I ask myself what’s so different about Obama, and the answer is pretty obvious: He’s black. ~ Eugene Robinson
Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson is befuddled by the rise of conservatism in the Age of Obama. Mr. Robinson is not alone in his bewilderment. Most of the media, and especially the left-leaning media, find the Tea Party to be an enigma wrapped in a paradox. The media’s confusion is wrought from the myriad of messages streaming from multiple Tea Party factions. But it is one thing to be puzzled by a decentralized political movement and quite another thing to be entirely ignorant of blatant historical facts.
Mr. Robinson starts his column by pulling the “I’m not calling you a racist, but you’re a racist” line. It’s simply mind-numbing that people who comment on the Tea Party fail to recognize the disingenuous nature of claiming race as a motivating factor while simultaneously claiming that a person supremely motivated by race is not a racist.
Mr. Robinson then engages the tired meme that the Tea Party’s “take our country back” rhetoric is coded language motivated by the president’s darkened hue. If Mr. Robinson had cared to venture past his a priori armchair reasoning, he might have discovered that former DNC Chairman Howard Dean published a book with the ominous title: You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America. Like most bumper sticker phrases, “take back our country” is innocuous and largely empty rhetoric used to stoke the fires of the political base. If Tea Party politicians succeed in gaining offices and implementing policy that is diametrically opposed to progressive ideology, then look for the left to start reusing an iteration of the “take our country back” meme.
Mr. Robinson proceeds from here to ponder why the Tea Party did not stir under George W. Bush’s presidency. Mr. Robinson is correct that it was our 43rd president who signed the monstrous Wall Street bailout, who launched two wars, and who added to our entitlement burden by greatly expanding Medicare. But Mr. Robinson is wrong in thinking that the Tea Party is not a product of George W. Bush’s legacy. Without President Bush’s tenure in office, Ron Paul would not have had a quarter of the momentum he had in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Ron Paul held the first Tea Party protest in December 16, 2007–before Barack Obama was even a twinkle in Chris Matthews’s eye. Ron Paul’s anti-government campaign message resonated on a Republican platform that lived through eight years of big spending compassionate conservatism. Ron Paul’s campaign consciously invoked the imagery of the original 1773 Boston Tea Party. On Tax Day 2008, thousands took part in protests aimed at spreading the anti-big government and low tax message. At this point in the the campaign, Senator Obama was the clear front-runner, but it’d be beyond a stretch to say the backlash against government was engendered by Mr Obama’s eventual nomination. Rather, the roots of the Tea Party are precisely what Mr. Robinson thinks they are not: a repudiation of President Bush’s terms in office.
So why is the message so acute now? Perhaps part of the vitriol stems from the fact that Presidents Bush and Obama differ in name, but not in policy. Perhaps the partisan attitudes that suppressed backlash against President Bush from the right do not act as restraints for criticism of Obama. (Notice how politicians like Madam Pelosi and groups like Project Pink, some of the loudest voices against the use of force abroad, haven’t uttered so much as a peep against Obama for continuing and extending horrific Bush era foreign policy doctrines.) Perhaps it is due to the fact that our post-partisan President is anything but post-partisan. Perhaps it is because President Obama promised change and in return for his election America has received, as Reason TV illustrates, more of the same. And let us not forget that the coordinating powers of the internet had yet to be fully utilized by politicians and grassroots under President Bush’s reign. So perhaps the reason the voice of the Tea Party is so much louder is due to conservatives mirroring Ron Paul and Barack Obama’s brilliant internet campaigns.
There is no denying that race plays a role in the American psyche, but to ignore obvious facts of history in favor of a media narrative that race is the primary motivating factor behind the Tea Party is intellectually lazy.