Tea Party Movement Returns Christian Right to Its Racist Past

By Michelle Goldberg, The American Prospect, October 2, 2009

For years, the religious right tried to lose its racist image, reverting to homophobia as its hatred of choice. As it joins the Tea Party fray, it may once again have to own both.

Now that popular conservatism has given itself over so avidly to racial resentment, it’s curious to remember how hard the right once tried to scrub itself of the lingering taint of prejudice. Indeed, for a decade and a half the Christian right — until recently the most powerful and visible grassroots conservative movement — struggled mightily to escape its own bigoted history. In his 1996 book Active Faith, Ralph Reed acknowledged that Christian conservatives had been on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. “The white evangelical church carries a shameful legacy of racism and the historical baggage of indifference to the most central struggle for social justice in this century, a legacy that is only now being wiped clean by the sanctifying work of repentance and racial reconciliation,” wrote Reed.

“Racial reconciliation” became a kind of buzz phrase. The idea animated Promise Keepers meetings. “Racism is an insidious monster,” Bill McCartney, the group’s founder, said at a 39,000-man Atlanta rally. “You can’t say you love God and not love your brother.” The Traditional Values Coalition distributed a video called “Gay Rights, Special Rights” to black churches; it criticized the gay rights movement for co-opting the noble legacy of the civil rights struggle.

Throughout the Bush years, homophobia and professions of anti-racism were twinned in a weird way, as if the latter proved that the right wasn’t simply still skulking around history’s dark side. At a deeply surreal 2006 event at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, an African American church in downtown Philadelphia, leaders of the religious right invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks on behalf of gay marriage bans and Bush’s judicial nominees. At the end of the evening, several dozen clergymen, black and white, joined hands in prayer at the front of the room. “Black Americans, white Americans,” said a beaming Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council. “Christians, standing together.” The whole premise of compassionate conservatism — which shoveled taxpayer money towards administration-friendly churches like Greater Exodus Baptist — was that the right cared as deeply as the left about issues like inner city poverty.

What a difference an election makes. Even if you believed that compassionate conservatism was always a bit of a con, it’s amazing to see how quickly it has vanished, and how fast an older style of reaction, one more explicitly rooted in racial grievance, has reasserted itself.

Today’s grassroots right is by all appearances as socially conservative as ever, but its tone and its rhetoric are profoundly different than they were even a year ago. For the last 15 years, the right-wing populism has been substantially electrified by sexual anxiety. Now it’s charged with racial anxiety. By all accounts, there were more confederate flags than crosses at last weekend’s anti-Obama rally in Washington, DC. Glenn Beck has become a far more influential figure on the right than, say, James Dobson, and he’s much more interested in race than in sexual deviancy. For the first time in at least a decade, middle class whites have been galvanized by the fear that their taxes are benefiting lazy, shiftless others. The messianic, imperialistic, hubristic side of the right has gone into retreat, and a cramped, mean and paranoid style has come to the fore.

To some extent, a newfound suspicion of government was probably inevitable as soon as Democrats took power. At the same time, with the implosion of the Christian right’s leadership and the last year’s cornucopia of GOP sex scandals, the party needed to take a break from incessant moralizing, and required a new ideology to take the place of family values cant. The belief system analysts sometimes call “producerism” served nicely. Producerism sees society as divided between productive workers — laborers, small businessmen and the like — and the parasites who live off them. Those parasites exist at both the top and the bottom of the social hierarchy — they are both financiers and welfare bums — and their larceny is enabled by the government they control.

Producerism has often been a trope of right-wing movements, especially during times of economic distress, when many people sense they’re getting screwed. Its racist (and often anti-Semitic) potential is obvious, so it gels well with the climate of Dixiecrat racial angst occasioned by the election of our first black president. The result is the return of the repressed.

It’s not, after all, as if the Christian right was something completely removed from the old racist right — rather, as Reed acknowledged all those years ago, they were initially deeply intertwined. The Columbia historian Randall Balmer has shown that Christian conservatives were not, contrary to their own mythology, initially mobilized by their outrage at Roe vs. Wade. Rather, what spurred them into action was the IRS’s attempt to revoke the tax-exempt status of whites only Christian schools, schools that had been created specifically to evade desegregation.

