Shake it off, Prince George’s County. As home to nearly 25 percent of the region’s federal workforce, my sprawling suburb just got sucker-punched by a bunch of anti-government, Obama-hating tea party tools.
“Once again, the citizens and economy of Prince George’s County are put at risk over political gamesmanship on Capitol Hill,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a statement released Tuesday. “By shutting down federal government operations, Republicans in the House of Representatives have made it clear that they would prefer to throw the livelihoods of millions of Americans, including many Prince Georgians, into turmoil in order to make a political point.”
Of course the entire Washington region will be adversely affected by the government shutdown, but Prince George’s was just now staggering to its feet after a knockdown blow from the Great Recession. And to be slapped back down by some right-wing “states’ rights” loons — “legislative arsonists,” as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called them — only adds insult to injury.
Ever since President Obama was elected, the tea party has been on a racially tinged tear to do him in. The African witch doctor hated whites, they claimed. He was ballooning the government to take care of undeserving blacks. A Muslim from another planet, Obama had a plan to do away with all that white people valued most — such as guns and Bibles.
Some of this mess is, no doubt, Obama’s fault. In previous attempts to negotiate with uncompromising Republicans, he yielded to their extortions. Why wouldn’t they expect him to fold again?
It has been disappointing to watch the first black president preside over the economic devastation of so many African Americans. Then again, his political enemies made it plain that they would rather destroy the country than see him succeed.
Many black people see in these tea-party-backed pols reminders of the old South — latter-day members of white citizens councils, the kind who’d raise a giant Confederate flag along Interstate 95, if not burn a cross. Their political strategy, perfected by Ronald Reagan, still works like a charm: Race-bait their constituency into a frenzy as Election Day drew near. Use Dixie-style voter-suppression tactics to ensure the desired outcome.
But there is something especially cruel about this new breed. They don’t even seem to care about the suffering of white people — not even the specter of hungry white babies would make them support food stamps. Or refrain from staging a $3 trillion government holdup.
“To shut down the federal government affects minorities in especially harsh ways, since so many of our brothers and sisters are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Darlene Young, national president of Blacks in Government, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that supports African American government employees.
Not that the tea party pols could give a hoot.
“It’s not that everyone doesn’t agree that government will have to be downsized,” said Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker. “It’s just that sensible people believe it should be done in an orderly, gradual way. Not in sudden, unpredictable bursts.”
Prince George’s residents take in about $12 million a day in salaries and wages from the federal government. These are not freebies for lazy bureaucrats, as the tea party likes to claim, but income earned through hard work and dedication to public service. They work as scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, analysts at the Census Bureau, military personnel at Joint Base Andrews and researchers at the Agriculture Department, just to name a few.
For each day the federal government stays closed without paying its employees, the county will lose about $270,000 in tax revenue.
“Ultimately, the County’s AAA bond rating may be at risk,” Baker said in his statement, “which would affect the services the County provides and subsequently hamper our economic development, progress, and job creation efforts.”
Make no mistake, the people of Prince George’s will not only endure this latest indignity — they will prevail. The county may have the largest number of black federal employees in our area. But it also has the largest number of black military veterans, many of them officers. And we have the most black-owned businesses in the nation.
Sooner or later, the monies lost during this government shutdown will be recouped, and the tea party people responsible will be voted out of office. We can only hope — as we ponder how so many well-educated black people find themselves at the mercy of a handful of right-wing fanatics.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.