ideological rot and political miscalculation. Except for Ted Cruz. Indeed, the junior Republican senator from Texas — his term in the Senate barely a year old — was near universally dubbed a political winner even though his party was left with egg on their reactionary white faces.

Cruz was essentially the guy who engineered the shutdown, but he’s seen as a “winner” because he knows how to play politics: his antics of late have been 1 part ideology, 3 parts right-wing populist grifterism, and the political press has lapped it up like a wino at a brewery by declaring Cruz a 2016 presidential contender. Cruz has achieved a relatively short rise to prominence among conservative activists because he consistently tosses meaty political turkey legs to the slobbering ogres of the Tea Party base, who return the favor with generous campaign donations. In September, for example, Cruz’s near 12-hour filibuster-that-wasn’t really-a-filibuster against Obamacare tingled the Tea Party’s collective inner thighs, despite the fact that it was mere political grandstanding that couldn’t stop the implementation of the health care law.

But Cruz’s apparent disdain for the traditional machinations of party governance (how to get stuff done, in layman’s terms) has earned him the ire of senior party colleagues like Tennessee’s Bob Corker and senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell by turning what should have been a tactical Republican fight against Obamacare into a purity test for right-wing ideology. By convincing the bloc of Tea Party Oompa Loompas within the GOP House caucus to reject a plan to keep funding the government — a plan initially backed by Speaker John Boehner and the Senate Republican leadership — Cruz stoked party infighting at a time when the GOP needed unity. While his “more conservative than thou art” shenanigans hasn’t played well with the party big wigs, it has nonetheless given the Texas senator plenty of press coverage, and even earned him the title of de-facto “leader of the Republican Party.”

Cruz’s constant pandering to the hard-line conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican base in the name of self-promotion and hard right ideology is hardly unprecedented in U.S. history. In the 1850s, another conservative southern senator, Democrat David “Bourbon Dave” Atchison of Missouri, embraced Cruz-style, play-to-the-base tactics in the name of keeping the Kansas-Nebraska territory open to slavery. Like Cruz, Atchison became the de-facto political leader and spokesman of a hard-right faction within his party: extreme pro-southern, pro-slavery settlers from Missouri known as “Border Ruffians.” Atchison, nick-named “Bourbon-Dave” due to his preference for booze that was as a strong as his temper, rallied his Border Ruffian followers via his shrewd maneuvering in the Senate and his use of swaggering, right-wing populist rhetoric that would make even Ted Cruz blush.

David "Bourbon Dave" Atchison, a staunch, pro-slavery, booze-whiskey-soaked Missouri senator who pioneered a Ted Cruz style, non-traditional, hard line right-wing approach to politics.

David “Bourbon Dave” Atchison, a staunch, pro-slavery, booze-soaked Missouri senator who pioneered a Ted Cruz style, non-traditional, hard-line right-wing approach to politics.

By the mid-1850s a storm was gathering on the western border of slaveholding Missouri that separated U.S. states from unorganized territory. By 1853, land-hungry settlers were pushing well beyond Missouri’s western border into this swath of land, spurring congress to organize it into the Nebraska territory. This raised the issue of whether that territory would be free soil or slave-holding.

“Bourbon Dave” Atchison represented the conservative, southern rights (read: pro-slavery) faction of the Democratic Party, a position that made him the enemy of his one-time fellow Missouri senator, and fellow Democrat, the anti-slavery Thomas Hart Benton. But Atchison, like Ted Cruz today, wasn’t afraid to alienate fellow party-members to serve conservative interests. The bawdy and profane “Bourbon Dave” vowed to see Nebraska “sink in Hell” before having it become free soil. Using his position as president pro tem of the Senate, Atchison demanded major political concessions in exchange for southern support of a free-soil Nebraska.

