TNR Editor: Tea Parties Aren't Racist

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Issues of race and racism are a well-worn feature of the media narrative about the Tea Party. Liberal pundits in particular jump at the chance to highlight the Tea Party's pale complexion.

But John B. Judis, longtime editor of The New Republic, stands apart from his liberal comrades-in-blog. After publishing a thoughtful analysis of the Tea Party in May, Judis follows up online to explain why "the Tea Party movement isn't racist." He responds to criticism that he skipped over the movement's "profound racism" by arguing that "several nuts and a handful of egregious signs ... don’t prove that a political movement is being driven by racism." Judis meticulously explains the distinction:
There have been organizations in America fueled primarily or entirely by racism—by hostility to blacks as blacks or by opposition to, and rejection of, racial equality. ... Then, there have been covertly racist movements like those around the presidential candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Leaders of these movements may insist they are not really racists, but are merely worried about “states' rights,” or the power of “pointy-headed bureaucrats”... Then, there is a third category that is more difficult to assess. It consists of movements that include overt racists, but that do not make explicitly racial appeals and whose leaders, as well as many of its members, strongly deny that they are motivated by race. Still, there are undertones in concerns about “law and order” or “welfare queens.”
It's this last category, he suggests, that best describes the Tea Parties:

People who insist that racism is the driving force behind the Tea Party movement reduce these movements to their racial undertones. These theorists and commentators, who are primarily on the left, are wedded to a monocausal model of American conservatism—based on race rather than class. There are two obvious objections to such a model. First, there are many people in the Tea Party movement who don’t exhibit racial resentment...Secondly, even the opinions of people who might score high on the psychologists’ racial resentment indices are not necessarily dictated by their racial views.

Anticipating backlash from liberals, Judis ends with a slight caveat. If Tea Partiers gained control of the government, he admits, their radical libertarianism would "undermine what exists of the great American community." Yet, he says, "it’s very possible to believe that the Tea Party is not the latest manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens’ Councils—while still believing that it is a terrible menace, nonetheless."
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