Congressman André Carson’s recent statement regarding a segment of the Tea Party has provoked controversy. It also provoked a response from Peter Rusthoven. In his [Sept. 19] Taking Issue piece, Rusthoven, a double Harvard graduate, attempts to make the case that all Tea Party supporters are motivated solely by a desire for more federal fiscal responsibility. According to Rusthoven, skin color is absolutely no part of any attacks on President Obama.
Rusthoven correctly points out that the rhetoric chosen by Carson was hyperbole and unfortunate. He neglects to mention that Carson has admitted he should have chosen different words and he regrets that his choice of words has distracted attention from the real issue, the Tea Party.
A recent study by professors David Campbell of Notre Dame and Robert D. Putnam of none other than Harvard University challenges Rusthoven’s contention that fiscal responsibility is the only motivator for all Tea Party supporters. These professors interviewed 3,000 Americans, self-identified as Tea Party supporters, in 2006 and again this summer. The study found that many who support the Tea Party are active Republicans who are disproportionately white social conservatives. These individuals, according to Campbell and Putnam, had “a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.”
It is critical to note that Carson never said “all,” “most” or even “a lot” of Tea Party supporters are motivated by less than pure motives. He said “some.” The Campbell-Putnam study establishes that even if the desire to reduce government spending is the stated driving force for many, for “some” it is certainly not the only motivation.
That leads to the conclusion that some of the most vitriolic attacks on Obama by Tea Party supporters stem less from policy differences with the president and more from the fact that the president’s skin is a different color.
Carson was willing to examine his own words and speak with more precision. In turn, one would hope that Tea Party supporters who feel this way would examine their own motives and come down on the side of the values that have made the American melting pot the greatest country in the world. Frank discussion on race in America is not possible when motivations like dislike of skin color are not repudiated by all thinking Americans.
Ann M. DeLaney