The Christian right was always rooted in an older style of reactionary politics. Before he became a political organizer himself, Falwell — who ran one of those Christian segregation academies — attacked Martin Luther King Jr. for his political activism. (“Preachers are not called to be politicians, but to be soul winners,” he said.) Before Tony Perkins was basking in homophobic interracial amity, he paid Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. In 2004, David Barton, then the vice president of the Texas GOP, spoke at an event featuring white preachers and ministry workers dropping to their knees before their black brethren to plead for forgiveness. Thirteen years earlier, Barton had twice been a featured speaker at meetings of the Christian Identity movement, which preaches that blacks are sub-human “mud people.” One could go on and on.

As racism grew politically unacceptable, the Christian right was able to channel resentment over the decline of white male privilege into a Kulterkampf directed at more acceptable enemies, like gays and lesbians. The movement borrowed heavily from Catholic theology and convinced itself that it was in a righteous struggle against a culture of death, not a culture of diversity. Now the mask is off. One wonders if fifteen years from now, they’ll bother apologizing all over again.

Michelle Goldberg is a senior correspondent at The American Prospect. She is also the author of Kingdom Coming and The Means of Reproduction.

 

Conservative Survival in a Progressive Age

By PETER BERKOWITZ, Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2012

Big government and the social revolution are here to stay. The conservative role is to shape both for the better.

Political moderation is a maligned virtue. Yet it has been central to American constitutionalism and modern conservatism. Such moderation is essential today to the renewal of a conservatism devoted to the principles of liberty inscribed in the Constitution—and around which both social conservatives and libertarians can rally.

“It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good,” observed James Madison in Federalist No. 37. The challenge, Madison went on to explain, is more sobering still because the spirit of moderation “is more apt to be diminished than promoted by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.”

In a similar spirit, and in the years that Americans were declaring independence and launching a remarkable experiment in self-government, Edmund Burke sought to conserve in Great Britain the conditions under which liberty flourished. To this end, Burke exposed the error of depending on abstract theory for guidance in practical affairs. He taught the supremacy in political life of prudence, or the judgment born of experience, bound up with circumstances and bred in action. He maintained that good policy and laws must be fitted to the people’s morals, sentiments and opinions. He demonstrated that in politics the imperfections of human nature must be taken into account even as virtue and the institutions of civil society that sustain it must be cultivated. And he showed that political moderation frequently counsels rejecting the path of least resistance and is sometimes exercised in defending principle against majority opinion.

Madison’s words and example and Burke’s words and example are as pertinent in our time as they were in their own. Conservatives should heed them as they come to grips with two entrenched realities that pose genuine challenges to liberty, and whose prudent management is critical to the nation’s well-being.

The first entrenched reality is that big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping Americans’ expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role.

Consequently, the U.S. federal government will continue to provide a social safety net, regulate the economy, and shoulder a substantial share of responsibility for safeguarding the social and economic bases of political equality. All signs are that a large majority of Americans will want it to continue to do so.

In these circumstances, conservatives must redouble their efforts to reform sloppy and incompetent government and resist government’s inherent expansionist tendencies and progressivism’s reflexive leveling proclivities. But to undertake to dismantle or even substantially roll back the welfare and regulatory state reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities.

Conservatives can and should focus on restraining spending, reducing regulation, reforming the tax code, and generally reining in our sprawling federal government. But conservatives should retire misleading talk of small government. Instead, they should think and speak in terms of limited government.

The second entrenched reality, this one testing social conservatives, is the sexual revolution, perhaps the greatest social revolution in human history. The invention, and popularization in the mid-1960s, of the birth control pill—a cheap, convenient and effective way to prevent pregnancy—meant that for the first time in human history, women could have sex and reliably control reproduction. This greatly enhanced their ability to enter the workforce and pursue careers. It also transformed romance, reshaped the family and refashioned marriage.

Brides may still wed in virginal white, bride and groom may still promise to love and cherish for better or for worse and until death do them part, and one or more children may still lie in the future for many married couples. Nevertheless, 90% of Americans engage in premarital sex, cohabitation before marriage is common, and out-of-wedlock births are substantial.

Divorce, while emotionally searing, is no longer unusual, legally difficult or socially stigmatizing. Children, once the core reason for getting married, have become optional. Civil unions for gays and lesbians have acquired majority support and same-sex marriage is not far behind.

