Many loyalist supporters of the Tea Party Movement harbor troubling biases against Blacks, Latinos, immigrants, & gay people. That was the main take-away message in several papers presented at a national symposium last week in California. The symposium on “Fractures, Alliances and Mobilizations in the Age of Obama: Emerging Analyses of the 'Tea Party Movement'” was sponsored by the Center for the Comparative Study of Right-wing Movements at the University of California at Berkeley.
Among the papers most revealing were those by Christopher Parker of the University of Washington; Lisa Disch of the University of Michigan, and Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights. Burghart presented a paper based on a recent report on Tea Party Nationalism he and Zeskind had prepared for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
At the end of the program, the Center’s program director, Christine Trost, summarized the view of most of the analysts that the Tea Party Movement seemed likely to have a significant role in the political scene for some time; and that it represented an amalgam of both elite national conservative organizations with actual grassroots social movements.
The program began, however, with a keynote by Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of American Consensus.
Perlstein put the Tea Party Movement in the tradition of conservative projects to roll-back the social safety net woven by President Franklin Roosevelt during the New Deal policies designed to lift the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The first panel led off with the survey research of Christopher Parker of the University of Washington. Some of Parker’s research is eye-popping.
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Attitudes Toward Blacks, Immigrants, and Gay Rights, by Tea Party Approval
(This chart uses different category language for clarity and omits additional data, see the original full chart at http://depts.washington.edu/uwiser/mssrp_table.pdf
Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors. (Agree):
Tea Party Loyalists = 88% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 56% --- Difference = +21%
Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. (Disagree):
Tea Party Loyalists = 72% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 55% --- Difference = +17%
Over the past few years blacks have gotten less than they deserve. (Disagree):
Tea Party Loyalists = 83% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 74% --- Difference = +9%
It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites. (Agree):
Tea Party Loyalists = 73% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 54% --- Difference = +19%
How likely is it that recent immigration levels will take jobs away from people already here? (Likely):
Tea Party Loyalists = 56% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 43% --- Difference = +13%
The number of immigrants from foreign countries should be…(Decreased):
Tea Party Loyalists = 54% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 44% --- Difference = +10%
Homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the United States Armed forces? (Strongly Agree):
Tea Party Loyalists = 69% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 83% --- Difference = -14%
Gay or lesbian couples should be allowed to legally adopt children? (Yes):
Tea Party Loyalists = 36% --- Neither Loyalist nor Skeptic = 56% --- Difference = -20%
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Some Tea Party activists (and many other Americans) struggle with sometimes unconscious anxiety over the election of a “mixed-race” self-identified black man as President. They are at least obliquely aware that the racial and gender demographics of the United States forecasts White people as a minority in the years ahead. The last panel of the symposium addressed this issue and was titled “Tapping into Fear, Anger and Resentment: The Tea Party and the Climate of Threat.”
Lisa Disch of the University of Michigan and Charles Postel of San Francisco State University both looked at the Tea Parties as predominantly White movements anxious and fearful that shifts in the political economy would leave them vulnerable. Both Postel and Disch rejected the “Paranoid Style” paradigm of such movements as the Tea Party proposed by Professor Richard Hofstadter. There were substantial material and rational interests involved in the rise of the mainly middle-class and White Tea Partiers, they said. Disch explained how the Tea Partiers felt themselves to be in a precarious position, and later agreed that this was similar to the arguments put forward by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class
While blasting “Big Government” and calling for “Lower Taxes,” the Tea Party rank-and-file are actually trying to defend their access to their real economic benefits from government programs such as Social Security. At the same time they are condemning federal programs that they see as wasting tax dollars on the “undeserving poor.” They want to shrink the government and reduce taxes only down to where social programs serve the “productive” citizens like themselves. This is a different agenda than the pure Free Market focus the elite national Tea Party groups claim is the sole organizing agenda of the Movement.
Postel traced much of the political ideology and rhetoric in the Tea Party Movement to the John Birch Society, a theme I echoed in my paper on “Reframing Resentments in the Tea Party Movement” which looked at how right-wing populists use demonization, scapegoating, and conspiracy theories to justify apocalyptic aggression.
In the paper by Burghart and Zeskind, they report that:
<blockquote>The result of this study contravenes many of the Tea Parties’ self-invented myths, particularly their supposedly sole concentration on budget deficits, taxes and the power of the federal government. Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues. In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a “real American.” Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many Tea Partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the Fourteenth Amendment. </blockquote>
The preface to the report by Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, concludes with a plea that “
the leadership and members of the Tea Party movement will … take additional steps to distance themselves from those Tea Party leaders who espouse racist ideas, advocate violence, or are formally affiliated with white supremacist organizations.” He said that in “our effort to strengthen our democracy and ensure rights for all,” that it was important “that we have a reasoned political debate without the use of epithets, the threat of violence, or the resurrection of long discredited racial hierarchies.”
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For More Information:
Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of its National Factions,” Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, for the NAACP, http://www.teapartynationalism.com
Christopher Parker, 2010 Multi-state Survey on Race & Politics
, University of Washington, Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality, Seattle, WA, http://depts.washington.edu/uwiser/racepolitics.html
Political Research Associates, “Tea Parties, Right-Wing Populism, and Scapegoating,” http://www.publiceye.org/right_wing_populism
Symposium on “Fractures, Alliances and Mobilizations in the Age of Obama: Emerging Analyses of the 'Tea Party Movement'” was sponsored by the Center for the Comparative Study of Right-wing Movements at the University of California at Berkeley. http://ccsrwm.berkeley.edu/conferences