SAN DIEGO—Is the Tea Party racist? Democrats who play liberals on TV say it isn't. Vice President Joe Biden says that "at least elements that were involved with some of the Tea Party folks expressed racist views."
Certainly a sizeable minority of tea partiers' "take America back" rhetoric is motivated by resentment that a black guy is president. "Take America back" from whom? You know whom. It ain't white CEOs.
Yes. The Tea Party is racist. But racism is only one facet of a more sinister political strain: a protofascist movement.
Robert O. Paxton defined fascism as "a form of political behavior marked by ... preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Typical Tea Party rants fit the classic fascist mold. America, tea partiers complain, is falling behind. Like Hitler, they blame leftists and liberals for a "stab in the back," treason on the home front. One major component is missing: aggressive militarism. Certainly most tea partiers support America's wars and the troops. But tea partiers focus on domestic issues. The Nazis didn't make much of their aggressive intent until after they seized power.
Because it has no central leadership and because it's easier to attract new members if you never say anything specific, ideological vagueness is a defining characteristic of the Tea Party movement. Indeed, ideological imprecision tends to increase as you move from left to right on the political spectrum.
On the left, communists are specific to a fault. Programs, five-year plans and one tract after another are the order of the day under socialism. Moving right, bourgeois organizations such as the two major U.S. political parties have platform planks and principles, but tend to be mushy and flexible. As we move to the far right, as under Hitler, ideas become grand, sweeping, meaningless slogans "Take the nation back!" "Death to the traitors!"
Umberto Eco's 1995 essay "Eternal Fascism" describes the cult of action for its own sake under fascist regimes and movements: "Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation."
Note Republican Sen. John Cornyn's choice of words when he defended tea partiers: "I think it's slanderous to suggest the vast movement of citizens who have gotten off the couch and showed up at town hall meetings and Tea Party events, somehow to smear them with this label, there's just no basis for it."
Eco also discusses fascism's "appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups." Guard the borders! Deport the immigrants! Mexicans are stealing our jobs!
So much anger. It's too bad that the (justifiable) rage of the white male middle-class is directed against their fellow victims. It's worse that they're playing into the blood-soaked hands of their own oppressors.