When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many pundits and political observers were eager to expunge the nation’s brutal and long-running history of stark racial oppression. They spoke of a “post-racial” society freed from the divisions of tribe, healed of the deep wounds that ached and bled along the color line for centuries.
Even those who were less sanguine about the disappearance of racism — myself included — believed that the election of the nation’s first black president signaled a new era of greater racial harmony and understanding. Surely, a nation ready to be led by a black man was ready to let go many of its oldest and ugliest prejudices.
But that was a very naive notion. It turns out that Obama’s election has, instead, provoked a new civil war, a last battle cry of secession by a group of voters who want no part of a country led by a black man, no place in a world they don’t rule, no home in a society where they are simply one more minority group. Call those folks “Tea Partiers.”
The ultraconservatives who have taken over the Republican Party are motivated by many things — antipathy toward the federal government, conservative religious beliefs and a traditional Republican suspicion of taxes, among them. But the most powerful force animating their fight is a deep-seated racial antagonism.
Don’t take my word for it. Democracy Corps, a political research and polling group headed by Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, has published a report from a series of focus groups conducted with segments of the Republican Party — moderates, evangelicals and Tea Partiers.
The report confirms that Republicans, especially the Tea Partiers, “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority. The race issue is very much alive.” It also notes that “Barack Obama and Obamacare is a racial flashpoint for many evangelical and Tea Party voters.”
Tea Partiers believe that the Democratic Party is intent on expanding the social safety net in order, basically, to buy votes. They see “Obamacare” as a sop to that alleged 47 percent of lazy Americans who don’t want to work, don’t pay any taxes and live off government handouts. And, of course, those lazy Americans are, in their view, voters of color.