Penn Jillette Defends Tea Party Against Rachael Harris’s Charge of ‘Racism’

On the April 22 Larry King Live on CNN, which was rebroadcast on Saturday, magician and comedian Penn Jillette – who is a self-described libertarian – challenged assertions by actress Rachael Harris that the Tea Party movement is motivated by "racism" against President Barack Obama. Jillette: "Well, that's the magic word. Once you say ‘racism,’ the other side loses automatically. And I don't think we have very much evidence that that's what it is. Don't they have to be doing racist things besides you just saying that they're racist?"

Harris cited the racial makeup of the Tea Party movement as evidence of its racist motivation: "No, but they're looking at the number of people that are in, like, the majority of the people that are in the Tea Party," leading Jillette to respond: "So the race that they are makes them racist by definition?"

After Harris and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane joked for a moment that they had gotten together and created the movement, Jillette and Harris continued their debate over whether Tea Party members were motivated by racism:

RACHAEL HARRIS: Yes, but I think it's very anti-Obama. You know, it's very, like, it's-

PENN JILLETTE: But there are groups that were anti-Bush, too. I was really anti-Bush.

HARRIS: Yes.

JILLETTE: And yet no one called me racist.

HARRIS: Well, that's right, but Bush wasn't the first black President either.

JILLETTE: So once he's the first black President, if you're against him, you're a racist?

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Thursday, April 22, Larry King Live on CNN, which was repeated on the Saturday, May 8 show:

LARRY KING: Tea party movement. Are you going to make fun of it yet?

SETH MACFARLANE, CREATOR OF FAMILY GUY: I think it kind of does that on its own. I-

KING: It is what it is?

MACFARLANE: Yeah. You know, the Tea Party movement is, I always have a problem with people who say, "You know what, it's not the Republicans, it's the Democrats, it's all politicians. They're all the problem." And I don't think, in this case, that's true. I think you had one party that actually was trying to affect change, particularly this health care bill. You had 60 percent of the people in this country who wanted a public option. It was ignored.

KING: So you're saying it's right-wing Republicans?

MACFARLANE: And another side that filibustered everything that stands to lose big if Obama does anything right or anything productive. And I think, in a lot of cases, it's just kind of laziness when it comes to knowing the facts and knowing what's really going on out there.

KING: What do you think of the Tea Party?

PENN JILLETTE, MAGICIAN AND COMEDIAN: I, there's a lot I disagree with them on, and I'm not really part of it, but I always think that a distrust of the government is the healthiest thing Americans can have. I think that the country was built, the most American thing you can have is a distrust of leaders. Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters.

KING: Rachael?

RACHAEL HARRIS, ACTRESS AND COMEDIAN: Yeah, well, I don't completely share the same opinion with Penn. I feel like the Tea Party group in particular isn't really, I mean, they can sort of mask themselves as saying that it's about taxes and it's about all these other issues. But I really find it to be sort of this upper middle class white-run organization that's not really, that's not really about affecting change. It's about this sort of, I do tend to think it's more-

KING: Class?

HARRIS: I wouldn't say class, I do think it's more about racism as opposed to being a really political-

JILLETTE: Well, that's the magic word. Once you say "racism," the other side loses automatically. And I don't think we have very much evidence that that's what it is. Don't they have to be doing racist things besides you just saying that they're racist?

HARRIS: No, but they're looking at the number of people that are in, like, the majority of the people that are in the Tea Party-

JILLETTE: So the race that they are makes them racist by definition?

HARRIS: Well, no, I don't think the race that they are by nature makes them-

MACFARLANE: If you want to, like, if you want to legitimatize them for a moment, you know, some of their gripes are legitimate. The average American has not had a pay raise adjusted for inflation since 1973 while guys like us have gotten richer and richer-

JILLETTE: '73? I was making like $4 an hour.

MACFARLANE: But the problem is, they're misdirecting it. It's always been fascinating to me that they, that groups like this will direct their anger at the left. And you know, I think it's, it should be noted that-

KING: Because they’re not getting mad at the right?

MACFARLANE: Yeah. Well, did you have-

JILLETTE: They're pretty mad at the right.

MACFARLANE: -the $100 million or $1 billion Koch family that funds FreedomWorks, which supports the Tea Party. They benefit by getting these guys riled up about this guy who’s trying to affect health reform as opposed to getting mad at the rich guys themselves.

JILLETTE: But is it, is it rich people telling them what to do or is it white people-

MACFARLANE: I think it's a little bit of puppeteering, yeah.

JILLETTE: Which one is it? Are they a racist organization or are they a puppet organization?

HARRIS: Well, when Seth and I got together and created the Tea Party-

JILLETTE: Okay, that's what I'm wondering. That’s what I’m wondering. Which is it?

HARRIS: We had a big, yeah.

KING: It's finally come out now.

HARRIS: Right, exactly.

 

JILLETTE: It might also be people who have different opinions that you, that have different opinions than me. That’s possible, too.

MACFARLANE: It was supposed to be a stitchery group.

HARRIS: Yes, but I think it's very anti-Obama. You know, it's very, like, it’s-

JILLETTE: But there are groups that were anti-Bush, too. I was really anti-Bush.

HARRIS: Yes.

JILLETTE: And yet no one called me racist.

HARRIS: Well, that’s right, but Bush wasn't the first black President either.

JILLETTE: So once he's the first black President, if you’re against him, you’re a racist?

HARRIS: No, I’m not saying that, but I do think if you (END OF SENTENCE DIFFICULT TO HEAR)