Tea Party battles racism allegations

Tea Party activist Lawrence Crane secures a large U.S. flag while preparing for a Tea Party rally to be held at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, April 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Tea Party activist Lawrence Crane secures a large U.S. flag while preparing for a Tea Party rally to be held at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, April 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) (Rich Pedroncelli - AP)
Judson Phillips
Founder, Tea Party Nation
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; 1:00 PM

As several states with active "tea party" groups prepare to hold important primary elections this month, the movement is struggling to overcome accusations of racism that are tinting perceptions of this loose network of conservatives.

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, most Americans see the movement as motivated by distrust of government, opposition to the policies of Obama and the Democratic Party, and broad concern about the economy. But nearly three in 10 see racial prejudice as underlying the tea party.

Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, was online Wednesday, May 5, at 1 p.m. ET to address questions about the movement's platform, accusations of racism and the upcoming elections.


Judson Phillips: Hi I'm Judson Phillips from Tea Party Nation. I'm here to take your questions and I'm looking forward to talking with you.


Washington, DC: Eugene Robinson recently had an excellent article in which he pointed out that the AZ immigration issue seemed a ready made issue for the Tea Party movement. Here you have major govt intrusion into the lives of citizens. What is your reaction to the article/what is your movement doing to protest this new law? And if nothing, why not?

washingtonpost.com: Robinson: Border security isn't the problem (Post, May 4)

Judson Phillips: I have not seen the article. We have been a little busy here in Nashville with some flooding. Most of the folks in the Tea Party Movement are not happy with illegal immigration. The AZ law, as I understand it, provides that if the officer detains someone for something and THEN has reasonable suspicion, he can inquire about immigration status.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: What do you make of the fact that the vast majority of the Tea Party activists seem to be older (over 50) white people? The whole "my country that I grew up in is disappearing" nostalgia hearkens back to the times when it was great to be middle-class or higher white American, but it was pretty lousy time for everyone else.

Judson Phillips: I make of that that I don't think you have been to a Tea Party event.


Small govt.: I get that the tea partiers want smaller government, but you all seem to think government should have no part in basically life at all. The scandal arising today over lack of control in the plant producing children's medication as well as the oil spill make me very much weary of this point of view. I want the government actively protecting and monitoring my food and drug supply. Leaving that up to the free market will result in disaster, as has been proven time and again. What is your response?

Judson Phillips: If you leave it up to the government, you end with 72 million doses of a vaccine that no one wants. One of the liberal myths is that the Tea Party Movement wants no government. No, we want a constitutional government. Throwing someone in jail because they do not want to buy government health insurance is not smaller government. It is a dictatorship


Washington, D.C.: Judson -- Are you willing to admit that taxes have actually gone down for the vast majority of Americans under President Obama?

Judson Phillips: No


Racism: while I do not believe that racism is a primary motivator for a majority of your supporters, you cannot deny that it is the primary factor for some. Every movement has its fringes and cannot be condemned, as a whole, for the loonies, however, the movement doesn't seem to be doing much to disassociate from these people. At every protest I see offensive signs, hear offensive chants, etc. If these people are not shown the door, is that not a tacit approval of their message?

Judson Phillips: How many have you been to? I have organized a number of them. We have had a couple of people show up at those events. These are people that no one knows and they have offensive signs. At the events I have been involved in, they have been tossed out. On the Tea Party Nation website, racists comments is one of the fastest ways to be banned from the site.


Boston, Mass.: Thank you for taking our questions. Here is my question for the Tea Party. What are your solutions to today's problems? For example, I hear the word socialism used a lot and government getting too big. But then what would you cut? Or what would the Tea Party members have done about the financial crisis from 2008? I assume that they would not vote to bailout the banks, but what would they do if the biggest banks in the world go under?

Judson Phillips: First, cut taxes to increase economic growth. That works every time. Second, let's go through the entire federal budget and eliminate programs that are consumed by waste, fraud or abuse. Start eliminating them.


Houston, Tex.: I'm not saying the Tea Party as a whole is racist, not at all. But it's a valid question. They waited to protest a black Democratic president, despite (1)unprecedented growth in the size of the government and (2)the bank bailout, both of which occurred under the previous Administration. Where was the Tea Party between 2001 and 2008?

Judson Phillips: Yes you are. The problem with Obama is not his ethnicity. It is his ideology. He is a socialist. I use that term as it is defined in the economic/political realm. Many of us expressed our displeasure going into 08. The first tea parties started in 08 to protest tarp.


No coffee for me!: Just wanted to say that I appreciate another group of people advocating their political positions!

We revolted from England over a 4 percent tax, that was not even universal. Anyone who says that we aren't taxed enough already just doesn't get it!!

