3 Ways Racism Still Drives the Tea Party's Efforts to Destroy President Obama
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As Michael Lind has compelling argued, the Tea Party movement is the latest echo of the Southern Confederacy. In all, they are neo-Secessionists whose language of “States Rights’,” “nullification” and “Second Amendment remedies” hearkens back to that of the old Confederacy. The federal government is viewed with deep hostility, and they are heirs to a political tradition that views the preservation of Jim Crow segregation in the name of “States’ Rights” as more important than civil rights for black Americans.
Tea Party representatives such as Rand Paul have echoed this suspicion of the civil rights laws which brought down Jim Crow; the Tea Party faithful have made repeated efforts to (quite literally) white wash the U.S. history curricula of the Arizona and Texas school systems; and in their creative reimagining of the U.S. Constitution, the Tea Party GOP has conveniently removed all of the “bad parts” (i.e. references to slavery) as a function of a feigned and convenient “colorblindness” that actively avoids the full complexity of the country’s past and present.
In keeping with their oversimplification and flattening of history, even the Tea Party’s Revolutionary War era costumes and histrionic railings against a “tyrannical government” speak to an embrace of Lost Cause ideology. Not coincidentally, the Confederacy also embraced the same symbolism, and imagined themselves as the true heirs to the founding fathers, the real champions of the U.S. Constitution.
The Second Element: The Politics of White Racial Resentment are Central to the Republican Party’s Electoral Strategy
The Republican Party has skillfully used race as a political wedge issue for decades. The Nixon Administration ushered in the Southern Strategy with its twin tactics of leveraging white fears of black Americans, and nurturing a white backlash against The Civil Rights Movement. This strategy of mining social and cultural difference, and ginning up white racial anxiety to advance policy goals, remains central to the Republican playbook in the 21st century.
As a counter to the big tent strategy of the Democratic Party, the Republicans were able to use “States’ Rights” (a racist dog whistle famously used by Ronald Reagan in his notorious speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi), as well as “The Culture War” narrative to flip the South to their party. The Southern Democrats, once a separate faction in the Democratic Party, are now an indispensable part of the Republican Party’s electoral coalition.
The Tea Party is a natural outgrowth of the Culture War, the ethos of the Solid South, and the Republican Party’s full-on embrace of the politics of racial resentment. The election of the country’s first Black President gave freedom and voice to the worst anti-government and paranoid impulses of that coalition. Once fit only for late night talk radio and the Internet, in the Age of Obama, the conspiracies and crazy talk that existed only on the fringes of American politics are now legitimated and given currency in mainstream Conservative thought.
The Tea Party GOP’s embrace of the bizarre—be it Birtherism or that the President is a closet Muslim Manchurian candidate Socialist who hates America—is given purchase and traction by a deep racial paranoia towards the very personhood of Barack Obama. They see him as de facto outside of the American experience. Thus, Barack Obama is not a “real” American. By implication, he is unfit to lead the country.
Conservatives in America have also skillfully manipulated language in order to limit the ways that public policy is discussed. For example, once a proud and noble political label, “liberal” has been transformed into a slur by Conservatives. The language of race has been similarly reframed. Phrases such as “reverse racism” and “playing the race card” have been ushered by the Right into our collective vocabulary. This language puts the onus on victims of racism, and removes the legitimacy of their justice claims. The Conservative cooptation of “colorblindness” has also created an environment where to even identify racist behavior, and make a critical intervention against it, is now framed as an act of “racism.”