The Tea Party, much like country music, evangelical Christianity, and the Republican Party, fits Ellison Lodge’s description of a movement whose identity is implicitly white and yet whose rhetoric is explicitly non-racial or multiculturalist. The overwhelming majority of Tea Party participants (I’d say 90-95 percent) are white people. The Tea Party leadership, however, has bent over backwards to put colorful African-American entertainers and advocates of free-markets up on stage at every rally, each new one more embarrassing than the last.
Keith Olbermann is thus on to something when he asks, “How many black faces do you see at these events?” The answer is, of course, that American blacks are about as interested in cutting welfare programs and returning to a laissez-faire republic as they are in taking up polo.
When Olberman attacked the Tea Party for its alleged “racism” this past spring, its leadership fought back with what I’ve called “PC Judo -- they essentially affirmed politically correct values and taboos and tried to turn them against their left-wing critics. As Lodge recounted, the Dallas Tea Party made a video that featured every non-white Tea Partier they could find and then pointed reprovingly to MSNBC’s mono-racial collection of prime-time hosts. Olbermann’s and MSNBC’s hypocrisy is real, but the implication of the counter-attack is that all-white movements are inherently suspect or illegitimate.
“Racism within the Tea Party” was back in the news this week after one Iowa group made a strange billboard that compared Obama to Hitler -- which is, apparently, a racist thing to do (!) -- and in an unrelated event, the delegation of the NAACP released a statement demanding the Tea Party leadership repudiate “racists” within its ranks. (The New York Times has a useful wrap-up here.)
When I first heard about this latest controversy, I predicted that, at best, the Tea Party would react as it did against Olbermann and, at worst, it’d stage public hand-wringing and ritual denunciations and become the latest organization to pay a yearly tithe to Diversity Inc. by hiring various anti-racist councilors, consultants, and experts.
I was wrong. The Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams came out swinging: he dismissed the NAACP as a group simply out to get federal goodies and set-asides for blacks, and on Friday he issued a blog in which he satirizes NAACP “colored person” Ben Jealous writing to Abraham Lincoln. Despite the awkwardness of the piece, Williams gets at something real.
Dear Mr. Lincoln,
We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!
In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the 'tea party movement'.
The tea party position to "end the bailouts" for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn't that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.
And the ridiculous idea of "reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government." What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!
The racist tea parties also demand that the government "stop the out of control spending." Again, they directly target Colored People. That means we Colored People would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.
Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government "stop raising our taxes." That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?
Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.
Precious Ben Jealous, Tom's Nephew National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Head Colored Person
Without parsing any of this too delicately, it’s clear that Williams grasps something important about his supposedly colorblind “libertarian” ideals. Society as a whole would certainly be better off under a Constitutional order, but not everyone would be benefit. The black, urban underclass would find life much harder going without a steady flow of welfare checks, and the black middle class, built on set-asides and cushy government employment, would all but disappear. (Court Services and Offender Services, for instance, employs800 percent more blacks than its affirmative-action target would require; NASA is the “whitest” agency in Washington, only employing 50 percent more blacks than federally mandated (and things are likely going to change.))
Liberals sense this reality about the welfare state, even though they rarely articulate it, and this is why any forthright call to dismantle the federal government -- no matter how rhetorically colorblind -- will automatically be labeled “racist.”
Again, Williams seems to grasp this, and though he’s taken down his satirical blog, his attitude remains “Yea, what of it?”
UPDATE (7/19): I spoke too soon. Alas, the Tea Parties still worship the gods of Political Correctness.