The Strange Sexual Obsessions Driving the Tea Party Movement
Tea Party advocates and rightwing media pundits were gleeful in the aftermath of this week’s primary election results. They were buoyed by their candidates’ strong showings throughout the country against the Republican establishment, particularly in Delaware and New York. The November election will determine whether the Tea Party will take control of the Republican Party and pull the Congress even further to the reactionary right.
Amidst all the victory hoopla, stories about the questionable sexual- and race-related attitudes and behavior of two of the Tea Party’s principal proponents, Delaware’s senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell and New York’s gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, have garnered as much notoriety as their often-questionable policy pronouncements.
Delaware candidate O'Donnell proposed in a 1996 MTV program and again in a 1998 article, “The Case for Chastity,” that masturbation is sinful and that looking at pornography is equivalent to adultery. She proudly declared:
When a married person uses pornography, or is unfaithful, it compromises not just his (or her) purity, but also compromises the spouse's purity. As a church, we need to teach a higher standard than abstinence. We need to preach a righteous lifestyle.
She has apparently not revised or repudiated her position in the intervening years.
The New York gubernatorial candidate Paladino has come under increasing media scrutiny for a growing number of apparent indiscretions. They include revelations about his collection of Internet porn which he gladly shares with his construction-industry “buddies” and racially-provocative e-mails depicting Pres. Obama as an African tribesman or a ‘70s-era pimp (with his wife, Michelle, depicted as a “ho”). More troubling are revelations about his extra-marital affair with an employee and the “love child” he fathered.
What is most striking about these incidents is not the specific actions, but the fact that Tea Party proponents have shrugged off these embarrassments as inconsequential in assessing their candidates for public office. With an almost, aw-shucks attitude, the Tea Party right sees the values and actions of their candidates like the conduct of ordinary folk, their next-door neighbors.
In fairness, a candidate’s private actions, to the extent that they are not criminal (e.g., pedophilia, rape) or inflict real suffering on another (e.g., physical and psychological abuse), shouldn’t be the principal factor in evaluating the candidate’s competency to govern.
Over the last few years, Republicans like Sen. David Vitter, Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Mark Sanford have been outed for their sexual indiscretions with little political fall-out. These conservative Republicans have adhered to a liberal moral standard and have gone on with their political careers with only a little mud on their respective faces, suffering no real price to pay. Yet, as was evident with the revelations about president candidate John Edward and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, when comparable revelations of sexual indiscretions about Democratic came out, those involved were forced from the political playing field. Such is the nature of the moral double-standard that defines American politics.
Hidden at the root of the Tea Party movement are the issues of sex and race, especially interracial sex and the resulting “pollution” of the white “stock.” The movement has sought to keep conventional “culture wars” issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research at an arms-length’s-distance from its organizing efforts. Knowing full well that the majority of Americans reject conservative Christian values, the Tea Party has campaigned on fighting personal taxes, the federal debt and the “tyranny” of Washington.
Nevertheless, the Tea Party’s appeal to traditional Christian values, its unstated secret agenda, was publicly exposed by the O'Donnell and Paladino revelations. At the heart of this unstated agenda are white Christian America’s deep-seated fears of sex, race and interracial "pollution."
* * *
The sex-poses at the heart of the O'Donnell and Paladino campaigns are not isolated occurrences. As a “grassroots” movement, innumerable local Tea Party political leaders have been exposed in a variety of sex scandals and questionable practices. A handful of these are illustrative:
In South Carolina in the wake of the Gov. Sanford scandal, a conservative blogger, Will Folks, revealed "several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki [Haley]." Haley immediately responded, "I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage." The revelation came out amidst a hard fought Republican primary that she won.
In Ohio, the Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Eric Deaton, was indicted for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor at the end of August.
Also in Ohio, State Senator Kevin Coughlin, a Tea Party die-hard from Akron, was outed for his affair with a fellow Republican while his wife was pregnant.
In Indiana, Rep. Mark Souder resigned his seat from the 3rd District that he held since 1994 over an illicit affair. He was a true-blue conservative Republican with an A-plus standing with the National Rifle Association and 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Without referring to the unstated affair that drove him from office, Souder pathetically proclaimed, "I am so ashamed to hurt those I love."