“Bourbon Dave” wrestled with fellow Democrat Stephen Douglas, the squat, hard-drinking, pugnacious Illinois senator. To please his caustic southern colleague, Douglas agreed to repeal the old Missouri Compromise of 1820, which barred slavery from the territory above the 36′ 30 line and split the territory into two sections, resulting in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Atchison was Hell-bent on making at least one of those territories into a new slave-state, so he supported Douglas’ concept of “Popular Sovereignty,” in which settlers of the territories would decide for themselves whether slavery would be permitted in their lands. “Bourbon Dave,” representing slave-holding Missouri, hoped that pro-slavery settlers would flood into Kansas, making it a new southern slave state.

He was severely disappointed in that regard: by mid-1854, rifle-armed Free-Soil advocates known as “Jayhawkers” began pouring into Kansas to claim it for freedom. An outraged Atchison responded by calling on all pro-slavery Missourians — the “Border Ruffians” — to invade Kansas and claim it for slavery instead. The resulting outbreak of violence between Border Ruffians and Jayhawks became known as “Bleeding Kansas,” and “Bourbon Dave” helped open its political arteries.

In an apocalyptic 1856 speech to a group of Border Ruffians, Atchison, possibly aided by booze, rebuffed traditional political resolution to the Kansas problem, and instead called on his Ruffian army to wage war against the Free Soil settlers:

Yess, ruffians, draw your revolvers & bowie knives, & cool them in the heart’s blood of all those damned dogs, that dare defend that damned breathing hole of hell. Tear down their boasted Free State Hotel, and if those Hellish lying free-soilers have left no port holes in it, with your unerring cannon make some, Yes, riddle it till it shall fall to the ground.

Yes, I know you will, the South has always proved itself ready for honorable fight, & you, who are noble sons of noble sires, I know you will never fail, but will burn, sack & destroy, until every vistage of these Norther Abolishionists is wiped out.

Rough and ready pro-slavery Border Ruffians invading Kansas at "Bourbon Dave's" urging.

Rough and ready pro-slavery Border Ruffians invading Kansas at “Bourbon Dave’s” urging.

In this speech, “Bourbon Dave” encapsulated the essence of Border Ruffianism: when conservative, southern, pro-slavery forces failed to achieve their goals in Congress or at the ballot box, they resorted to non-traditional, even extra-legal methods in the name of a reactionary right-wing political ideology. These methods included violence, and the resulting violence of Bleeding Kansas raged on for eight years before the bloodshed between pro and anti-slavery forces finally exploded nationally into the Civil War. Atchison’s heir-apparent, fellow modern-day conservative southern senator, Ted Cruz, is not advocating violence. But he is taking up “Bourbon Dave’s” mantle of extreme political obstruction by pandering to a small, but ideologically fanatical right-wing base, and he’s willing to smite his own party in the name of a reactionary stance against Obamacare.

In 1856 “Bourbon Dave” proudly proclaimed, “This is the day I am a border ruffian!” to assume the leadership of slaveholders who felt ignored by a federal government that refused to recognize their human property in the territories. In a similar tone, Cruz claimed in his “filibuster” to be the populist voice of an ignored segment of America whose rights Obamacare violated:

A great many Texans, a great many Americans feel they don’t have a voice. I hope to play some very small part in helping provide that voice for them. I intend to speak in opposition to ObamaCare, I intend to speak in support of defunding ObamaCare, until I am no longer able to stand.

An analogy I have used before is, if your home is on fire, you put out the fire first before building an addition to the house. Likewise, with ObamaCare, I think ObamaCare is such a train wreck, is such a disaster that the first imperative is to stop the damage from ObamaCare.

Just as anti-slavery forces posed a liberal threat to conservative southerners’ right to dominate slaves and, by extension, the federal government, so too does Obamacare threaten modern conservatives and their corporate allies’ right to dictate policy in Washington and dominate low-income and middle class Americans by denying them health insurance. Ted Cruz has brought Ruffianism back to the forefront of American politics by demonstrating a willingness to take his reactionary ideology to the rougher edges of political discourse and maneuvering. Like Atchison and his Border Ruffians, who waged a bloody war for slavery when their cause failed at the federal level, Cruz and his Tea Party followers have waged verbal and procedural war against a federal government that no longer tows their political line. 