Judson Phillips: Thank you!


Baltimore, Md.: I will admit, I am not politically sympathetic, but I do somewhat sympathize with the problems you face with regard to public image. The media (and here I speak principally of television) will always gravitate to the most visually arresting images. By that I mean, if there is a choice between shooting video and sound of a guy in a sport coat talking about the crippling effect of crippling long-term national debt versus shooting a guy dressed up like the Statue of Liberty and carrying a sign saying "Impeach The Kenyan," the media will always, always take the latter choice.

Garry Trudeau in Doonesbury hit on this a couple weeks ago, when he likened the costumed Tea Party attendees to the Yippees of the the 1960s. I don't know how you solve this problem, but believe me, it's a problem.

Judson Phillips: You are right. We live in a sound bite era or as they say in the media, if it bleeds, it leads.


Nashville, Tenn.: "Judson -- Are you willing to admit that taxes have actually gone down for the vast majority of Americans under President Obama?

Judson Phillips: No"

Okay - can you provide actual evidence that taxes have increased or stayed the same under President Obama?

Judson Phillips: Let's start with him allowing the bush tax cuts to expire.


Sidney, N.Y.: Many Tea Party supporters I know in Upstate New York receive federal single payer health benefits from VA, Medicare and Medicaid, which they profess to support while vehemently arguing against the still most private market health-care insurance reform. Please help me make sense of this.

Judson Phillips: And I know liberals who believe in the tooth fairy.


Socialism: Are you willing to publicly state that, while you might disagree with President Obama's policies, he's clearly not a socialist?

Judson Phillips: He clearly is. And I strongly disagree with him.


Washington, D.C.: "Second, let's go through the entire federal budget and eliminate programs that are consumed by waste, fraud or abuse. Start eliminating them. "

This doesn't answer that poster's question at all. WHAT would you cut? Social Security? Medicare? National defense? What would you cut?

Judson Phillips: Let's start with entitlement programs. They are the biggest source of out of control spending. Then let's go to congressional pork programs. Since we have a war on terror or as Obama would call it, man caused disasters, I do not believe cuts in the defense budget are appropriate at this time.


San Francisco, Calif.: What would be the reaction during a Tea Party rally if local police demanded proof of citizenship from all attendees? If they escorted anyone immediately lacking such documents to Federal Immigration detention centers?

I get the impression it would be hard for most Tea Party members to fathom not being thought of as American if they or their children didn't have a particular piece of paper in their pockets. I also sense a lack of understanding that many long time, multi- generational, American citizens don't have the luxury of having their status free from reasonable suspicion based solely on personal appearance.

Judson Phillips: The law requires that there must be some other police action, like an arrest, followed by REASONABLE SUSPICION. Reasonable suspicion is a specific legal term.


Solutions: "Second, let's go through the entire federal budget and eliminate programs that are consumed by waste, fraud or abuse."

Okay, so some examples of what these are? The Tea Party and its "Taxpayers' Rights" predecessors always say this, but one person's waste is another person's lifeline. So I would like to know some concrete ideas of what programs meet these criteria.

Judson Phillips: Social security disability is the first one I would go through. Down in the south, many people refer to them as crazy checks. We have lawyers advertising right next to the personal injury lawyers, saying they will get you SSI disability. the program is rife with fraud.


Waste in government: If cutting taxes did so much to raise revenues, why did we always find the federal deficits ballooning immediately after they were implemented. Think Ronald Reagan, GW Bush. Tax increases under Clinton also raised revenue and actually brought the budget into balance.

Judson Phillips: Kennedy cut taxes and the economy boomed in the 60's

Reagan cut taxes in the 80s and the economy boomed.

Bush cut taxes in the early 2000s and the economy boomed.

The Clinton balanced budget came mostly after the GOP took over the house in 2004 and he could not spend all the money he wanted to.


Re" Small Gov't: Part of your response "Throwing someone in jail because they do not want to buy government health insurance is not smaller government. It is a dictatorship" is exactly what many people dislike about the Tea Party movement. Nowhere in the bill will people be put in jail. They will get a penalty, which they have to pay, just like a partaking ticket. Taking that to the next level is just misleading people.

Judson Phillips: Perhaps you should go read the bill. Of course, it would have been nice to read the bill before it was voted on.


Alexandria, Va.: Are you willing to admit that marginal tax rates went up for the majority of Americans during the Reagan administration? Do you know the difference between average and marginal tax rates? Could you answer a simple econ 101 questions regarding the impact of progressive taxation on the labor-leisure choice?

Judson Phillips: No.


