|"Tut, tut, sir! My objections have nothing at all to do with race!"|
Guessing at motives is a foolhardy endeavor. Human beings are rarely able to evaluate even their own motives, let alone those of another. At least, I believe that to be true. And, in the end, motives don't really matter, do they? The actions we take are what define us as intelligent or stupid, good or evil, quite apart from whatever motives we may have had.
So, I suppose it is possible that the so-called "Tea Party" is not motivated by some primitive form of tribalism that is a reaction to the precipitous and ever-accelerating loss of their political and economic power. The impetus behind this ugly strain of politics might have nothing at all to do with the diminution of the conservative white minority that composes the ranks of the "Tea Party." It may be completely unrelated to the growing strength of the Latino, black, Muslim, and gay demographics within the United States.
So, let's not guess at motives, then. Let's leave them aside completely. Rather, let's look at tea-bagger actions and see what we might conclude from them.
The Tea Party candidate to be the US Senator from the state of Kentucky is Dr. Rand Paul, a man who believes that Section 1 of the Equal Rights Act of 1964 is government overreach and extra-constitutional. Specifically, Dr. Paul does not believe that government has the right to prevent private businesses from discriminating based on race. From a tea-bagger perspective, this might very well be a legitimate position based on ideological principle. But how might such a position appear to an elderly black man in Mississippi? A man who remembers the time when he could not sit at the lunch counter in Woolworths?
Dr. Paul's brand of tea-baggery seems to have some foundation in libertarianism, but tea-baggers in Arizona seem very eager to tinker with the Constitution in the other direction: toward authoritarianism. The recently-enacted immigration legislation in the state of Arizona affords the government all kinds of dubious rights regarding law enforcement's ability to detain and question people. From a tea-bagger perspective, this is a law made necessary by concerns over immigration and national sovereignty. But how might a US-born Latino family in Phoenix interpret this legislation? A Latino family that honors its customs and heritage? A Latino family that chooses to speak Spanish en su casa?
And what about the tea-bag attitude toward President Obama? Certainly, tea-baggers might have legitimate anger toward the President. But why do they question his citizenship? Why do they refer to him as a "Kenyan?" When they rail and rant about "want[ing] my country back" from whom do they want to take it?
In 2008, according to Pew Research Center, President Obama won the votes of 95% of black voters, 67% of Latino voters, and 62% of Asian voters. Are these voters the people from whom the tea-baggers feel they must wrest control of the country?
I'm sure many tea-baggers do not believe that they are racists. Certainly, they are ever primed and ready to bemoan the injustice of it all whenever anyone suggests that their motives have anything to do with race. Undoubtedly they have convinced themselves that their motives are noble and good.
But here's the problem: regardless of motive, their actions are alarming.