Is the Tea Party Racist?
If there were a higher percentage of racists at Tea Party rallies than in the general populace, would this mean the movement is racist? To answer yes is to confuse correlation with causation. Even a movement that has nothing to do with a particular -ism may arise among or appeal to a constituency in which that -ism happens to be more common. The vegan movement may, due to its history and location and demographics and even the set of beliefs associated with it, have a higher than usual percentage of anti-semites, yet this would not make veganism anti-semitic.
If some participate in the Tea Party with racist motives, perhaps because they loathe the thought of an African-American President, would this make the movement racist? Again, the answer is no. The human psyche is a complicated wreck, and when millions of people participate in a movement they will do so for a thousand different reasons. Any protest against President Obama, even if it were a protest against the continuation of the Afghanistan war, will provide an occasion for racists who seek to oppose Obama for any reason whatsoever.
Photos of rally placards are also used in a more subtle way to argue that the protestors are simply so angry and so exaggerated in their criticisms that they must be driven by racist impulses. Yet anyone who believes that the Tea Party protests are uniquely angry or offensive, or filled with Nazi comparisons and allusions to violence against the President, should take a stroll down memory lane in Bush-Hitlerville -- where "Kill Bush" shirts can be purchased alongside bumper stickers with nooses and signs of Bush beheaded; where you can take your family to visit a guillotine with a decapitated Bush at an Obama rally; where you can entertain yourselves by burning Bush effigies or watching "Death of a President" or making assassination threats on YouTube with your children; and where everyone from Nobel Peace Prize winners to Democratic governors and Presidential candidates speak openly of killing the President. Here are samplers of the anti-Bush signs merely from San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The mainstream media largely ignored the hateful rhetoric directed against President Bush, and waxed lyrical over the protestors. Now they fret over the "seething anger" of these "very angry," "rabid," "outraged" Tea Party protestors, and warn that those who encourage the Tea Party are making "sweet music to the ears of Lee Harvey Oswald wannabes."
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.