Is the Tea Party Racist?
That liberals do not know these things points to the heart of the problem. Since liberals control the American education establishment, and nearly all of the major news organizations, conservatives generally are better educated in liberal ways of thinking than liberals are in conservative ways of thinking. How many of us, in high school or college, heard thorough, eloquent, and charitable defenses of conservative theories of society, economy, and government? The faculties at major universities and the staffs at major news organizations are overwhelmingly liberal. This has not served our country well. Liberals in general get their views of "conservatism" second-hand through liberal caricatures, and this has made them better able to demonize conservatives than understand them.
Even among educated liberals, few have more than a single-layered view of conservatism. They may know the conservative argument superficially, and they are armed with their own objections, but they are ignorant of how conservatives would respond to their objections. This is worse than knowing nothing at all, as it gives liberals the false impression that they have addressed and defeated conservatism. Yet they have only conquered a Potemkin village, where the people are thin and false.
But the problem is not merely ignorance. Liberals are also alienated from core conservative values. Liberals are trained to believe that many of the traditional American ideals and values that conservatives inherit in their families and churches are cruel and intolerant, imperialistic, and implicitly racist, sexist, and classist. They are trained, for instance, not to be motivated by patriotism and American exceptionalism, but by an ideal of world citizenship and parity.
Liberals consistently misinterpret what motivates conservatives because they really cannot see the world from the conservative perspective. Liberals cannot imagine that Tea Partiers are really motivated by concern for their country, and by frustration with a White House hemorrhaging red ink and a government less concerned to represent the interests of the citizenry than to pay off the special interests that fund their campaigns.
Thus, the Theory of the Missing Motive applies. Unable to see a rational and noble motive at the center of the Tea Party movement, liberals supply a darker and more convenient motive instead. Just as ancient cartographers wrote "there be dragons here" beyond the bounds of the world they knew, so liberals write "there be racism here" because the mind of the Tea Partier is undiscovered country in their map of the world. The Tea Party cannot be rationally and nobly motivated, the liberal believes, because the Tea Partiers are not rational and noble.
In other words, the problem is not that liberals dislike the principles promoted at Tea Party rallies. Most do not understand those principles. The problem is that liberals dislike the kind of people who go to Tea Party rallies.
Long before liberals rejected the placards, they rejected the people holding them.
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.