An interactive map and a recent in-depth New York Times article raise the question progressives here have grappled with for a long time: Why do red-state Oklahomans increasingly vote against their own financial interests by electing conservatives?
I’ve been asking that question here on Okie Funk since at least 2006 following the publication of Thomas Franks’ book What’s The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. In the book, Franks argues that conservative politicians use cultural wedge issues, such as abortion, to win votes while promoting an ideology that is financially detrimental to most people’s lives in places like Kansas and Oklahoma.
While Oklahomans, for example, elect politicians who profess to be small-government advocates and want cuts in entitlement programs, they also take advantage of government financial assistance in increasing numbers. It’s a striking contradiction.
An interactive map recently published in The Times shows that in some Oklahoma counties, the percentage of government money used as income is more than 35 percent, far above the national average of 17.6 percent. In Pushmataha County in southeastern Oklahoma, for example, 38.95 percent of all income is derived from government benefits programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance. In Tillman County in southwestern Oklahoma, the rate is 35.11 percent. Oklahomans rely on the government for assistance in huge numbers, and that’s nothing new.
As columnist Paul Krugman recently pointed out, “there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs.”
Yet Oklahomans continue to elect politicians such as U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, who would cut government programs and essentially reduce their income and potential income.
So it’s an old issue, but it deserves to be revisited periodically. The Tea Party rhetoric of limited government and self-reliance doesn’t match the reality in Oklahoma. It’s the largest political contradiction of our era, and there doesn’t seem to be any resolution in the foreseeable future.
State Rep. Mike Reynolds’ legislative proposal that could prevent gay people from serving in the Oklahoma National Guard and state Rep. Sally Kern’s obsession with supposedly protecting Oklahomans from Sharia Law when they go to court are really just bigoted, freaky sideshows to the main GOP play this year: Cutting taxes for rich people and cutting state government.
Progressives, of course, should always raise their voices against intolerance and hate, but both Reynolds’ and Kern’s legislative proposals are unlikely to get much traction this year and would obviously face court battles if passed. The two Republican Oklahoma City legislators might want to motivate the GOP base by assuring it discrimination against gay people and Muslims still remains a priority for the party this election year, but, at this juncture, it seems the general, faux anti-Obama hysteria—some of which is also based on bigotry—will be more than enough to assure a large voter turnout.
Media reports this week outlined Reynolds’ proposal to bring back the now repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) military policy to the Oklahoma National Guard. Under the bill, according to human rights organizations, officials could actually ask military members about their sexual orientation, which, in effect, would mean the gay community would be barred from serving.
The federal government, of course, has repealed DADT and gay people can now serve openly in the military, but some national GOP politicians have vowed to reinstate the archaic policy just after what they foresee as a pending GOP sweep in the 2012 elections. Even if the Republicans do win the White House, it still would remain uncertain whether they would risk alienating the growing number of voters who now favor gay rights. Younger voters, in particular, are more tolerant.
Reynolds was quoted as saying some Oklahoma National Guard members had asked for a reprise of DADT, a claim not backed up by specific numbers or clear, convincing evidence. That some Oklahoma National Guard members are opposed to gay rights is probably a given, but that doesn’t mean there’s a groundswell of support for Reynolds’ bill, which is simply political code.
Bashing gay people is a tradition among GOP Oklahoma politicians from Reynolds to Kern to U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, but it hasn’t stopped a growing acceptance of gay rights and new government policies forbidding discrimination. Oklahoma City, for example, just passed a new rule that prevents the city from discriminating against its employees because of sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, when a federal court recently ruled that an unnecessary Oklahoma constitutional amendment stopping judges from using Sharia Law, based on Islam, from deciding cases could be ruled unconstitutional in the future, Kern suggested a way to sidestep the ruling. The Oklahoma City legislator said the legislature should pass a bill she proposed last year that would prohibit courts from using any type of foreign laws to decide court cases. This way, so goes her logic, it doesn’t target just one religion.
Of course, the creation of the proposed amendment and the overwhelming vote in favor of it was a collective exercise in xenophobia, bigotry and religious intolerance, and that’s why the courts have granted injunctions against it. Obviously, there has never been a case in an official Oklahoma court in which a judge announced she/he was not going to rely on the U.S. Constitution to rule on a case but, instead, use Sharia Law. The amendment was designed as a way to simply incite more hatred against Islam.
Kern’s idea to get around the recent ruling is just an example of more hatred and intolerance. Is she really that concerned with this issue? Does she really believe judges are going to start using Sharia Law in Oklahoma courts? Even with a growing economy, the state faces serious problems and issues. How in the world is Sharia Law a pressing political issue in Oklahoma?
As Reynolds and Kern predictably draw attention with their proposals, the GOP leadership, under the ruse of a “task force, is recommending a drop in the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 4.75 percent and a drop in the corporate tax rate from 6 to 5 percent. Many Republicans say they want to eventually eliminate the income tax.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute continues to outline how the cut will primarily benefit the wealthiest Oklahomans and possibly lead to more budget cuts for state agencies.
I imagine a scene in this year’s legislative theater in which the standard 200 to 300 progressive protesters rally at the State Capitol to oppose the latest bizarre GOP legislation de jour while rich Oklahomans and members of the corporate power structure look on, chuckle and even encourage the strife among the rabble. Again, the real GOP play this year is about taxes and the main actors belong to the Oklahoma oligarchy, which continues to manipulate government for its own financial gain at the expense of everyone else.
Oklahoma has come in third in a recent hypocrisy report that measures how much money states get from the federal government compared with how many of their residents identify as Tea Party supporters.
The Daily Beast, using polling data, recently reported that 34 percent of Oklahomans support the Tea Party, a movement based on anti-federal government ideology. The state received $7.8 billion in federal funds in 2009, the report states. That’s $2,123.13 per person. This makes the state the third “Most Hypocritical State,” according to the report. (Thanks to Alternative Tulsa for first reporting the information locally.)
Wyoming was ranked the number one most hypocritical state. Louisiana was second. New Mexico, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Dakota, North Dakota and Utah round out the top ten.
According to The Daily Beast:
. . . for all the braying about the government’s overspending, many states where Tea Party support is strongest coincide with states that suck up the greatest number of federal dollars per capita.
This survey is similar to the 2006 Tax Foundation report that showed Oklahoma receives an average of $1.48 back from the federal government for every dollar it gives it. According to the Tax Foundation, “ . . . many states that get the ‘best deal’ are lower-income states in the mid-west and south with expansive rural areas that tend to vote Republican.” Those states that pay more to the federal government than they get back more often support Democratic candidates, according to the report.
The contradiction here is evident. As Oklahoma Tea Party supporters and those politicians who want their votes decry federal spending, they omit crucial information. Without the extra financial help of the federal government and donor states, Oklahoma would be like an impoverished Third-World country or not a viable government entity at all.
Meanwhile, as the midterm election approaches, the state and country seems poised to give control of the government to people who want to reward wealthy people and corporations with tax cuts even as they pose as populists to manipulate voters.
The New York Times columnist Frank Rich put it this way:
Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money, it’s pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers of our economic pyramid — the banks, energy companies, insurance giants and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those forces prevail, an America that still hasn’t remotely recovered from the worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to those who greased the skids.