Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Leonce Gaiter Headshot

Tea Partiers Battle Racism Claims -- Far Too Late

Posted: Updated:

About 39 percent of Republicans think Obama should be impeached, and 29 percent aren't sure. This might be because 63 percent think he's a socialist, and only 42 percent think he was born in the United States.

- Ezra Klein, Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2010

It's not true that... all Republicans are racists. That would be silly and wrong. But nowadays, if you are racist, you're probably a Republican. And that is quite different."

- Bill Maher

The Washington Post headline read "Tea Partiers Battle Racism Claims." It will be a tall order for the Tea Party to free itself from a taint that lurks in its very DNA. The Tea Party isn't the issue; the brand of conservatism from which it springs is.

According to a CBS News/NY Times poll, tea partiers "hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as "very conservative"..."

Tea Partiers are desperate to "preserve" and "take back" America (from whom or what is the great wink and nudge). Meanwhile, elsewhere in modern conservatism, the Governor of Virginia declares his admiration for the Confederate cause (of white supremacy, one supposes). RNC Chairman Michael Steele, flim-flam man extraordinaire whom I hope is fleecing Republicans to the tune of millions, declares that Republicans have been dining out on race hatred for 40 years. The Arizona legislature declares brown skin "reasonable suspicion." Obviously, the problem did not begin with, and does not stop at the Tea Party.

Acceptance and support of the concept of white supremacy has been the cushion beneath modern conservatism's great white rump since its founding. William F. Buckley, the father of modern conservatism, launched the movement's house organ, the National Review, in 1955. In a 1957 editorial he infamously wrote:

The central question that emerges--and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal--is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes--the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. ...

National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way; and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

He glibly declares a society that would deny its own ideals in order to denigrate a people to be culturally "advanced." It never occurs to him that true atavism is to deny supposedly God-given rights (he was a Christian) to an entire swath of the population because they do not share his hue. Ironically, Buckley declares himself and white men advanced through embracing the abject primitivism of white tribalism.

Buckley was attempting to re-enshrine what had been taken for granted and which was suddenly under threat: that Americanism and whiteness were synonymous, the same attitude that compels today's "birthers," desperate to deny Obama's Americanness, and thus his legitimacy as President. McClatchy reported on a Field Poll:

Those who identify strongly with tea partiers are not at all sure about the president's true nation of origin. "It's an interesting phenomenon that they are not only rebelling against the growth and size of government, but they are actually questioning the authority of the president," said poll director Mark DiCamillo."

Trace this confusion of whiteness and Americanism back to modern conservatism's infancy. Buckley did not support stripping equal rights from white "undesirables." His was not elitism based on merit or "individualism." It was not defense against government intrusion. The greatest government intrusion was its collusion in stripping some citizens of the full benefit of the rights guaranteed them by law. But the victims of this grotesque government overreach were black, and so this brand of overreach did not signify. However, the government forcing a southern merchant to serve blacks--that was was truly menacing--Big Brother at work.

Lizard-brained tribalism, pure and simple, but in Buckley, all gussied up for a Georgetown dinner party.

And the band plays on. Civil Rights legislation ran Southern conservatives into the open arms of the Republican Party, where they have settled in like grannies in their comfy chairs. In 1981 the late Lee Atwater described the Republican Southern Strategy:

''You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

''And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me -- because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'''

In 1980 Ronald Reagan opened his presidential campaign with a speech praising "states' rights." He gave the speech near Philadelphia Mississippi, the site where three Civil Rights workers were murdered for that cause. Those who call it happenstance suggest that their leader was a blithering fool.

In 2005, Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman again admitted to the Southern Strategy and apologized for it. "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization," he said. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."

In 2010, current RNC Chair Michael Steele said, "For the last 40-plus years we had a 'Southern Strategy' that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South."

With the passing decades, new admissions, refreshed evidence, yet we still pretend it's news that white tribalism and modern conservatism have been linked from the git-go.

Tea partiers believe that if they can just keep the "n-word" off their followers' lips while the cameras whirr, all will be well. Think again. White tribalism is the conservative movement's congenital soul sickness. Remember Trent Lott in 2006?

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't of had all these problems over all these years, either.

Strom Thurmond ran as a segregationist Dixiecrat.

Libertarian Ron Paul's newsletters ran racist rants during the 90s.

Rush Limbaugh is often called the unofficial leader of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. It requires a lengthy web pages to catalog his endless forays into white tribalism and outright race hatred.

Denying the long-standing link between white tribalism and conservatism may be "politically correct" within the DC bubble where press and politicians mingle and spit-shine each others' images, but denial is the opposite of truth.

There have been decades of conservative and Republican apologies and mea culpas regarding the exploitation of racism for political gain. For decades, conservatives have "battled" the impression that they provide willing shelter for white supremacist outlooks. But evidence suggests that the movement has been less than serious about freeing itself from them.

After all this time, I suppose we'll just have to regard conservatism as unusually kind hearted. It's like a hotel that shelters the homeless in its lobby on cold, winter nights. They do it because if they did not, the racists would simply have no place else to go.