Tea Party channels the Confederacy with reactionary rhetoric
By Melissa Harris-Lacewell
Monday evening I joined Chris Matthews on Hardball on MSNBC for a conversation with Tea Party organizer Dana Loesch. We discussed the Sunday NY Times editorial by Frank Rich, which suggested that the fury over the health care reform bill was prompted more by white anxiety about an increasingly diverse American society, than it was rooted in substantive criticism of the bill.
I want to follow up with some points that may have gotten lost in the cross-talk.
It is difficult and inaccurate to claim that either racism or substantive policy concerns underlie the Tea Party protests. Either or thinking lets us forget that racial anxiety in America is always intimately tied to our language about policy and rights. They are not separate matters.
We do not have a magical magnifying glass that can look into the hearts of protesters to determine what motivates their behavior. Instead we have to try to understand social movement organizing within its larger context.
Tea Party activists have asked us to see their movement as akin to the movement of Revolutionary War patriots who were throwing off the bonds of an imperial monarchy. I believe their movement looks much more like the behavior of confederates who seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War and to the behavior of those same defeated Confederates who instigated a reign of terror in the South when they lost the Civil War.
After all, President Barack Obama is no monarch sitting on a throne and taxing hapless colonists. He and the Democratic majority in Congress were duly elected in a democratic election that included one of the largest and most diverse voting publics in American history. How exactly is this like the Revolutionary War?
I understand that no one wants to be called a racist. I also believe that we should not use the racism label as a way of refusing to listen to the dissenting interests of political minorities. But let me also say this, if your movement is concentrated in the states of the former confederacy; if your movement uses state’s rights language; if members of your movement hurl racial epithets at black office holders; and if your movement is more than 88 percent white in a country that is increasingly racially and ethnically diverse; then you must expect that some people will charge the movement with racism. And you should also be willing to think about how the movement creates racial bias and unrest even if it does so unwittingly.
Oh yes, I also mentioned a book on the show titled The Authoritarian Dynamic by Karen Stenner. I’ve mentioned this book before because I believe it has great insight into the political angst that we are currently witnessing in America. It is worth reading.