These profoundly transformed circumstances do not oblige social conservatives to alter their fundamental convictions. They should continue to make the case for the traditional understanding of marriage with children at the center, both for its intrinsic human rewards and for the benefits a married father and mother bring to rearing children. They should back family-friendly public policy and seek, within the democratic process, to persuade fellow citizens to adopt socially conservative views and vote for candidates devoted to them.

Yet given the enormous changes over the last 50 years in the U.S. concerning the ways individuals conduct their romantic lives, view marriage, and think about the family—and with a view to the enduring imperatives of limited government—social conservatives should refrain from attempting to use the federal government to enforce the traditional understanding of sex, marriage and the family. They can remain true to their principles even as they adjust their expectations of what can be achieved through democratic politics, and renew their appreciation of the limits that American constitutional government imposes on regulating citizens’ private lives.

Some conservatives worry that giving any ground—in regard to the welfare and regulatory state, the sexual revolution, or both—is tantamount to sanctifying a progressive status quo. That is to mistake a danger for a destiny. Seeing circumstances as they are is a precondition for preserving one’s principles and effectively translating them into viable reforms.

Even under the shadow of big government and in the wake of the sexual revolution, both libertarians and social conservatives, consistent with their most deeply held beliefs, can and should affirm the dignity of the person and the inseparability of human dignity from individual freedom and self-government. They can and should affirm the dependence of individual freedom and self-government on a thriving civil society, and the paramount importance the Constitution places on maintaining a political framework that secures liberty by limiting government.

So counsels constitutional conservatism well understood.

Mr. Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is the author of “Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government and Political Moderation,” forthcoming from the Hoover Institution Press in February. This op-ed is adapted from the book’s conclusion.

A version of this article appeared December 13, 2012, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Conservative Survival in a Progressive Age.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324469304578144882157377760.html

The Strange Sexual Obsessions Driving the Tea Party Movement by David Rosen

CounterPunch, September 19, 2010 

…The November election will determine whether the Tea Party will take control of the Republican Party and pull the Congress even further to the reactionary right…

Knowing full well that the majority of Americans reject conservative Christian values, the Tea Party has campaigned on fighting personal taxes, the federal debt and the “tyranny” of Washington…

At the heart of this unstated agenda are white Christian America’s deep-seated fears of sex, race and interracial “pollution.”…

Race, and particularly interracial sex and procreation, is the other unstated, hot-button issue that galvanizes the Tea Party movement. Demographic profiles depict the movement as a predominately middle-aged and older white constituency, often from smaller towns and cities throughout heartland America. 

Unstated, their lives have been uprooted by capitalist globalization and they are desperately clinging to post-WWII white skin privileges that assured them the benefits of a “middle-class” life. A half-century later, capitalism has betrayed them; sadly, they refuse to acknowledge it, instead blaming liberals, immigrants and a world beyond their control. The promotion of false consciousness is corporate media’s principal responsibility… 

Over the last two years, white, rightwing Christian activists, along with their political shills and media pundits, have rallied to the Tea Party. During this process, a mean-spirited constituency emerged that voices insulating and defamatory comments about the President as well as other black, Hispanic and (Middle-Eastern) Muslim Americans….These comments are not only provocative, but serve a political purpose of galvanizing discontent among a growing segment of older, working- and middle-class white Americans. This movement represents a neo-fascist propensity toward political tyranny. 

Race and sex have divided the New World since its founding four centuries ago…fear about the “pollution” of the nation’s white “stock” has haunted American politics. It underscored the belief in America’s “manifest destiny” as an imperialist power;…and it inflamed the Klan, fueling its terror and lynching campaigns as well as ‘60s racists. 

The great white fear of interracial “pollution” has found is most acute expression with Obama’s president. He is the offspring of not simply an interracial relationship, but an international coupling as well. He is the child of 21st century globalization, the symbolic representation of a hope for a world without boarders, without race prejudice, without white privilege.

 

In the face of today’s widespread sexual and racial “pollution,” those aligned with the Tea Party are fearful, furious. They are desperately holding onto a fictitious past. They worry that America is becoming a mongrel nation and that their privileged status is vanishing. However unstated, unconscious, there fears might be, Tea Party candidates O’Donnell and Paladino speak to a collective prejudice shared by many Americans. It is fear anchored in 19th century notions of nationhood, racial purity and imperial conquest. It is a prejudice that violates the spirit of what is the great hope of America. 

