Tea Party Anger Reflects Mainstream Concerns

Dissatisfaction with the economy and the country’s direction cuts across racial lines.

Juan Williams
The Wall Street Journal
4/2/2010

There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.

Putting a racial lens on the tea party activists may also help Democrats by painting congressional Republicans into a corner as debate begins on immigration reform. Hispanic voters are going to be looking at Republicans and their tea party supporters for evidence of racism in any effort to block reform.

But Democrats cannot win elections without capturing the votes of independent-minded swing voters. And that is where writing off the tea party as a bunch of racist kooks becomes self-destructive. The tea party outrage over health-care reform, deficit spending and entitlements run amok is no fringe concern. And it is insulting to all voters to suggest that criticism of President Obama, even by people who want to throw him out of office, is motivated by racism.

It is a fact that the tea party is an overwhelmingly older, white and suburban crowd. It is true that Republicans in Congress are almost completely white. And it is also true, according to some black and gay Democrats, that a tea party rally against health-care reform at the Capitol degenerated into ugly scenes in which racial and homophobic epithets were used and spit flew on some members of Congress. There are suspicions that tea party anger boiled over into the spate of personal threats against Democrats who voted for the health-care bill.

That is despicable and deserving of condemnation. And the leaders of the tea party movement have to be careful about rhetoric that feeds fringe, militia-type anger that leads to violence.

Yet opposition to health-care reform from the tea party is not based on racism but self-interest. The older, whiter segment of the American demographic was at the heart of opposition to the president’s health-care proposal because they feared cuts in their Medicare benefits or taxes hikes eroding their income.

Tea party activists are surprisingly mainstream when it comes to their grievances about politics. They fit right in with most American voters who tell pollsters the country has been headed in the wrong direction under both Presidents Bush and Obama.

Read the rest at WSJ.

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