Less About Black and White, More about Red and Blue: Why the Government Shutdown Has Little to do With Race


There are a plenty of valid reasons why we are well on our way into week two of the first government shutdown in 17 years. But let me assure you— race isn’t one of them.

Joan Walsh, one of the most esteemed journalists in the field today, disappointed me with her latest piece on Salon.com where she uncovered what she claims is the “real” story behind the shutdown. And according to her, the GOP is dedicated to undermine Obama. Why? Because he’s Black. She writes: “A House minority from white districts want to destroy the first black president, and the GOP majority abets them… The fact that everything came apart under our first African-American president wasn’t an accident, it was probably inevitable.”

Within the last few days, I’ve flipped off my television so many times, upset that networks have the audacity to bring Black commentators on to their shows only to rant about how racist the Republican Party is. No matter how stern these pundits may appear on CNN, I think they know— somewhere deep, deep within their liberal hearts—that the furlough of more than 800,000 workers isn’t as Black and White as it appears.

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I know I should have stopped reading Walsh’s work, but I kept on, hoping she would acknowledge a complexity – any complexity – that would suggest that there is more to the GOP’s hate of Obamacare than the color of our president’s skin. After all, there have been government shutdowns before. Seventeen years ago, under Bill Clinton to be exact. It would be pretty difficult to argue that the GOP stood their ground then because of the president’s race. While Toni Morrison deemed Clinton the “first Black president” in 1998 (possibly because of his working-class background or the remarkable ways in which he appealed to the Black electorate), he was still a white man. Yet, Republicans feuded with him after he vetoed a spending bill proposed by the GOP that, coincidentally enough, sought to cut funding for federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid that would help ease the burden of medical costs for lower-income Americans. Sound familiar? American nostalgia for old politics is irrefutably stronger than ever before.

So now the new fight is Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act – whichever you prefer. Almost an entire generation later, Republicans are still fighting the same battles to prevent affordable, universal healthcare for the American public. So when Walsh claims that the GOP’s only motive in defunding Obamacare is to destroy the first Black president, what she should have said is that they are trying to undermine the Democratic party as a whole. Did Walsh forget that in a world where the powers that govern the influence of our nation’s politics, partisanship always trumps race?

The greater ideologies of the Republican Party actually have more to do with their grave resistance against universal healthcare. Generally speaking, when reform becomes the base of conversation, Republicans are committed to keeping the government out of seemingly private matters (i.e., which doctor they go to) as much as (legally) possible. They trump that the strength of this nation lies within the individual and that the best government is one that governs least. These beliefs have been the benchmarks of American political tradition way before Obama was born.

The GOP’s determination to dismantle Obamacare could have (and would have) happened under any other Democratic president. I understand that it’s difficult to not make everything about race. After all, we’ve never had to have this argument before. We’ve never had to consider the race of our president as a factor.

The fact that I feel so radical for arguing that the shutdown has little do with Obama being Black speaks volumes about this nation’s growing relationship—or lack  thereof—with race. Has “it’s because he’s Black” become a technique to simplify issues that are in fact quite complex? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the longer the good ol’ red and blue parties continue to fight it out, federal workers of all colors will keep paying the price, without getting paid.

*The opinions presented in this column are the authors’ own and should NOT be considered as the official opinions of the Gents Among Men staff.