The movement, drawing upon its more libertarian stains, has sought to impose restraint on its most reactionary tendencies:
In Montana, the Big Sky Tea Party Association fired its leader, Tim Ravndal, over the homophobic comments he made. Referring to homosexuals as “fruits,” Rayndal insisted that he did not imply an anti-gay intention. This issue is particularly sensitive in Montana due to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Nevertheless, Rayndal opposed a Helena sex education proposal to teach gender tolerance.
In Florida, Everett Wilkinson, state director of the Tea Party Patriots, took a neutral position on gay marriage: "On [this] issue itself, we have no stance, but any time a state's rights or powers are encouraged over the federal government, it is a good thing." He is following the position advocated by Bob Barr, a former Republican Georgia congressman who wrote the original Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), who is a strong Tea Party proponent and a fierce libertarian who now opposes DOMA.
Nevertheless, the Tea Party’s inherent fear of sex is always close to the surface. Earlier this year, Scott Southworth, the DA from Juneau County, WS, and a strong Tea Party backer, warned local teachers that if they used a new state sex ed course they could be committing a crime and serve up to six years in prison. He found particularly objectionable sexual relations between two consenting adolescents, often referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” affairs, that, according to state law, he considered incidents of sexual assault.
* * *
Race, and particularly interracial sex and procreation, is the other unstated, hot-button issue that galvanizes the Tea Party movement. Demographic profiles depict the movement as a predominately middle-aged and older white constituency, often from smaller towns and cities throughout heartland America.
Unstated, their lives have been uprooted by capitalist globalization and they are desperately clinging to post-WWII white skin privileges that assured them the benefits of a “middle-class” life. A half-century later, capitalism has betrayed them; sadly, they refuse to acknowledge it, instead blaming liberals, immigrants and a world beyond their control. The promotion of false consciousness is corporate media’s principal responsibility.
Since Obama’s 2008 election, Congressional Republicans have engaged in a systematic campaign to block nearly all Obama and Democratic legislative initiatives that would redress the Bush-era fiscal and social crisis. This do-nothing effort has been extremely effective, making all Americans suffer while the rich have prospered and the corporate media obfuscated accountability.
Over the last two years, white, rightwing Christian activists, along with their political shills and media pundits, have rallied to the Tea Party. During this process, a mean-spirited constituency emerged that voices insulating and defamatory comments about the President as well as other black, Hispanic and (Middle-Eastern) Muslim Americans. These statements range from snide depictions of the President and his wife as in the Paladino emails to the belief among some 20 percent of the population that the President is a Muslim or not an American. These comments are not only provocative, but serve a political purpose of galvanizing discontent among a growing segment of older, working- and middle-class white Americans. This movement represents a neo-fascist propensity toward political tyranny.
Race and sex have divided the New World since its founding four centuries ago. Few recall that the first interracial marriage took on April 5, 1614, when Pocahontas, a Powhatan woman and reputed daughter of Chief Powhatan, married the Englishman John Rolfe near Jamestown, VA. Since then, fear about the “pollution” of the nation’s white “stock” has haunted American politics. It underscored the belief in America’s “manifest destiny” as an imperialist power; it framed the pseudo-science of eugenics that lead to a 1927 Supreme Court decision that legalized the sterilization of 60,000 Americans for feeblemindedness; and it inflamed the Klan, fueling its terror and lynching campaigns as well as ‘60s racists.
The great white fear of interracial “pollution” has found is most acute expression with Obama’s president. He is the offspring of not simply an interracial relationship, but an international coupling as well. He is the child of 21st century globalization, the symbolic representation of a hope for a world without boarders, without race prejudice, without white privilege.
In the face of today’s widespread sexual and racial “pollution,” those aligned with the Tea Party are fearful, furious. They are desperately holding onto a fictitious past. They worry that America is becoming a mongrel nation and that their privileged status is vanishing. However unstated, unconscious, there fears might be, Tea Party candidates O'Donnell and Paladino speak to a collective prejudice shared by many Americans. It is fear anchored in 19th century notions of nationhood, racial purity and imperial conquest. It is a prejudice that violates the spirit of what is the great hope of America.