NPR Discusses How Tea Party Appeals 'Very Fundamentally' to Racists

Ellis Cose was a liberal Newsweek columnist on black issues from 1993 to 2010, and now has a book out on improving racial attitudes called The End of Anger. Naturally, the book was plugged on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation on Tuesday afternoon. Even as Cose argued he was pleased that racism isn't accepted in any mainstream political group, and tried to insist not every Tea Party activist is a racist, he insisted "let's be adult here" and acknowledge the Tea Party "appeals to an older, conservative, in many cases racially prejudiced group of people."

NPR host Neal Conan started this discussion by reading an e-mail from a man outraged that Donald Trump had forced the media to discuss the adequacy of Barack Obama's birth certificate: "I wanted to read this email from Dan in Tulsa: Although I agree somewhat with Mr. Cose's assertion that being racist is no longer acceptable, I think racism still gets far too much positive press. Case in point: Donald Trump calls for President Obama to prove he is a citizen and his worthiness to be accepted into Harvard University."

And: "It goes without saying his actions were racist, but I was angered to find it covered daily in the media, even NPR, when it would have been consigned to the dustbin of history by all media outlets, where it belonged. This is a question you examine in the book in the context of the Tea Party."

Cose replied:

COSE: Well, I mean, talking first about Donald Trump, I mean, I share the reader's - the viewer's -- listener's, I should say, dismay that these idiotic comments got as much play as they did. And I also agree - I have no idea whether Donald trump's a racist or not, but he was certainly appealing to racial-related fears. My point is not that this kind of nonsense has disappeared. It's clearly going to be a part of the American framework for as long as I expect to be alive, in one way or another.

What I argue and what I maintain is true is that the sort of societal, official condonement of explicit racism has disappeared, which is to say that even the Tea Party - which, again, appeals to an older, conservative, in many cases racially prejudiced group of people - and then again, let me be very clear. I'm not saying everybody, as far is - who's a Tea Party supporter is a bigot. I think there are not people who are not. But I think they do appeal very fundamentally, as well, to a lot of people who are.

And that is a reality. But even with the Tea Party - and I spent some time talking to various Tea Party leaders in various places, and I even did a long, lengthy interview with an African-American member of the Tea Party. And what they argue is that their appeal is not about race. Their appeal is about the role of government. It's about the role of enlarged institutions in society, and so forth and so forth and so on. Now, let's be adult here. We know that race plays a role in at least some of the attitudes that some people bring to the Tea Party. That's not going to disappear. What's different about this moment in history, I think, is that we have said, as a nation: We don't accept blatant racism.

And that opens up a whole range of possibilities, and that's fundamentally different, again, from where we were a couple of generations ago, where if you want to have an analog in some sense to the Tea Party, some people have compared it to the White Citizens Council of the '60s and the '50s. And it's impossible to imagine the White Citizens Council saying we're not racist. They were fundamentally just a racist group of people. It's impossible to imagine the White Citizens council endorsing the idea of African-Americans appearing at their rallies. They probably would have shot somebody black who showed up at their rallies, if they had such a thing.

You know, you can't deny that this is a huge difference in society, and it changes the dialogue. Does it change everybody's attitude? No. But does it indicate that the people "Conservatives argue that government programs, by giving people something for nothing, eliminated the incentive to work in inner cities and created an amoral `culture of dependency.' That argument, I believe, is largely nonsense." who have these kinds of attitudes are much more likely to be older, conservative and out of touch? Yes, it does.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis