The Tea Party Movement Isn’t Racist

But that’s not to say there aren’t racists in it.

John B. Judis
The New Republic
6/2/2010

“Very well-written … but dead screaming wrong,” my critic wrote in an email that a friend forwarded to me. “Judis has managed to write about the Tea Party movement without referring to its profound racism.” This sums up the chief complaint that I received about the article I wrote on the Tea Party movement. It is also a common interpretation of the Tea Parties, especially on the political left. NYU historian Greg Grandin, Salon editor Joan Walsh, and actress and comedienne Janeane Garafolo—to name just three—all believe that racism is at the very heart of Tea Party-ism.

This isn’t a particularly new way of looking at popular right-wing movements. Once upon a time, left-wing thinkers used to blame the opposition to liberalism on capitalist rapaciousness. But since the sixties, it has become more common to depict conservative movements, which invariably include some racists, as pure and simple expressions of the color divide. Typically, Bob Fertik of Democrats.com described the right-wing opposition to Bill Clinton in the 1990s as a product of “racist rage” that “lasted six full years and fueled Clinton’s impeachment … and let George W. Bush get close enough to steal the election in Florida.”

Now what about the Tea Partiers? Clearly, there are people in the Tea Parties who are racist, and who are in the movement because of that…But several nuts and a handful of egregious signs (some of which were probably written by Lyndon Larouche supporters, who have glommed onto the Tea Party) don’t prove that a political movement is being driven by racism. Let me make some distinctions…

…If the Tea Party movement, with its fanatic libertarianism and selfish individualism, were to gain any measure of power, it would wreak havoc on the economy (imagine America without a Federal Reserve System), shred the social safety net, and undermine what exists of the great American community. So I am not suggesting, as Christopher Caldwell did in the Financial Times, that “the Tea Party has no explicit program beyond giving the Republican party some spine and integrity.” That’s errant nonsense unless you believe that the Republican Party really wants to be an extremist movement, but is being prevented from realizing its true nature. 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.

The entire article is at The New Republic.

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