The big news from the mother country over the last couple days was Labour PM Gordon Brown's gaffe. Brown had a conversation with Gillian Duffy, a 66 year old woman and lifelong Labour voter. Ms. Duffy was worried about crime and immigration, among a number of issues. Brown handles the exchange pretty well and treats her with apparent grace, so long as the cameras were rolling. But when he climbs into his Jag and speeds away, he calls Ms. Duffy "a bigoted woman." He forgot that his mike was still on. I name this a "Drebin gaffe" after Leslie Neilson's Frank Drebin in the Police Story movies. Check out that clip to find out what I mean. Here is the PM's actual gaffe:
Michael Barone calls this "one of the most amazing unforced errors in the history of English-speaking politics." That might not be hyperbole. The problem of course is that now we know for certain what Gordon Brown really thinks about Gillian Duffy. She is worried about the effects of immigration and crime in Britain, two issues that are not unrelated, and Brown thinks that makes her a bigot.
It occurs to me that the same is true of the American left in its reaction to the Tea Party movement. The charge of racism has been incessantly hurled at the Tea Partiers, in spite of almost no evidence. Now comes a poll from University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality that illustrates the straining that this accusation requires.
• "Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors." [78% agree].
• "Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class." [72% disagree].
• "Over the past few years blacks have gotten less than they deserve." [83% disagree].
• "It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites." [73% agree].
Is this evidence of "racial resentment," as Newsweek alleges? It is in fact evidence that strong majorities of Tea Party activists reject liberal positions on these issues in favor of conservative positions. Like Gordon Brown, Newsweek apparently regards disagreement with the Left as bigotry.
In fact, these results prove the opposite of racism. The respondents view African Americans as being exactly the same as other ethnic groups. To say that blacks would be as well off as whites if only they tried as hard means you think that blacks have the same natural capacities as whites. One might argue that these sentiments are unfair; one cannot logically claim that they amount to racism.
Another set of questions in the poll have not received the attention it deserves. Tea Party "true believers" favor laws protecting homosexuals against discrimination in the workplace and believe that homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the Armed Forces, by 62% and 69% respectively. On the other hand, only 36% agreed that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children.
It is clear that the Washington Institute was looking for evidence of racism among Tea Party believers. What they found, and what Newsweek tried to fit in the frame of "racial resentment," in fact proves the opposite. The Tea Party activists are hardly a bigoted bunch, unless you mean by "bigot" what Gordon Brown means: anyone who challenges the views of the Left.