Since the Tea Party exploded onto the political scene a few years ago, critics have derided it as a movement full of racists. This is a bizarre notion, since the Tea Party originally began in response to the bank bailouts of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). As you might remember, this bill was passed under President George W. Bush, not President Barack Obama.
Still, the claim is repeated often enough and fervently enough that many Americans believe it to be true. I frequent a lot of liberal and leftist message boards, and whenever the topic of the Tea Party comes up, the most common label given to it is “racist.” It’s a simple, convenient way to “otherize” conservatives. If they’re all a bunch of racists, why should we bother listening to their political philosophy and policy ideas? Modern Americans consider racism a moral failing of the worst kind, and understandably so.
Of course, the fundamental problem with this labeling is that it’s false. The Tea Party isn’t racist. To understand why that’s the case, you have to understand what the Tea Party is, and what it isn’t. The Tea Party is a movement unified on exactly two issues: fiscal conservatism and constitutionally limited government. Are there social conservatives in the movement? Sure. What about libertarians? Absolutely. Racists? Unfortunately, yes.
The Tea Party isn’t a political party, and it doesn’t have an all-encompassing platform. The movement isn’t unified on social issues, foreign policy, or race-related issues. It’s a movement of Americans with widely diverging views on every topic other than fiscal policy and the Constitution. So, are there racists in the Tea Party? Yes. Is the Tea Party racist? No.
As I mentioned before, the initial outrage that sparked the Tea Party came under President Bush, not President Obama, so there’s no reason to believe that race played a role in the early protests. Later on, liberal critics of the movement gleefully highlighted posters that started to appear at Tea Party protests depicting President Obama with a Hitler mustache, or worse. What those critics failed to acknowledge was that the vast majority of those posters were carried by Lyndon LaRouche fanatics, not tea partiers.
If you’re unfamiliar with LaRouche, be glad. A long-time political activist and conspiracy theorist, he ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination seven times, and the U.S. Labor Party’s presidential nomination once. A convicted felon, his political career began in the 1970s and continues today. Over time, a strange sort of political cult has sprung up around him, one that’s centered around his personal charisma, conspiracy theories, and bizarre policy solutions.
While the LaRouche movement has never been very large, it has been active for decades. Some of his followers tried to co-opt Tea Party protests and events in order to win new converts and to garner free media attention for their movement. Although LaRouche’s followers mostly failed on both accounts, they did succeed in associating the Obama/Hitler posters with the Tea Party in the public eye. This is an unfair association, and it resulted in many of the accusations of racism against the Tea Party.
With that said, some of the liberal critics of the Tea Party have acknowledged that overt racists comprise a tiny fraction of tea partiers. However, they insist that the Tea Party’s fiscal conservatism itself is a means of subtle racism. Since heavy spending cuts will require government to lower welfare spending and significantly change entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, critics believe that tea partiers want to balance the federal government’s budget on the backs of the poor, particularly African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Instead, they would rather slash the defense budget and enact something along the lines of the Buffett rule to raise taxes on the wealthy.
However, these “solutions” aren’t really practical means of reining in the deficit and debt. The Buffett rule would raise less than $50 billion over the next decade, which is a drop in the bucket compared to our annual trillion-dollar deficits. As for the defense budget, it’s indeed very large. Many tea partiers believe that there’s ample room to cut the defense budget, but defense cuts alone won’t make up for annual trillion-dollar deficits, either.
Besides, the defense budget has remained relatively stable over time, particularly as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. The coming debt crisis is a result of enormous growth in entitlement spending, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. In order to seriously address the deficit and debt, we must focus on reforming entitlement programs.
Consider this from another angle: If we don’t reform entitlements and bring the deficit and debt under control now, then the federal government will go bankrupt before long. Think about the harsh austerity Greece is undergoing today, and that’s with bailouts by the European Union. If the United States goes bankrupt, who bails us out? Who could, and who would? It’s better for us to accept painful cuts now than devastating cuts later.
And what if we tried to use the printing press to escape the debt crisis? Massive money printing would rapidly lead to serious inflation, if not hyperinflation. Inflation is a de facto hidden tax on the poor, and it would cause widespread economic devastation as well, which would harm the poor and the middle-class more than the wealthy. Taxes on the rich, defense cuts, and money printing will do little to help us avert national bankruptcy. Only serious spending cuts and entitlement reform can prevent it, and the Tea Party understand that.
The Tea Party isn’t a racist movement. It’s time for the media and for the left to acknowledge that and to stop using the label of “racism” as a crutch to dismiss opposing views. It’s time for them to deal with the political philosophy and the ideas of conservatives and the Tea Party movement on their own merits.