HomeAmerican ExceptionalismBill Maher vs Bill Kristol: Is the Tea Party Racist?

During a Facebook conversation in the wake of Bill Kristol’s appearance on Bill Maher, one of my Frisbee buddies liked my take on the Tea Party.

I reposted it on Bill Maher’s page.

I think it’s a huge mistake to dismiss the Tea Party as bunch of racist buffoons. It may be easy to get a laugh by playing on caricatures of demon racists, but you overlook the real meaning and threats of the movement when you do so.

There’s no denying that racist buffoons have appeared under the Tea Party tent. So have scores of Bible-thumping fanatics who think they smell a choir. And so have legions of astro-turfed recruits, fooled into service by the likes of Karl Rove’s acolytes at Fox, by the Heritage Foundation, by the Koch Brothers, and by others, in service of particular material interests.

But I’m most concerned about driving ideology of the people who constitute the crowd at the center pole. This is the axis around which the fellow travelers orbit. My view is that the hardcore Tea Party ideology is especially attractive to people who place their own personal sovereignty above all else. They see no virtue in balancing personal sovereignty with a national commitment to affirmative social justice. Though they love to wave flags and chant “America,” they are utterly alienated from Americans. This is because they reject the notion that any lasting good can be achieved through concerted efforts to build good things.

Ben Franklin offered us, “a republic, if we can keep it.” The Tea Party would have us abandon the pursuit of a republic… a word which means “a thing of the people.” These are people who insist on being able to do their own thing, untaxed (literally untouched) by government, and therefore free of any shared obligation to contribute to the well-being of their fellow citizens.

I’d add that I think it’s very uncool to call someone a racist when they’re not. So, I how do I get Bill Maher to read this?



A friend of mine like the comment, and created a separate Facebook thread about it, which went on for a while.  I’m cutting and pasting some of my comments from it here.


From time to time I read up on the woman many consider to be the spark of the Tea Party movement… Liberty Belle at http://redistributingknowledge.blogspot.com/ . I’ve been unsuccessfully digging for the original video where, as I recall, at a townhall meeting she dares her congressman to take a $10 from her to pay for someone else’s health care.

I reject the liberal caricature of Tea Partiers as racists who are motivated first of all by opposition to a black President. I think it’s a horrible thing to call people racists when they’re not, and to tag the whole movement as racist because of a few outliers. (If Tea Partiers can be said to “hate” anyone as a class, it’s shirkers they despise most of all.)

It’s also clear to me that when most Tea Party supporters wake up in the morning, they think of themselves as people who “want a better America.” But I also recognize that their core idea of a better America is fundamentally different than mine. Yes, limited government is an honorable part of the American tradition, and a relatively high degree of forbearance can often be a boon to general prosperity. But my point is that Tea Party ideology crosses the line… the level of forbearance they clearly want would lead this country toward social collapse. Where I would want to make government work better, and serve the public better, they would eliminate it, leaving everyone bereft and alone to fend for themselves.

The original Tea Party used the slogan “No taxation without representation,” not “No taxation.” This version would clearly prefer vanishingly small levels of taxation… far far less than the relatively low level we have right now. It’s an attitude that announces, “If you picked the wrong parents who can’t provide education and health care, or if you were born in a place that lacks a modern, well-functioning infrastructure, that’s your mistake, because no other American should be obliged to help make up for it.”

Someone asked about a leftwing version of the tea Party, and I added this [plus some clarifications],


The Occupy movement seemed like the obvious candidate at first, but there are some big differences. Organizationally, Occupy fizzled out, whereas the Tea Party brand was largely (but not entirely) embraced and co-opted by well-financed GOP and corporate players. Where the Tea Party matched up well with the GOP mainstream’s “Party of No” Obama-blocking tactics, Occupy seemed more focused on getting people to [look at] how “the game is rigged” by Dems and GOP alike. Game-rigging [“crony capitalism” in the right’s lexicon] is also an important concern at the libertarian core of the Tea Party, but criticizing the increasingly endemic inequality that results is off limits in their circles. So the movement devolved into a battle over anti-tax, DC-hating purity. That’s why the GOP is splitting now. Lots of the folks on the hardcore right resent that co-opters such as Karl Rove were still in charge after the 2010 Tea Party victories in taking over so many seats in the House of Representatives… Nominating Romney made it look to them like the new boss is the same as the old boss. For true believer Tea Partiers like Erik Erickson, shutting down the government is what the government deserves, and any Republican who thinks otherwise is a RINO. 


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