It’s perhaps fitting, if not symbolic, that Ted Cruz recently spoke to a Tea Party crowd, among whom was a guy waving the Confederate flag, outside of the World War II memorial in Washington. “Bourbon Dave’s” pro-slavery Border Ruffians eventually became the Confederate soldiers who fought for slavery and southern independence. Old Dave Atchison likely wasn’t on Cruz’s mind that day, but the symbolism was powerful, as a new southern Ruffian stood by the Rebel flag while denouncing the federal government and the Obama presidency. Like Dave Atchison rallying his future Confederate Border Ruffians to wage war against all things Abolitionist, Cruz was rallying the Tea Party faithful, stoking their war against all things liberal. No doubt that “Bourbon Dave” was looking up from his bar stool in Hell, and nodding approvingly. 

A Tea Party at the White House: The Confederate Flag as Reactionary Emblem

A massive army, perhaps 200 strong, of deluded Tea Party members protest sport the Confederate flag outside of the White House. Give them credit for being able to find the White House.

A massive army of deluded Tea Partiers sport the Confederate flag outside of the White House. Give them credit for being able to find the White House.

The scene of perhaps 200 confused, yelling white people gathered at the grounds of the World War II Memorial and the White House was indeed stirring. The most notable antecedents of these Tea Party dingbats, the Confederate revolutionaries who rebelled against the federal government from 1861-65, would be proud to see their torch being carried by such valiant souls.

On October 13, 2013, this group of motley rebels convened on Washington D.C., carrying the Confederate battle flag, of course, to complain about the World War II monument and other federal sites being closed due to the Republican-led shutdown, which started over Obamacare, then descended into a mindless brouhaha of conservative hen pecking. Leading these fearless warriors was Sen. Ted “Filibuster, but not Really” Cruz, the de facto figurehead of the shutdown itself. Sarah “Caribou Barbie” Palin, former half-term governor of America’s largest welfare state, tagged along — because why not. Despite being rallied by Senator Cruz, the guy who engineered his party’s shutdown of the federal government, the Tea Partiers blamed the shutdown on President Obama — because why not.

In keeping with a grand tradition of Tea Party obtuseness with regards to U.S. history, the crowd thought that waving the Rebel flag in Washington D.C. was the appropriate symbol to air their most recent in a vast list of petty grievances. One guy shouted something about “freedom!” Others cheered. Problems were solved. Just kidding.

Even if this most recent coughing up of reactionary Tea Party hair balls wasn’t quite as majestic as the sight of thousands of ragged, butternut Rebels lined up in the heat of a Gettysburg afternoon, the intent to subvert the federal government was still there. The Tea Party protesters brought the Confederate flag to their latest public tantrum because for well over a century, the stars-and bars has served as a symbol of white, conservative, reactionary protest against federal policies that might benefit anyone but white, conservative reactionaries.

The history of the Rebel battle flag — an emblem which never actually flew over any Confederate state house but nonetheless became the enduring symbol of the southern attempt to establish a breakaway slaveholding republic — is complicated to say the least. But while the flag has stood for a variety of specific historical causes in the nineteenth, twentieth, and now twenty-first centuries, the thread of white racial grievance runs through all of them.

In his book, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, historian John Coski explains that despite its use as the symbol of a treasonous rebellion, the Rebel banner is a deeply American symbol because it has embodied deeply American traditions that range from the admirable, to the shameful, to the downright odious. Some of these traditions, such as states’ rights, remain enshrined in the Constitution. Others, such as slavery, used to be enshrined in the Constitution, but were expunged when the southern rebellion failed to make slavery a permanent institution in the 1860s. Other traditions, such as institutional and cultural racism, have, since the Civil War, been inextricably linked to states’ rights when it comes to the Confederate flag. This is why, despite the fact that those who still wave the flag claim that it represents patriotism, the flag will always invoke themes of the domination of one racial group by another.

