Vanessa Williamson’s article, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, describes the ideology and structure of the Tea Party movement, and works to give an explanation of the rise of the party after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. As Williamson works to give a working definition of the ideology of this party, she refers to “work and deservingness” as well as “racial, ethnic, and generational resentment”. She attempts to explain that some of the views that members of this movement hold in regards to immigration and the social safety net can be seen as racialized or as having racial undertones. However, she makes sure to note that explicit racism is not condoned by leaders in this movement, as racist posts on Tea Party websites were removed and racist signs were frowned upon. I can see how this movement’s attempt to appeal to liberty and freedom can be at odds with equality and justice, and how leaders in this party must “work the binaries” in order to produce a more favorable image.

The point that Williamson is trying to make in this section of the article is that while members may not be racist, the Tea Party ideology stands in support of institutions that have racialized outcomes. Anti-immigration sentiments disproportionately target the Latino community and feelings of animosity towards beneficiaries of social welfare are disproportionately held toward the African-American community. Williamson’s statement on page 34 describes it well:

For instance, Tea Partiers are more likely than other conservatives to agree with statements such as “If blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites,” and are more likely to disagree with statements like “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”

The Tea Party is in the position in which it must appeal to American feelings of “liberty” and “freedom” as it supports less government spending, while at the same time making sure that outsiders do not see the movement as racist and therefore against other strong American sentiments of “equality” and “justice”. This is a very fine line to walk, and is basically the line that the Republican Party must walk as well. Alexander said that in order to get elected, candidates must appeal to these civil ideas, and try to “simplify the meaning of every issue that comes up, bringing it into semiotic alignment with one side or the other of the great divide.” The Tea Party must be careful to make sure that its conservative ideas on immigration and government programs are not portrayed as racist in nature, as Williamson and many others perceive it to be. This could prove to be a serious image problem for this movement, and if leaders cannot make sure that the electorate does not see candidates as racist, the party will not be able to gain representation in government.

Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin. (2011). “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” Perspectives on Politics 9(1), 25-43.

Alexander, J. (2010). The Performance of Politics. Chp. 5-6. Pg. 89-160.


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