In the criticisms of the Tea Party movement, like much of the defense of President Obama from criticism of him and his policies, the charge of “racism” is leading the charge. This has intrigued me, as there is absolutely nothing racist about the movement’s stated goals or positions, membership requirements, or demands. Yet it’s the most common allegation (besides, of course, “stupid” and sexual slurs).
I see two explanations, explanations that are not only non-exclusive, but complementary.
The first is that “racism” is an easy charge to make. For most of recent history, since “racism” became universally accepted as A Bad Thing, charges of racism hasn’t had much of a burden of proof. On the contrary — most of the time the accused is immediately presumed guilty until they “prove” themselves innocent, a ridiculously impossible standard. It’s the big gun of accusations, and immediately changes the discussion from the accused’s position, to the accused’s character. And if the argument ends with one side being discredited, then the other side tends to win by default.
So, if the Tea Party critics can hang the “racist” noose around the Party’s necks, then they figure they have won. After all, who’s going to take a bunch of racists seriously?
The second explanation is that the Tea Party’s critics believe that a fight over race is one they can win. They are used to winning whenever race is a key part of an argument, so they think that if they can make public perception of the Tea Party movement into a racist group, then they will win.
There are a few corollaries from this explanation that are also interesting. The first is that, by having to fabricate a line of attack against the Tea Parties, they are tacitly admitting that the actual positions of the Tea Party movement are difficult to argue against. Boiled down to essentials, the Tea Party’s manifesto is simple: they want a federal government that plays a smaller role in domestic affairs. They want a smaller federal government, with a corresponding reduction in power and budget.
So that’s why the critics of the Tea Party movement end up looking for “racism” the way astronomers look for black holes: they can’t find it directly, so they have to find circumstantial evidence to back it up.
The only problem is, astrophysicists actually do find black holes. The Tea Party critics end up looking like the villagers in Monty Python and the Holy Grail trying to identify a witch.
“The crowds are mostly white!” Well, yeah, white people are the largest segment of the population. And look at the Democrats in Congress — they’re mostly white, too. Or MSNBC’s hosts, for that matter.
“They’re against Obama because he’s black!” The fact that he’s overseen the most liberal agenda presented in history since the New Deal, overseen a skyrocketing debt, high unemployment, and a vast expansion of government power doesn’t matter — most Americans would be fine with those if they were presented by yet another white guy.
“They use racist code words!” Remarkable how quickly things become “code words” once it becomes convenient for people to deem them such. For example, to me, a noose was a symbol of frontier justice, of Old West style vigilantism against outlaws. It’s only in the more recent past that the noose shook off those associations and became a symbol of racial oppression.
The problem with the strategy, though, is that it’s old. It’s worn out. As their hero, Saul Alinsky, noted, “”A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” People no longer react Pavlovianly when they hear the accusation. Indeed, it’s become a point of mockery and, even in some corners, a point of pride.
So, why do they keep tossing around the “racist” accusation? For that answer, we turn to Richard Gere’s character in “An Officer And A Gentleman:” “Don’t you do it! Don’t! You… I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to g… I got nothin’ else.”
They got nowhere else to go. They got nothin’ else.