The Tea Partiers wave the flag in 2013 because they are well aware that the flag, since the Civil War, has stood as a symbol for white American reactionary stances against the agency of minority groups. Whether those groups are racial, political, or cultural matters little, since all pose a threat to conservative power structures threatened by change. In the 1860s, the flag stood witness to Confederate armies formed to win the independence of a breakaway nation that, in the words of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens, made slavery and white supremacy the cornerstone of its existence. The Confederacy was the most significant conservative reactionary movement in U.S. history, but it was by no means the last, and the flag outlasted the nation it symbolized.

Alabama Governor George Wallace: the symbol of white southern "Massive Resistance" to the Civil Rights movement. He knew why the Rebel flag appealed to his targeted audience.

Alabama Governor George Wallace: the symbol of white southern “Massive Resistance” to the Civil Rights movement. He knew why the Rebel flag appealed to his targeted audience.

When the Confederacy lost its bid for independence, the flag continued to serve as a symbol of white southern Democratic defiance to northern, Republican-led Reconstruction. During the Jim Crow era, it flew over a racially segregated New South terrorized by white lynch mobs. In the early twentieth century, the Second Ku Klux Klan adopted the flag as a symbol to promote its yearned for anti-black, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-Communist utopia, and because Americans well outside of Dixie shared the Klan’s reactionary ideals, the Rebel flag became as a much a national symbol as it was a southern one. During the 1960s, white segregationists — the direct cultural ancestors of the long-extinguished Confederates — took the flag into battle against the Civil Rights movement.

As John Coski explains, although the flag flew in different eras and for slightly different causes, in each instance it symbolized a unifying theme of conservative reaction to minority agency, usually directed against African-Americans:

The Confederate flag’s meaning in the 1960s was logically and historically consistent with its meaning in the 1860s – as a symbol of opposition to the employment of federal authority to change the South’s racial status quo.*

For modern right-wing groups like the Tea Party, the Rebel flag continues to serve as a reactionary emblem. Indeed, Tea Partiers need not be foaming-at-the-mouth racists to employ the flag. While true racist groups like the KKK and various neo-Nazi skinhead organizations have adopted the stars-and-bars to serve their own ends, the mainstream Tea Party right uses the flag to protest federal policies that they believe will unjustly reward various “taker” minority groups at the expense of “maker” taxpayers.

Charges of racism are often brushed aside by Tea Partiers who will defend its use as a mere expression of patriotism. And, on one level, they have a point. Coski notes, for example, that “the Confederate flag modifies the U.S. flag, defiantly symbolizing constitutional ideals and, for an untold number of people, social and cultural values they believe that modern America has rejected.”* Thus, the flag waving World War II Memorial protesters can reasonably argue that they aren’t racists in the vein of Confederates of the 1860s or “Massive Resistance” pro-segregationists of the 1960s. Nonetheless, Tea Partiers, like the aformentioned groups, are conservatives who promote policies that reject federal government intervention that will aid minority groups — especially blacks and Latinos — at the perceived expense of ruling whites.

Try as they might to escape the racist symbolism of the flag, the Tea Party can neither escape the flag’s historical meaning nor deny the reactionary stances at the heart of their political ideology that led them to embrace the flag in the first place. They can’t have their tea and drink it too.

Nor is patriotism a justifiable excuse for flying the Rebel flag. As Conor Friedersdorf explains in an excellent piece for Atlantic, blind, reactionary patriotism is a dangerous ideology that has resulted in much bloodshed in the modern era. Patriotism has been exploited by “patriot-baiters” like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin to rally the support of gullible moops like the Tea Party for shallow political goals. Throughout the country’s history, Friedersdorf writes, “millions of Americans have betrayed the ideals of the Declaration in various ways. Almost always, those bad actors did so while waving the flag, posing as patriots, or viciously impugning the patriotism of their critics.”

