Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There was mild surprise when a small contingent of black tea party bloggers and writers screamed loudly that Georgia Congressman John Lewis made up that he was spit on and called the N word as he left the Cannon office building across from the Capitol in the hours before the final vote on the health care reform bill. The black tea party activists demanded that Democrats produce the tapes to prove that Lewis was attacked.
The black tea partiers were lambasted as Uncle Toms, Oreos and worst of all, traitors. They’ve heard all this before, many times before. Some of them have turned the smears into a badge of pride, and say that more blacks should, and even quietly do, back the tea party’s avowed goal of tax cuts, small government, and defense of individual rights. Their claim is a tough sell, mostly because tea party leaders have shot themselves in the foot repeatedly by saying and doing nothing about the Confederate flags, Texas Lone Star flags, and the borderline racist signs and slogans that are waved and brandished at tea party rallies. This further feeds the deep suspicion that the tea party movement is chock full of unreconstructed bigots driven to hysteria by the mere thought of a black man in the White House.
Then there’s the GOP. Its relentless, take no prisoners, four decade war with civil rights leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, and now Obama has further deepened fear and loathing among blacks of anyone and anything that carries the Republican stamp. The black tea party activists in almost all cases mark themselves with that stamp. But blacks and the GOP and now the tea party is not a total oxymoron.
Blacks have always been either in or on the fringe within the GOP during its metamorphosis over the last half century from the multi-racial party of Lincoln, champion of federal protections, and civil rights to a white man’s party that touts states rights, promotes racial division, and that uses championing small government, defense of constitutional freedoms and individual rights as hidden racial code words.
The motives of the blacks that have stayed loyal to the GOP are varied. Some have found the GOP a good hustle. They’ve been showered with political favors, money, and PR promotion. For others the GOP is a contrarian fad to boast that aren’t part of the nation of sheep pack that pay blind allegiance to the Democrats and President Obama. Then others sincerely buy the tea party claim that taxes and big government hurt blacks too.
The seed of their attraction to the tea party movement was planted six years ago during the presidential campaign of 2004. Bush through an adroit mix of emotional appeals, political messaging, and faith based largesse to a select few high profile black evangelicals stirred the hard feeling of many blacks toward abortion, gay rights, and their defense of family values. This paid big political dividends in the must win states of Florida and Ohio. The double-digit bump up he got in the black vote padded his comfort vote margin to bag both states and the White House.
It didn’t last. Bush’s colossal Katrina flub turned the grumbles from those blacks who defected to him during the election into a stampede away from him and the GOP. The still strong current of religious evangelicalism, and anti-gay, anti-abortion, sentiment and the targeting of government as the villain behind them, coupled with mounting economic insecurity, still struck a small chord among some blacks. The off the chart black vote for Obama didn’t entirely change that. Their vote was in part a general contempt and loathe of Bush policies, repulsion at the marginal thinly veiled race tinged appeals, and Sarah Palin, and in part a rally round the brother.
Republican National Chair Michael Steele paid some initial lip service to the need for greater diversity in the GOP but that didn’t last either. He was quickly regarded as a comic mouthpiece for the GOP’s non-stop pound of Obama. This insured that any black that uttered even a faint word of sympathy for the GOP would earn the tag of traitor.
The tea party, though, seems to be another story. It’s loose, disjointed, populist pitch with seemingly no direct tie to the GOP mainstream seems a safe haven for some blacks to vent their opposition to big government and high taxes while declaring disdain for Democrats. The record 37 blacks running as Republicans in the fall elections in majority or heavily white vote districts bank that they can rally tea party activists to their banner. That may be delusionary thinking. But the fact that they’re willing to try is their way of saying don’t call us traitors for our political beliefs. They have a point.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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