Gems from the Tea Party: Homeownership & Voting

I sometimes think that I need to take a deep breath and relax, but then I hear crap like this. If you don't feel like listening to the audio clip, I don't blame you. Here's a transcript (from the same website) of Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips:

"The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."

I'm going to put this lightly: This is one of the most ridiculous and elitist things I have ever heard. Did he just go through the same decade as the rest of us did? Namely, the decade when this happened:

2000-2010_Homeownership.png

You all remember this happening, right? [Also, if the historical trend interests you, there's this.] OK. Let's pretend, just for a second, that the homeownership world didn't go crazy. Let's rewind to 2000 when everything was normal-ish and we weren't reeling from a mortgage-industry catastrophe. That year, this was the renting situation in the US:

2000_PerRenting_byCounty.png

Let's think about this, shall we? In 2000, roughly 33% of occupied housing units were rented in this country. So, everyone in those housing units would be out of the voting game. What about the over-18 citizens living in owner-occupied housing, who don't happen to own property themselves? I guess they would probably be out too. This is the most common criticism I've heard about this comment thus far: ageism. Young-people simply don't own property at the same rate as older people. Of course, Phillips didn't suggest we raise the voting age, just that we limit the right to property owners. There are seemingly countless additional issues I could argue here, but before I take the ageism question a little further, let's go straight to something the Tea Party hates to admit:

The existence of structural racism and the fact that it manifests in many ways including homeownership rates. Without isolating individual minority groups (which would make the results even more dramatic -- and by a lot -- in some cases), I offer this:

2000_NonWhite_byCounty.png

I offer these maps together because they should be compared. At the same time, despite how annoying the scrolling can be, I invite you to compare the lower green map to the purple map above from the same year. It's one thing to compare the white-versus-nonwhite rental rates (and I admit that those ratios even surprised me), it's another thing completely to realize that there are many parts of the country where most people own their homes and those that don't are people of color.

Before this gets too long, let me list a few things I am completely convinced that Phillips knew he was implying.

  • that maybe families living in poverty shouldn't vote, and that maybe it isn't really important that they be represented in Congress by people who will remember them. In this category, he's definitely including families living in public housing.
  • that families who've lost their homes to foreclosure in the last few years might also not really be important members of "the community," as he calls it. He might also have been implying that this widespread foreclosure epidemic is a massive coincidence with lots of simultaneously irresponsible people (who shouldn't be trusted to vote anyway) and definitely not the result of a broken banking system and government failure.
  • that most people of color, college students living in dorms, people for whom the mobility and flexibility of renting is desirable, and young people in general, have no "vested interest" in this unnamed "community."
  • and, lastly, that family households headed by legally married couples should really comprise the voting public. (Did you know that the homeownership rates for families headed by single moms is almost 20 percentage points lower than the national average? Did you know that the homeownership rates for legally married couples is 15 percentage points higher than the national average?)

So, I'm very sure he was cognizant of those things. For no other reason, I believe this because you do NOT make a public statement suggesting that it's a good idea to limit the right to vote without thinking about whom you would exclude. I don't, however, think he thought about this:

2000_PerRentingOver64_byCounty.png

Fourteen percent doesn't sound like a lot, right? But let's recall that households usually contain more than one person when we think about five million renting households headed by someone 65+ years old. Let's recall which age groups vote most consistently, with the most dedication to the voting process and what it represents. While we're at it, let's think about living on the itsy-bitsy fixed income many seniors call their Social Security, and consider that these might be households who have chosen to rent in order to liquidate the homes they once owned. Let's consider what the generations over 64 have lived through for this country and have fought through for their right to vote. Today, the very youngest of this group was born in 1945. (In 2000, the youngest would have been born in 1935.) Shame on you, Phillips. 

On this last point, on the point of ageism, I'd like to ask what a "vested interest in the community" means. Whose "interest"? Which "community"? Really, is financial investment the only valid investment? Is a lifetime, however long it has been, of citizenship not an investment? The Tea Party calls itself a patriotic movement. I don't do this very often and I do not take it lightly: From a patriot who believes this country should be doing better, Fuck You.