Last night I read a bit of Parker and Barreto’s Change They Can’t Believe In. It looks at the Tea Party movement from a political science standpoint. It is a dense book and I’ve only read a small amount of it. But the base conclusion is that what makes the Tea Party movement distinct is a shared racial animosity—specifically toward President Obama. This isn’t to say that all Tea Party members are racist. But what distinguishes the group from a conservative who does not associate himself with it is racism.
This conclusion is freeing. I’ve long felt that the base of Republican appeal was racism. A very large percentage of those who vote Republican do so not because of the policies that politicians talk about, but rather because it is understood they favor policies that will do the “right” thing, “Screw the darkies!” And look at who is in the Tea Party. Mostly it is older white people who directly benefit from the two most costly government programs: Social Security and Medicare. So clearly they aren’t for small government except in the sense that they define it as ending programs for the poor, who they see as our darker skinned neighbors.
The conclusion also explains something that has long bothered me. Why is Rand Paul a star of the Tea Party? After all, he’s an isolationist who wants to gut the military. Most people in the Tea Party are freakishly pro-military. They want a strong military, a strong dollar, and a strong rendition of “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag” at all sporting events! But again: that’s true of all conservatives. So in that regard, Rand Paul is outside the mainstream of conservatism, including the Tea Party. So why is he a Tea Party favorite?
Two words: states’ rights. According to himself, Rand Paul doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He also claims that he thinks racism is a terrible business strategy. But he thinks that people ought to be allowed to discriminate against different races in their businesses. And he thinks that the federal government should have very little power. The power should be yielded to the states. From a racists’ perspective, it doesn’t matter what Rand Paul actually believes, although they surely think he too is a racist, but just can’t come right out and say it because of all the political correctness around. His belief in “states’ rights” means that Mississippi can go back to the good old days when it was almost impossible for blacks to vote.
Now I know that Paul would say he is against that. But there are lots of ways that a state can stop a group of people from voting without passing a law that says “blacks can’t vote.” We saw this in the past with poll taxes and “literacy” tests. And we are seeing it today with voter ID laws. But the senator doesn’t see a problem with these laws. At best, this represents willful ignorance.
So the Tea Party movement is distinct and should be called something like the “racist conservative party.” And Rand Paul is at least an apologist for racism. So he may be an apostate of the conservative movement in many ways. But in the one way that matters, Rand Paul is right in line with the Tea Party movement.
Even when I considered myself a libertarian, I didn’t understand the “states’ rights” people. What does it matter if the federal government doesn’t oppress you if the state government does? And if you look at history, the states are far more likely to behave badly than the federal government. Libertarians often claim, “Well, you can move to a different state!” And that’s libertarianism all over: if you are wealthy you’ll be fine. There’s nothing like a political movement that is dedicated to afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable. Good job guys!