Is the Tea Party racist? That was one of the topics of discussion yesterday on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Giving the segment a local tie-in, University of Washington Political Science Professor Christopher Parker, author of the new book Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America, joined Matthews, delving into his research which links the Tea Party to groups like the Clan of the1920s and the John Birch Society of the 1950s and '60s.
So is the Tea Party racist? In many ways, Parker says it is - though he also says it spreads further than that, to homophobia and xenophobia.
Are Tea Party supporters merely a group of conservative citizens concerned about government spending? Or are they racists who refuse to accept Barack Obama as their president because he's not white? Change They Can't Believe In offers an alternative argument--that the Tea Party is driven by the reemergence of a reactionary movement in American politics that is fueled by a fear that America has changed for the worse.
And here's a look at a portion of Parker's exchange with Matthews on Hardball yesterday:
Chris Matthews: What does your study tell you about the nature of the racial piece here of the Tea Party?
Christopher Parker: My study suggest that there is a strain of racism in the Tea Party, going all the way back to when the study began in 2010, that there's definitely a racist strain. But it goes beyond racism, it goes to homophobia and xenophobia as well.
Matthews: Let's talk about how they all go together. Is it sort of a resumption of the Old South, of the way things were before the Civil War, for example? Is it like that old dreamy nostalgia you get in the movies, you know what I mean, like Gone With the Wind? Is it that kind of America they want to bring back, or what? When there were no gays, or blacks were slaves, or Mexicans were in Mexico? Is this what they want?
Parker: That's precisely the case, Chris. What we've found out, we've come up with something that we called Reactionary Conservatism. What that means is, where as a regular conservative or a more mainstream conservative recognizes change is necessary to avoid revolutionary change, a reactionary conservative actually wants to go back in time. In the book we tie the Tea Party to the Know Nothing party of the 1850s, the Clan of the 1920s, the John Birch Society of the late 1950s and 1960s. It's the same belief system, Chris, this idea that they're scared of losing the America that they know and love to these other groups of people.