Full Text

Tea Party advocates and rightwing media pundits were gleeful in the aftermath of this week’s primary election results. They were buoyed by their candidates’ strong showings throughout the country against the Republican establishment, particularly in Delaware and New York. The November election will determine whether the Tea Party will take control of the Republican Party and pull the Congress even further to the reactionary right. 

Amidst all the victory hoopla, stories about the questionable sexual- and race-related attitudes and behavior of two of the Tea Party’s principal proponents, Delaware’s senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell and New York’s gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, have garnered as much notoriety as their often-questionable policy pronouncements. 

Delaware candidate O’Donnell proposed in a 1996 MTV program and again in a 1998 article, “The Case for Chastity,” that masturbation is sinful and that looking at pornography is equivalent to adultery. She proudly declared:

When a married person uses pornography, or is unfaithful, it compromises not just his (or her) purity, but also compromises the spouse’s purity. As a church, we need to teach a higher standard than abstinence. We need to preach a righteous lifestyle.

She has apparently not revised or repudiated her position in the intervening years.

The New York gubernatorial candidate Paladino has come under increasing media scrutiny for a growing number of apparent indiscretions. They include revelations about his collection of Internet porn which he gladly shares with his construction-industry “buddies” and racially-provocative e-mails depicting Pres. Obama as an African tribesman or a ‘70s-era pimp (with his wife, Michelle, depicted as a “ho”). More troubling are revelations about his extra-marital affair with an employee and the “love child” he fathered. 

What is most striking about these incidents is not the specific actions, but the fact that Tea Party proponents have shrugged off these embarrassments as inconsequential in assessing their candidates for public office. With an almost, aw-shucks attitude, the Tea Party right sees the values and actions of their candidates like the conduct of ordinary folk, their next-door neighbors. 

In fairness, a candidate’s private actions, to the extent that they are not criminal (e.g., pedophilia, rape) or inflict real suffering on another (e.g., physical and psychological abuse), shouldn’t be the principal factor in evaluating the candidate’s competency to govern. 

Over the last few years, Republicans like Sen. David Vitter, Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Mark Sanford have been outed for their sexual indiscretions with little political fall-out. These conservative Republicans have adhered to a liberal moral standard and have gone on with their political careers with only a little mud on their respective faces, suffering no real price to pay. Yet, as was evident with the revelations about president candidate John Edward and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, when comparable revelations of sexual indiscretions about Democratic came out, those involved were forced from the political playing field. Such is the nature of the moral double-standard that defines American politics. 

Hidden at the root of the Tea Party movement are the issues of sex and race, especially interracial sex and the resulting “pollution” of the white “stock.” The movement has sought to keep conventional “culture wars” issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research at an arms-length’s-distance from its organizing efforts. Knowing full well that the majority of Americans reject conservative Christian values, the Tea Party has campaigned on fighting personal taxes, the federal debt and the “tyranny” of Washington. 

Nevertheless, the Tea Party’s appeal to traditional Christian values, its unstated secret agenda, was publicly exposed by the O’Donnell and Paladino revelations. At the heart of this unstated agenda are white Christian America’s deep-seated fears of sex, race and interracial “pollution.”

* * *

The sex-poses at the heart of the O’Donnell and Paladino campaigns are not isolated occurrences. As a “grassroots” movement, innumerable local Tea Party political leaders have been exposed in a variety of sex scandals and questionable practices. A handful of these are illustrative: 

In South Carolina in the wake of the Gov. Sanford scandal, a conservative blogger, Will Folks, revealed “several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki [Haley].” Haley immediately responded, “I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage.” The revelation came out amidst a hard fought Republican primary that she won.

In Ohio, the Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Eric Deaton, was indicted for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor at the end of August.

Also in Ohio, State Senator Kevin Coughlin, a Tea Party die-hard from Akron, was outed for his affair with a fellow Republican while his wife was pregnant. 

In Indiana, Rep. Mark Souder resigned his seat from the 3rd District that he held since 1994 over an illicit affair. He was a true-blue conservative Republican with an A-plus standing with the National Rifle Association and 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Without referring to the unstated affair that drove him from office, Souder pathetically proclaimed, “I am so ashamed to hurt those I love.”

