Presidential hopeful and longtime Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann is today saying that she didn’t notice a key part of a pledge she endorsed last week, which claims that black families were better off during slavery. It’s a move that’s increasingly typical of the Tea Party, a group that can neither own nor abandon its race politics, even as Bachmann and others become legitimized mainstream political figures.
The morality-cum-policy statement in question is the ‘Marriage Pledge,’ put forward by the improbably capitalized anti-gay group The FAMiLY LEADER. While it’s got a lot of gross stuff in it [PDF link] bemoaning the sad state of modern families — most of which is gay panic — there’s one clause in particular that’s been turning heads:
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.
Odd that the FAMiLY LEADER should use slavery as an example of the strengthening effects of marriage on a family — not just because of the obvious, that black families were split up by rape, murder, and public auctions, but also because marriage between slaves was illegal. Over at Forbes, Osha Gray Davidson tracks down Dr. Lorraine Blackman, an author of the study cited by this paragraph; she describes the pledge’s interpretation as “just wrong,” and points to the explosion of black nuclear families following 1861.
The group has removed the offending passage (and is sorry that you’re so sensitive), and Bachmann has renounced it as well, saying she simply didn’t see that part… except, yo, it’s the first bullet point. Oh yes, and while apologizing, her spokesperson managed to bring up that “slavery was horrible and economic slavery is also horrible.” I’m not totally fluent in conspiracy, but I believe the phrase ‘economic slavery’ is a bit of Beckian dogwhistling, which coopts one of history’s greatest injustices in order to complain about undeserving people getting our tax dollars.
This is far from the first race-talk misstep by a legitimized Tea Party figure. In addition to Bachmann, the FAMiLY LEADER managed to get a pledge endorsement from gay-fearing googlebomb victim and Tea Party wannabe Rick Santorum. (That’s the same Santorum who said that Obama’s stance on abortion was ‘remarkable for a black man.’) The group’s founder, Bob Vander Plaats, was onstage when Tea Party candidate Herman Cain claimed that he’d welcome gays into his cabinet, since they wouldn’t attempt to declare sharia law. (And this is the same Cain who’s said he’s proof that the Tea Party isn’t racist.)
Last year, nearly every one of these candidates was a punchline; as 2012 approaches, each of them, especially Bachmann, is getting inducted by an uncritical media into legitimacy and thought leadership.
The Tea Party is far from an organized movement, with well-funded factions across the country arguing over which status quo they want to fight for. The uniting quality, perhaps, is that they all want to prove how not-racist they are in the face of damning evidence that they’ve got some nasty race problems — not just in their leaders and founders, but in their own unexamined bias against the “lazy poor.”
Tea Party supporters don’t want to be racist, but they have the same one-dimensional mainstream-media education on race (i.e., racists = bad, no further questions) as most older white people; it must be genuinely frustrating to find out that our racist history wasn’t absolved with Obama. Some members, like the Tea Party t-shirt vendor who’s been selling “Yup, I’m a Racist!” shirts, are pushing back on what they see as an injustice. Some members watch a news channel that tells them who the real racists are. And some candidates, like Michele Bachmann, find that they can mention Muslims any time they need a fresh headline with no accountability. Imagine the equal-time news stories we’ll be treated to when some Tea Party-stained Republican wins the primary.