The Tea Partiers at the World War II Memorial used the Confederate flag for that very same reason: to pose as patriots while explicitly denying groups of their fellow Americans equal access to the federal government by shutting down that government when it appears to be working against their preferred goals. Conservatives who claim that the Rebel flag symbolizes “patriotism” and “freedom,” not racism and injustice, ignore the long history in which the flag has been used in the service of the latter, not the former. After all, it’s that history that makes the flag appealing to them, even when cognitive dissonance makes them blind to that fact. The Tea Party seems content to continue a sad — if unfortunately American tradition — in which the Rebel flag will continue to serve a cause that should have died with Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865.

See John Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 294-95.

A Race Against Time: The South and the Fight Against Social Welfare

1930s poster advertising the benefits of Social Security. The South accpeted this program on condition that African Americans be excluded from its benefits.

1930s poster advertising the benefits of Social Security. The South accepted this program on condition that African-Americans be excluded from its benefits.

This October, some of the major benefits of President Obama’s signature health care reform bill will start being implemented across the U.S. Of course, ever since the bill’s passage back in 2010, the Republican Party has stood in strident opposition to a supposedly Stanliesque health reform law that was inspired by… the Heritage Foundation: a Republican think tank that over a decade ago proposed the idea of mandated individual health insurance. Among the GOP’s most vociferous opponents of Obamacare has been Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas who is aiming for the title of senate Wingnut Royale. Cruz has made headlines of late by defiantly claiming that he’ll find a way to destroy Obamacare even in the face of procedural impossibilities in the Senate.

Cruz’s Quixotic quest to defund the health care law is, in large part, a rhetorical attempt to regurgitate just enough political innards into the gaping maws of his nested Tea Party backers in exchange for their continued support. But Cruz’s anti-Obamacare stance is also standard politics for a conservative politician from the South: Cruz, as did many southerners in the past, opposes social welfare programs. Historically, however, conservative southerners’ opposition to welfare has been far from total; rather, as scholars like Lisa Disch and many others have observed, it has been selective along lines of class and, especially, race.

Earlier this summer Salon published an excerpt from Sasha Abramsky’s new book, The American Way of Life: How the Other Half Still Lives, that details the South’s historical opposition to the safety net. Abramsky notes that the U.S. as a whole, but particularly the South, stood against social welfare in the nineteenth century, even as European nations worked to implement early safety nets:

In the United States…support for such reforms remained more tenuous. True, an array of progressive political groups supported workers’ compensation laws by the early twentieth century. And by 1917, with the Supreme Court having upheld the constitutionality of these laws, thirty-seven states had systems in place, most of them compulsory. In fact, as a region, only the Deep South had completely neglected to implement compensation schemes for at least some categories of injured workers.

Some minor state-level tinkering aside, Abramsky observes that it took the Great Depression to loosen the U.S.’s opposition to the safety net and embrace FDR’s New Deal, especially in the South. Opponents of mandated social programs:

[A]rgued that the imposition of mandates on working Americans, forcing them to pay into a system to support the elderly and to provide medical coverage for the sick, was foreign to the country’s founding principles. What was happening in Europe was, they argued, too paternalistic, too coercive. Moreover, in a land of great social mobility and endless opportunity such systems were unnecessary. Keep them for the ossified Old World—keep them for places where one’s station in life was determined by one’s parentage.

