Critics of the tea parties have tried to paint their membership as monochrome and their opposition to President Obama’s policies as rooted in racism. That story line doesn’t really hold up for anyone who has actually attended a tea party, and Gallup reported this week that, in terms of “age, educational background, employment status, and race — Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large.”
But a better validation of the wider appeal of the tea parties, and the ideas of limited government they stand for, is represented in this Clarence Page column:
President Barack Obama’s election has inspired a record number of African-American candidates to run for Congress this year. What’s surprising is that they’re running as Republicans.
At latest count, 33 African-Americans are running for Republican nominations to Congress, according to the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a 2-year old organization founded by chairman Timothy F. Johnson, vice chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. That’s the most black Republican congressional candidates since Reconstruction, the foundation’s leaders believe.
Twenty-two of the candidates listed by the foundation — a list that now totals 38 — are running for office in the South. Three of them reside in metro Atlanta: Cory Ruth, running for the seat now held by Rep. Hank Johnson, and two challengers to Rep. David Scott: Deborah Honeycutt and Rupert Parchment.
Page mentions the words “tea party” only once, and only in passing. In a column reporting the rise in black Republican candidates, he is nonetheless at pains to describe the party as hopelessly white — otherwise, he suggests, they’d be able to fire Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele without inviting a backlash.
But he offers no alternate explanation for the rise in black Republican candidates, and it’s important to note that the tea parties have helped to spur the candidacies of Angela McGlowan in Mississippi and Les Philip in Alabama, among others.
Page also goes on to argue that few of the black Republicans have much of a chance of winning, and points out that the GOP had seen a decline in black congressional nominees over the past decade. (We won’t know how many of today’s 38 candidates will become nominees until the primaries are over.)
Still, this is an under-reported phenomenon that deserves some probing. It may be that Obama’s election both solidified many minorities’ allegiance to the Democrats and gave others the confidence to run for office regardless of their ideology. In other words, Obama and his policies might not have increased the number of black Republicans but simply given them encouragement. Then again, it’s only logical that many blacks would be among the millions of Americans turned off by the president’s efforts to centralize more power in Washington.
I have written before about the value of voting blocs making their traditionally allied parties compete for their loyalty — e.g., black voters and the Democrats, or conservative Christian voters and the Republicans. Page echoes this when he writes that he believes, “as many of these candidates do, that black voters would benefit from having both parties competing for black support, along with that of other Americans.”
In fact, that kind of change — away from traditional identity politics, toward greater participation across the political spectrum by racial minorities — may be the truest test of whether Obama’s election ushered in a post-racial era in America.
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