The movement, drawing upon its more libertarian stains, has sought to impose restraint on its most reactionary tendencies: 

In Montana, the Big Sky Tea Party Association fired its leader, Tim Ravndal, over the homophobic comments he made. Referring to homosexuals as “fruits,” Rayndal insisted that he did not imply an anti-gay intention. This issue is particularly sensitive in Montana due to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Nevertheless, Rayndal opposed a Helena sex education proposal to teach gender tolerance.

In Florida, Everett Wilkinson, state director of the Tea Party Patriots, took a neutral position on gay marriage: “On [this] issue itself, we have no stance, but any time a state’s rights or powers are encouraged over the federal government, it is a good thing.” He is following the position advocated by Bob Barr, a former Republican Georgia congressman who wrote the original Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), who is a strong Tea Party proponent and a fierce libertarian who now opposes DOMA. 

Nevertheless, the Tea Party’s inherent fear of sex is always close to the surface. Earlier this year, Scott Southworth, the DA from Juneau County, WS, and a strong Tea Party backer, warned local teachers that if they used a new state sex ed course they could be committing a crime and serve up to six years in prison. He found particularly objectionable sexual relations between two consenting adolescents, often referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” affairs, that, according to state law, he considered incidents of sexual assault.

* * *

Race, and particularly interracial sex and procreation, is the other unstated, hot-button issue that galvanizes the Tea Party movement. Demographic profiles depict the movement as a predominately middle-aged and older white constituency, often from smaller towns and cities throughout heartland America. 

Unstated, their lives have been uprooted by capitalist globalization and they are desperately clinging to post-WWII white skin privileges that assured them the benefits of a “middle-class” life. A half-century later, capitalism has betrayed them; sadly, they refuse to acknowledge it, instead blaming liberals, immigrants and a world beyond their control. The promotion of false consciousness is corporate media’s principal responsibility. 

Since Obama’s 2008 election, Congressional Republicans have engaged in a systematic campaign to block nearly all Obama and Democratic legislative initiatives that would redress the Bush-era fiscal and social crisis. This do-nothing effort has been extremely effective, making all Americans suffer while the rich have prospered and the corporate media obfuscated accountability. 

Over the last two years, white, rightwing Christian activists, along with their political shills and media pundits, have rallied to the Tea Party. During this process, a mean-spirited constituency emerged that voices insulating and defamatory comments about the President as well as other black, Hispanic and (Middle-Eastern) Muslim Americans. These statements range from snide depictions of the President and his wife as in the Paladino emails to the belief among some 20 percent of the population that the President is a Muslim or not an American. These comments are not only provocative, but serve a political purpose of galvanizing discontent among a growing segment of older, working- and middle-class white Americans. This movement represents a neo-fascist propensity toward political tyranny. 

Race and sex have divided the New World since its founding four centuries ago. Few recall that the first interracial marriage took on April 5, 1614, when Pocahontas, a Powhatan woman and reputed daughter of Chief Powhatan, married the Englishman John Rolfe near Jamestown, VA. Since then, fear about the “pollution” of the nation’s white “stock” has haunted American politics. It underscored the belief in America’s “manifest destiny” as an imperialist power; it framed the pseudo-science of eugenics that lead to a 1927 Supreme Court decision that legalized the sterilization of 60,000 Americans for feeblemindedness; and it inflamed the Klan, fueling its terror and lynching campaigns as well as ‘60s racists. 

The great white fear of interracial “pollution” has found is most acute expression with Obama’s president. He is the offspring of not simply an interracial relationship, but an international coupling as well. He is the child of 21st century globalization, the symbolic representation of a hope for a world without boarders, without race prejudice, without white privilege. 

In the face of today’s widespread sexual and racial “pollution,” those aligned with the Tea Party are fearful, furious. They are desperately holding onto a fictitious past. They worry that America is becoming a mongrel nation and that their privileged status is vanishing. However unstated, unconscious, there fears might be, Tea Party candidates O’Donnell and Paladino speak to a collective prejudice shared by many Americans. It is fear anchored in 19th century notions of nationhood, racial purity and imperial conquest. It is a prejudice that violates the spirit of what is the great hope of America.
David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009); he can be reached at drosen@ix.netcom.com.

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