Howard Dean: Tea Party 'Has Trouble With Diversity'

01/05/2011 12:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Wednesday that the Tea Party's rise to political potency has been driven by the movement's older, white members who are both fearful of and resistant to growing diversity in the United States, a trend defined most visibly by the election of the first black president.

The Hotline reported on Dean's comments, made Wednesday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters:

"I think it's the last gasp of the 55-year-old generation ... a group of older folks who've seen their lives change dramatically,'' he said. "The country is not the same ... and all of a sudden it's here for them and they don't know what to do. ... Every morning when they see the president they are reminded that things are totally different than they were when they were born and I think that has a lot to do with it."

"Economic uncertainty fuels this but this is the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity,'' Dean added. "The tea party is almost entirely over 55 and white, and the country has changed dramatically as a result of what happened in 2008 and it's not going back. Every day that goes on, the demographic change continues, and that's what a lot of this is about."

Dean has made a string of similar statements during the past year. He's upset some conservatives, who say he's implied that the Tea Party is motivated primarily by racism.

"People see that the country is being run by different people who are not like them," Dean told Yale students last year of the rise of the Tea Party, before reiterating that racism was only prevalent in a small fringe of the movement.

In September, Politico reported reported on a similar Dean statement regarding the conservative faction.

"I don't think they are all racists," explained Dean, who clashed with Democratic party leaders -- including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel -- over his "50 State Strategy" geared at tapping grass-roots Democratic activists in deep-red Republican districts. But "if you look at the tea party, they are all people of my complexion and my age. ... there are a lot of people who are my age and my color who can't get their arms around the idea that this country is going to look like California in 40 years in that there's not going to be a [white] majority. ... That is a very hard pill to swallow if you are an American who is my age. That is a swirling issue that nobody wants to talk about."

During a November talk at Vanderbilt University, Dean attributed the Tea Party's momentum to "discomfort with the demographic shift going on in this country," a factor that he said would ensure that the movement wouldn't appeal to younger, more tolerant members.

Suggest a correction