Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why Tea Party Racism Serves The Right Well

Why Tea Party Racism Serves The Right Well

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

8:30 AM on 07/19/2010
On a recent cable talk show appearance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly refused several direct, angled, and nuanced efforts to discuss racism in the tea party. McConnell's none too subtle refusal to weigh in on the issue was in direct response to the NAACP's resolution demanding that the tea party speak out, and speak out loudly against the racists among them.

The cable show's host could have saved her breath. Long before the NAACP stirred debate on tea party racism with its resolution, a legion of Democrats, civil rights leaders, and even an online petition from an advocacy group begged the GOP to speak out against its naked bigots.

No go.

There's a good reason. The GOP would cut its throat if it denounced its racists and racism, and really meant it. The shouts, taunts, spitting, catcalls, Obama as Joker posters, n-word slurs, Confederate and Texas Lone Star flag waving by some tea party activists, and the deafening silence from GOP leaders, is and has been an indispensable political necessity for the party.

Obama's approval ratings -- always tenuous at best among white males -- have plunged into free fall among them in the past few months. A mid-July Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a bare 40 percent of whites approve of the job Obama is doing. That's his lowest rating among whites since the start of his presidency.

The spark to reignite the GOP's traditional conservative, white male loyalists, and increasingly white female supporters, has always been there. The 2008 presidential election gave ample warning of that. While Obama made a major breakthrough in winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters, McCain (not Obama) won a slim majority of their vote in the final tally. Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among white male voters in the South and heartland, Obama made almost no impact. Overall, McCain garnered nearly 60 percent of the white vote.

The GOP could not have been competitive during the 2008 campaign without the bailout from white male voters. Much has been made since then that they are a dwindling percent of the electorate, and that Hispanics, Asian, black, young, and women voters will permanently tip the balance of political power to the Democrats in coming national elections. Blue collar white voters have shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters to less than 40 percent.

The assumption, based solely on this slide and the increased minority population numbers and regional demographic changes, is that the GOP's white vote strategy is doomed to fail. This ignores three political facts. 1) Elections are usually won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. 2) White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. And 3) they voted in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks.

The GOP leaders have long known that blue collar and a significant percent of college educated, white male voters, who are professionals can be easily aroused to vote and shout loudly on the emotional wedge issues; abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and tax cuts. For 14 months, they whipped up their hysteria and borderline racism against health care reform. This was glaringly apparent in ferocity and bile spouted by the shock troops the GOP leaders in consort with the Tea Party activists brought out to harangue, harass and bully Democrat legislators on the eve of the health care vote. These are the very voters that GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush, McCain and an endless line of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons have banked for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance.

The GOP's win with white vote strategy failed in 2008 only because of the rage and disgust of millions of white voters at Bush's horribly failed and flawed domestic and war policies. This was more a personal and visceral reaction to the bumbles of Bush than a radical and permanent sea change in overall white voter sentiment about Obama, the Democrats, and the GOP. Even if the GOP is, as is widely seen, an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue-collar whites this is not a voting demographic to mock, ridicule or be sneered at, let alone dismiss, because the numbers are still huge. Surveys show that the tea party is made up of the individual demographic of middle-class, educated, whites who range across the political spectrum, of conservatives and independents, and Democrats.

The GOP driven by personal instinct, political leanings, its history, racial demographics, and raw political need, has masterfully played the race card for a half century to get its way. Asking it to stop now would be asking it to cut its own throat. McConnell knows that and had good reason to clam up on tea party racism.
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).Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.
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