Friday, 21 May 2010

Tea Party and pick and choose freedom

Leonard Pitts wrote an article a little while ago about a poll of Tea Party participants and argued that the "poll offers strong evidence that, contrary to the denials of tea party enthusiasts, President Obama's race plays a big role in their outrage. Indeed, researchers found a significant correlation between racial resentment and tea party zeal."  Pitts argues that their alleged concerns over taxation and deficits and socialism are as appropriately or more appropriately made at either of the two Bush presidencies and that this fact and the poll respondents' views on racial questions suggest that what's really at issue here are concerns about race.  I've seen other similar arguments which note that what concerns people is not just Obama's race but the fact that homosexuals and Latinos have made significant strides in this administration.   But those arguments overlook, I think, the fact that GWB's administration elevated people like Colin Powell, Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzalez to very high positions of power.  So, I've tried to keep sort of an open mind here. 

Nonetheless, recent events give further pause.  If you were pro-freedom and pro-markets, wouldn't you be pro-immigration, e.g., like super  libertarian, Bryan Caplan.  (see, for example, link 1 or link 2).  But even if you're not pro-immigration, at the very least if you're a Tea Partier, you're opposed to big government, right?  You don't want the government to be able to pull people over and demand papers, that kind of stuff happens only in totalitarian regimes that scoff at the notion of individual liberty.   But the Arizona Tea Party called people to action to support this immigration bill.  (link 2)  The Tea Party, or an important Tea Party member, also insists that driver's license tests should be English only.

 There's a strange notion of freedom operating here, no worries about government overstepping power when it's going to start going around asking for ID papers or forcing you to speak English to get a driver's license.   In light of these clarifications on what kind of  curious notion of freedom the Tea Party supports, I find Rand Paul's objections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act particularly jarring.  The Tea Party will  not only let these other assaults on freedom go but even encourages them and yet draws a line, or at least Paul does, at standing up for the rights of business owners to refuse to serve black people or draws a line by sticking up for rights of employers to refuse to make accommodation for people with disabilities (Paul also disagrees with the Americans with Disabilities Act).    So, it's not wholesale freedom that the Tea Party supports, not a freedom for disabled people to access the workplace or freedom of all people to be able to access the same services as white people, or even a freedom from demands for papers, it's a more limited notion of freedom, a freedom for the rich and empowered to continue doing whatever they want, the freedom to maintain the status quo however unfair or unjust it may be.  Screw their ad hoc notion of freedom and bigotry wrapped in talk of patriotism, I think Pitts may be on to something.

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