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Jun. 3 2010 - 2:33 pm | 972 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

The Tea Party isn’t racist, except when it is

racist_tea_party.jpg

Shorter John Judis: “There are no racists in America”:

It’s possible, as Damon Linker has suggested, that Rand Paul’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not based on racial resentment, but on a radical libertarianism. (Although, recalling Jamie Kirchick’s study of Ron Paul’s racist newsletters, if his father shaped Rand Paul’s view on civil rights, it might be more accurate to say that his opinions reflect both libertarianism and racial resentment.) Equally, it may be that some Tea Party members’ rage against “moochers” looking for government handouts to pay for houses they couldn’t afford is an expression of American individualism rather than racism. Racial resentment is one impulse among many. It is not necessarily an overpowering Id that defines conservative politics, and the opposition to Obama.

I’ve heard this argument before, and I find it oddly disconnected from the actual history of the conservative movement and it’s cousins in the hard-right. Racial resentment was an integral part of the conservative movement from the very beginning; it animated some of its earliest crusaders – William F. Buckley — and provided it with its first firm electoral footing (there’s a reason Goldwater did very well in the former Confederacy). As Amanda Marcotte has repeatedly and convincingly noted, this Tea Party flavor of libertarianism — defined largely by rabid opposition to any kind of social spending — has its roots in the backlash against civil rights gains. Indeed, it’s incredibly naive of Judis to argue that the Tea Party’s rage against “moochers” doesn’t have racial roots, especially since it’s long been the case that those inveighing against “moochers” (or “welfare queens”) are mostly just railing against black people. The Tea Party might not be about racism, but as Bruce Bartlett observed a few days ago, there’s no denying that racial animus fuels the movement’s momentum.

That said, if there’s anything particularly annoying about Judis’ piece, it’s his shallow and restrictive definition of racism:

What I am suggesting is that it’s very possible to believe that the Tea Party is not the latest manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens’ Councils—while still believing that it is a terrible menace, nonetheless.

You see this a lot in mainstream discussions of racism; accusations of racism are the worst things imaginable, and outside of Zombie Bull Connor and the Klan, there are no actual racists in America. If you accuse someone of racist acts, they’ll respond with chagrin, deny the charge, and then have friends and relatives defend their character, “He’s such a kind person,” “He loves black people,” “He has no hate in his heart.” Likewise, the Tea Party can’t possibly be racist! After all, these are just kindly old right-wing extremists, not skinheads or neo-Confederates!

Listen, no one is arguing that the Tea Party is the latest heir to the White Citizens’ Councils, but given everything we know about the movement, as well as what we know about the relationship between ethnocentrism and policy beliefs, racial resentment seems like the best way of explaining the Tea Party’s rapid rise and intensity. Or put another way, when the Tea Party’s national leader calls President Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug,” you can safely assume that race might have something to do with their grievances.


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  1. collapse expand

    The Tea Party is a loose rabble of very generalized anti-Obama sentiment. Without much in the way of central organization or internal policing you’re bound to have a sizable chunk of racists.

    Asked to volunteer what they don’t like about Mr. Obama, the top answer, offered by 19 percent of Tea Party supporters, was that they just don’t like him. – CBS Poll

    These are the racists.

    As Amanda Marcotte has repeatedly and convincingly noted, this Tea Party flavor of libertarianism — defined largely by rabid opposition to any kind of social spending — has its roots in the backlash against civil rights gains.

    The problem with this is that most Tea Partiers, Rand Paul included, are quite comfortable with the old-fashioned social spending of the New Deal and the Great Society (“Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”).

    Listen, no one is arguing that the Tea Party is the latest heir to the White Citizens’ Councils, but given everything we know about the movement, as well as what we know about the relationship between ethnocentrism and policy beliefs, racial resentment seems like the best way of explaining the Tea Party’s rapid rise and intensity.

    You can’t keep accusations of racism around as a convenient rhetorical bludgeon and then sneer at people for treating accusations of racism as the WORST THING EVER. (Indeed, there’s a certain level of bulverism inherent in using “racial resentment” to explain people’s opposition to increases in social spending.)

    The Tea Party is far more driven by attempts by certain sections of corporate America to identify opposition to Obama’s agenda as a culture war issue, so that stuff like increases in taxes on the super-rich are treated as assaults on Great American Traditions. If Tea Partiers were supporting both large decreases in government power and their own economic interest (which is entirely possible), the movement would make far more sense. But at this point they’re pretty much doing neither.

  2. collapse expand

    I’ve long argued that 90% of Murkns are racist and the other 10% are bigoted.

    I try my damnedest not to be, but sometimes I notice a subtle prejudice sneak out. The other, you know. I have a close, black friend (I know how that sounds) who is smart, extremely well educated and old, like myself, a guy whiter than fishes’ bellies.

    He sometimes notices things about my thinking that I haven’t noticed myself, points them out, and makes me say, “Duh!”

    I think we might try to admit our predispositions and try to work on them, rather than flatly deny what seems to have worked for us, evolutionarily speaking, in the past, however inappropriate now.

  3. collapse expand

    Anyone who likes truth and justice will hate the majority of black americans. It’s not racist. You too niggerly to knonw this. don’t feed the niggers is a good thing to believe in. Feeding niggers is a very bad thing. You people should all be killed.

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    I am a blogger and occasional freelance writer. Usually, you'll find me here, but I occasionally contribute to PostBourgie.com, as well as Spencer Ackerman's blog (when he's away). At my old Wordpress digs, I blogged about progressive politics, public policy, nerdy things and food, and here at True/Slant, I intend to do the same. I'm all about the social media, so feel free to follow me on Twitter: jbouie, or friend me on Facebook (though I might make you wait awhile). And if you'd rather avoid social media, you can always email me at jamelle DOT bouie AT gmail DOT com.

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