Is the Tea Party Racist?
Other polls fall even shorter of the mark. Much was made, for instance, of a result in the New York Times/CBS poll that 52 percent of Tea Party supporters felt "too much" had been made recently of problems facing black people. Yet the 73 percent of Tea Partiers who believe that blacks and whites enjoy equal opportunities in America today will be inclined to view affirmative action policies, not to mention rabble-rousing from the likes of Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright, as unnecessary and excessive.
Again, the swiftness with which liberals infer racism, on the basis of evidence that is dubious at best, confirms that liberals were inclined to view Tea Partiers as racist from the start. The reason Jim Wallis claims "there is something wrong" with a mostly-white political movement "like the Tea Party," but does not infer racism amongst the environmental movement -- where "green" activists are even more "overwhelmingly white" in spite of decades of effort to change the fact -- is because the Tea Partiers are white conservatives who listen to country music and enjoy talk radio. Even if the "witch doctor" placards had never been printed, and the WISER study had never been conducted, liberals would have believed the movement racist anyway.
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So much for the elaborate efforts on the part of liberals to justify positions already held. Why do they believe from the beginning that a gathering "like the Tea Party" is racist?
A clue can be found in a common liberal retort: If the movement is not racist, then why did it only arise after America elected a black man to the White House? Why did these supposed fiscal conservatives not protest the deficit during the Bush years? There are two glaring problems with this response.
First, the deficit spending of the Obama administration is vastly greater than what we witnessed during the Bush years. Even in the midst of the financial meltdown, the Bush administration sought one-time expenditures, and many conservatives were convinced that extraordinary measures might be necessary. This does not begin to compare with the Obama budget plans, which envision trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, or the mountains beyond mountains of debt that will follow from Medicare reform and cap and trade. It is entirely natural that those who grumbled and protested when Bush overspent would shout and march when a new administration presides over the most immense expansion of federal power and bureaucracy that this country has seen for generations.
Yet the second problem is more important: conservatives did protest the big-government spending habits of the Bush administration. Most conservatives loathed the Medicare expansion. The very same FreedomWorks that has thrown its weight behind the Tea Party movement pushed hard to "Stop the Wall Street Bailout" in late 2008, for exactly the same reasons that Tea Partiers now oppose much of the Obama agenda. The Heritage Foundation also objected that TARP exceeded the enumerated authorities given the federal government in the constitution.
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.