Tea Party = Racism?
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson takes a look at the Tea Party movement and claims to find racism.
Along the same lines as Bernard Finel’s post, which James Joyner responded to earlier, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson uses today’s column to question the motives behind the Tea Party movement and finds, not surprisingly for Robinson, that race is the central reason people have risen up in opposition to President Obama’s policies:
Underlying all the Tea Party’s issues and complaints, it appears to me, is the entirely legitimate issue of the relationship between the individual and the federal government. But why would this concern about oppressive, intrusive government become so acute now? Why didn’t, say, government surveillance of domestic phone calls and e-mails get the constitutional fundamentalists all worked up?
I have to wonder what it is about Obama that provokes and sustains all this Tea Party ire. I wonder how he can be seen as “elitist,” when he grew up in modest circumstances – his mother was on food stamps for a time – and paid for his fancy-pants education with student loans. I wonder how people who genuinely cherish the American dream can look at a man who lived that dream and feel no connection, no empathy.
I ask myself what’s so different about Obama, and the answer is pretty obvious: He’s black. For whatever reason, I think this makes some people unsettled, anxious, even suspicious – witness the willingness of so many to believe absurd conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace, his religion and even his absent father’s supposed Svengali-like influence from the grave.
Obama has made mistakes that rightly cost him political support. But I can’t help believing that the Tea Party’s rise was partly due to circumstances beyond his control – that he’s different from other presidents, and that the difference is his race.
The fact that racism is the first thing that comes to Robinson’s mind when he looks at a grassroots political movement says more, I think about Robinson than it does the movement. Yes, it’s true that there is an element to the opposition to the President that includes people who think he ineligible to be President, or that he is a “secret Muslim.” There are even prominent so-called intellectuals who have asserted that the President’s problem is that he has an “anti-colonialist, Kenyan world view.” To assert that this represents a majority of the Tea Party movement, though, is simply absurd.
Every movement has its kooks and its crazies. During the Bush Administration, the anti-war movement included people who believed that George W. Bush knew about, or even participated in, the September 11th attacks and people who believed that he consciously lied about WMDs in Iraq for the purpose of conquering Iraq for American oil companies. During the Clinton years, there were those who believed that Bill Clinton was involved in drug running out of an airfield in Arkansas and that the UN was about invade America using black helicopters. It’s not more legitimate to judge the entire Tea Party by referencing the birthers than it is to judge the anti-war movement, or the opposition to Bill Clinton, based on its kooky contingent. Yes, there are crazies in the Tea Party movement but, then, the Democratic Party includes people like Dennis Kucinich and Alan Grayson and I’m sure Robinson wouldn’t want me to judge the entire party based on those two individuals.
Elsewhere in the column, Robinson asks where the Tea Party people were during the Bush Administration when spending was increasing at a rate unseen since the Johnson years and the National Debt increased by $ 5 trillion over the course of eight years. This is legitimate question, and it’s own that has frustrated people like me, who were fiscally conservative before being fiscally conservative was cool. Back then, it was pretty lonely to be one of the few people complaining about a trillion dollar unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit, or the fact that we were undertaking to fight two wars at the same time that we were cutting taxes and increasing domestic spending. It wasn’t until the debate over the TARP bill and, later, the automaker’s bailout that mainstream conservatives became vocal about the spending excesses of the Bush era. By then, of course, it was too little, too late. However, the fact that Tea Party movement didn’t exist under the Bush Administration isn’t an argument against it today. What matters now is how consistent they’ll be in attacking fiscal excesses when the GOP is in power It’s largely because I don’t really believe that they will be as hard on Republicans as they have been on Democrats that I have been largely skeptical of the Tea Party movement.
Robinson makes this point that pretty much sums up just how clueless he is when it comes to understanding what’s happened over the past 21 months:
On Sunday, in a last-minute fundraising appeal, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee implored his supporters to help “return American government to the American people.”
Again, who’s in possession of the government, if not the American people? The non-American people? The un-American people?
There’s an obvious answer, but it’s one that generally comes from the progressive end of the political spectrum: Americans must fight to take back their government from the lobbyists and big-money special interests that shape our laws to suit their own interests, not for the good of the nation.
That may be what some Tea Partiers have in mind, but the movement hasn’t seen fit to make campaign finance reform one of its major issues.
In other words, if the Tea Party really believed what it says, it would agree with me. This strikes me as the same kind of blindness that Thomas Friedman exhibited when he argued last month that the real “Tea Party” is the one that agrees him completely:
The important Tea Party movement, which stretches from centrist Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats[**], understands this at a gut level and is looking for a leader with three characteristics. First, a patriot: a leader who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party. Second, a leader who persuades Americans that he or she actually has a plan not just to cut taxes or pump stimulus, but to do something much larger — to make America successful, thriving and respected again. And third, someone with the ability to lead in the face of uncertainty and not simply whine about how tough things are — a leader who believes his job is not to read the polls but to change the polls.
This is the plan the real Tea Party wants from its president. To implement it would require us to actually raise some taxes — on, say, gasoline — and cut others — like payroll taxes and corporate taxes. It would require us to overhaul our immigration laws so we can better control our borders, let in more knowledge workers and retain those skilled foreigners going to college here. And it would require us to reduce some services — like Social Security — while expanding others, like education and research for a 21st-century economy.
Agree with me, those like Robinson and Friedman say, or your just not worth paying attention to. Or, worse, your’re a racist.
Finally, as James notes in his post, the truth of the matter is that it is the economy that is driving opposition to the President, the Democratic Party, and their agenda right now. Perhaps the reason that there wasn’t a “Tea Party movement” of some kind during the Bush years is that the economy was in good shape, people were working, and home values were rising. Arguments about high government spending and debt levels didn’t resonate with the public under those conditions the way that they do now. People are paying attention to economic issues because the economy is the most important issue for them right now. That, and not the color of the President’s skin, is the main reason that we’ve seen the rise of a populist movement that is likely to result in a strong rebuke to his agenda later tonight.