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Black Tea

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If Tea Party supporters are racist, why is Herman Cain generating such excitement?

The liberal line of attack on the Tea Party movement that has gained the most traction is that it opposes President Obama because of his skin color, not his policies. The movement is, in the mind of many in the Democratic Party and liberal organizations, rooted in a fundamentally racist view of America and of the president.

This charge is conventional wisdom for many in the media. Former NPR fund-raising executive Ron Schiller denounced the Tea Party movement to undercover conservative activists posing as Muslim financiers: “I mean, basically they ... believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.”

The NAACP passed a resolution, later walked back, denouncing "racist elements" within the Tea Party movement. The resolution accused Tea Party supporters of holding signs “intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically" and called "the racist elements" within the movement "a threat to progress."

The NAACP passed a resolution denouncing ‘racist elements’ within the Tea Party movement.

David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank that explores issues of concern to minority communities, contends that Tea Party supporters “know they can't use any overtly racist language. So they use coded language,” calling the president socialist or attacking his perceived tendency to apologize for American actions overseas.

A new book by veteran White House reporter Kenneth Walsh recounts an episode in which President Obama himself insinuated there was an underlying racism in the movement. At a private White House dinner last May, Obama suggested there was a racially motivated “subterranean agenda” behind Tea Party opposition to his policies.

The Left loves to hurl the racist label at those who stand in the way of their policies and candidates.

Then why is Herman Cain, a conservative black businessman and radio host from Georgia, generating such excitement among the very people maligned as angry white racists? In a recent national Gallup poll of Republican and Republican-leaning Independents, Cain beat out Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, and Tim Pawlenty. Cain did even better among respondents further on the right, tying Newt Gingrich among self-identified conservatives with 10 percent.

The buzz around Cain, even if he is still not being treated by most as a serious candidate, is rather resounding evidence that the grassroots anti-Obama movement is about ideas and the future of the country, not race; and that the Left loves to hurl the racist label at those who stand in the way of their policies and candidates (see the commentators who bent over backwards to call John McCain racist for his “celebrity” campaign ad and the charges that Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” outburst at the State of the Union address played on stereotypes about blacks).

The idea one must be racist to oppose Obama’s policies is cheap and intellectually feeble.

Cain himself is challenging these perceptions head on. His new campaign video features black supporters prominently, and Cain paints his conservatism and campaign as true racial progress in the United States. "I left that Democrat plantation a long time ago,” he declares, “and I ain't going back!” Later in the video, Cain says proudly, “My great-great grandparents were slaves, and now I'm running for president ... Is this a great country or what?"

Racism is by no means dead in America, and elements of it exist across the political spectrum. While one could reasonably argue that Tea Party activists are too angry, too focused on the budget, or too concerned with ideological purity, the idea one must be racist to oppose Obama’s policies is cheap and intellectually feeble.

Most importantly, using charges of racism as a shield with which to protect President Obama makes it harder to combat real prejudice, and slanders millions of Americans whose crime is being passionately vocal about their vision for America’s future.

Lazar Berman is the American Enterprise Institute’s program manager for foreign and defense policy studies.

FURTHER READING: Berman’s recent contributions to AEI’s Enterprise blog include “SecDef at Notre Dame: ‘The Ultimate Guarantee against the Success of Aggressors, Dictators, and Terrorists…Is Hard Power’,” “Did Obama Side with the Palestinians or Israel?,” and “A Tale of Two Flotillas.”

Image by Rob Green/Bergman Group.

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