This excerpt, however, neglects the important role race played in shaping Southern — and American — opposition to social welfare. After all, the U.S. did, in fact, implement welfare policies before the New Deal. As historian Elna Green writes, the Civil War produced the first great shift towards social welfare in the form of veterans’ pensions that covered soldiers and their immediate families and dependants. By 1893, 40 percent of the Federal budget was reserved for Union veterans’ pensions. Former Confederate soldiers were exempt from Federal soldiers’ pensions, but white conservative southern politicians who “redeemed” the South after Reconstruction implemented state pension programs similar to those at the Federal level.*

The Confederate pensions started small, but grew thanks to the influence of the Lost Cause movement, which Green defines as “an emotional defense of the [Confederate] war effort, slavery, the Confederacy, and the superiority of southern civilization.”* Rebel pensions set a precedent for defining social welfare as for whites only, laying the groundwork for the notion that the safety net was okay for some — but not all — that still influences modern southern conservatives.

Florida, for example, funded its 1909 Confederate Pension Law via property taxes that drew from white and black landowners, even though African-Americans did not serve as Rebel soldiers and were therefore ineligible for veterans’ benefits. By taxing blacks to pay for white pensions, Florida justified the existence of social welfare on grounds that it benefited whites at blacks’ expense. By enacting welfare in the form of Confederate veterans’ benefits, the state hedged against any potential black agitation for welfare benefits.* As Green notes, defining social welfare in racial terms “allowed Southern states to create extensive and expansive social welfare programs, without appearing to do so.”* Pensions for poor whites were earned through service, but welfare for blacks constituted racial entitlements.

Conservative southerners continued this line of thought in their approach to Social Security in the 1930s. Southern Democrats chaffed at the idea of redistributing money from whites to supposedly indolent blacks, and worried that extending federal Social Security benefits to blacks would discourage them from working as peons in the South’s fields, factories, and domiciles. In order to gain the support of powerful Southern Democrats for the program, Franklin D. Roosevelt ensured that Social Security excluded agricultural laborers and domestic servants, over 60 percent of whom were, not coincidently, black. Thus, conservative southerners embraced Social Security as long as it benefited whites only. As with Confederate pensions, the issue of race influenced conservatives’ support for social welfare.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): arch-foe of Obamacare.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): (Deluded?) arch-foe of Obamacare.

Today’s southern conservative politicians, such as Ted Cruz, are not unabashed racists like their political forerunners. But modern Republicans’ opposition to the welfare state is still deeply influenced by the racial issues that have long been at the heart of conservative approaches to the safety net. Indeed, much of Cruz’s opposition to Obamacare stems from his hawkish stance on immigration. He’s claimed, for example, that a quirk in the law exempts non-citizens from coverage and therefore encourage businesses to hire newly amnestied illegals over U.S. citizens. This assertion has been disputed, but Cruz’s claim is symbolically significant because it echoes historical southern conservative warnings that social welfare benefits should be endorsed with caution, lest those benefits flow to undeserving, non-white “others.”

Now, I don’t think Cruz is a racist: he is, after all, the son of a (nutty) Cuban refugee. But with his stance against Obamacare, he’s playing to the larger conservative electorate’s conditional opposition to social welfare, which is based on the fear that welfare’s benefits might go to undeserving blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. Consider, for example, the return of Ronald Reagan’s fictional “Welfare Queen” story during the 2012 presidential election. This old myth served as a rallying point for conservatives fighting against Barack Obama’s liberal welfare state supposedly doling out benefits to non-white “takers.” The “Welfare Queen” meme still exists despite the fact that food stamp usage is REALLY high in Red States, especially among conservative whites, and that conservative Red States generally take in more in federal dollars than they pay into the system.

Cruz’s and the Republican Tea Party’s opposition to the safety net, whether in the form of Obamacare or Food Stamps, draws on a historical legacy of southern conservatism’s opposition to social welfare’s benefits going to the “wrong” people. The fight over the American welfare state has never been waged along simple lines of “for” and “opposed.” So the next time you hear shouts about “limited government,” remember to ask: “limited government for whom?”

* Elna C. Green, “Protecting Confederate Soldiers and Mothers: Pensions, Gender, and the Welfare State in the U.S. South, a Case-Study from Florida,” Journal of Social History 39 (Summer, 2006): 1079, 1085-6, 1082.