New Orleans, La.: During the health care debate, I heard a sound byte of a tea party protester who seemed so angry and vociferous in his anti-government sentiment that I wondered if he'd actually prefer anarchy. In the tea party's platform of "smaller" government, "smaller" seems like a vague concept that doesn't recognize the government's necessary, legitimate, and important role in America. Thoughts?

Judson Phillips: Government certainly has it's place in America. But it has a very limited function. TO protect from foreign threats, regulate interstate commerce to name a couple of them. I've never met anyone in this movement that favors anarchy. But we all believe the size of government is way too large.


Wilmington, N.C. : I just want to remind all of us Tea Party types to thank the Washington Post for bothering to get our opinion on who we are and having a forum to civilly discuss it and inform others.

Thank you for responding to my comment.

Judson Phillips: First sorry, I needed to refresh the screen and did not realize there were more questions.

I give the Washington Post a lot of credit. In my dealings with them, they have been very fair.


Kansas City: I keep hearing the "I want my country back" Frankly I don't understand what that means. If anything OUR country was taken from US in December 2000 when the Supreme Court got involved in state issues and didn't let counting go one, permitting the second place guy to end up in the White House.

Also, you do understand that the Bush tax cuts expire AFTER 2010 if not reapproved? I believe the previous question was about have taxes gone down now, not guessing about the future.

Judson Phillips: And as soon as we vote out the Obama/Pelosi/Reid axis of fiscal evil, we will get out country back.


Taxation without representation: If that statement applies anywhere, it applies in D.C. (witness our license plates). What is your organization's position on voting representation for the District in Congress?

Judson Phillips: DC is a federal district, not a state. It is unique. Having said that, I wouldn't mind seeing DC be a tax free zone. That could make life interesting.


Centreville, Va.: Your anger and contempt for those who challenge you is palpable. That's the impression of the Tea Party I have, full of incoherent anger. No thanks.

Judson Phillips: Have a nice day.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Is the Tea Party opposed to public libraries?

Judson Phillips: No. Are you?


JFK, Reagan, Bush Tax Cuts: Under Reagan and Bush, the deficits boomed as well, which is reason that so much of your tax dollars are going to pay interest on the federal debt. Holding down spending is definitely part of the equation, but only part of it.

Judson Phillips: Deficits did go up. Remember part of the Reagan plan was not only cutting taxes, but cutting spending. The liberals in congress forgot the second part of the equation.


Feel the pain (well, you, not me): Hardly exclusive to the TPers, in fact common among many people: wanting taxes cut (reduced revenue to the government) and a lower deficit (less debt) at the same time, without mentioning any sacrifices they'd be willing to make themselves in order to achieve these two goals. It's easy to say "cut waste," or point at programs one does not benefit from, but quite another to say "I realize I'm also going to have to make some sacrifices." No cuts in Social Security, Medicare, military spending, roads, government subsidies (e.g., if you're a farmer), etc.?

Judson Phillips: I think there should be cuts. Many of the things that are being funded by the federal government should be funded or at least the decisions to fund them should be made at the state and local level.


Floris, Va.: I have personally seen the video of Dem. congressman Emanuel Cleaver being spat upon on March 20, 2010. It's on YouTube and you can clearly see the white man in the baseball cap spitting on the congressman. The Tea Party's response is that it was "accidental spittle." Question: Should a screaming, yelling heckler be so close as to spray an elected official with his saliva? No cop out answer, please.

Judson Phillips: Please call my friend Andrew Breitbart and collect the $100,000 reward he is offering to anyone who can prove that event happened.


Boston, Mass.: You made the following comment in regards to cutting spending: Let's start with entitlement programs.

I keep hearing folks at rallies saying that we need to cut spending but don't touch Medicare or Social Security. Guess what those are the two largest entitlement programs. Also I have been to a few rallies so as not to judge and to see what the movement is really about. I was at the Boston rally and yes there were a few people under the age of 40 but most were white and over the age of 50.

Judson Phillips: I was not at the Boston rally, so I cannot comment on the make up of the group. Rallies I have been to have been fairly diverse, but for the sake of argument let's say there is a massive tea party rally where there is no one under 50 and they are all white. Do these people not have the right to express their opinions and assemble to demand the government listen to their grievances?


Austin, Tex.: Currently if we cut all 100 percent of the Defense Spending and all discretionary Domestic Spending, which excludes only Medicare/Medicaid, SS, and interest on the debt we just barely break even. Your answer to the previous question seems to not understand the latest figures from the OMB.

Judson Phillips: First, cut taxes to increase economic growth. That works every time. Second, let's go through the entire federal budget and eliminate programs that are consumed by waste, fraud or abuse. Start eliminating them.

Judson Phillips: There is a lot of spending that has to be cut. I do not support cutting defense/homeland security spending right now because there is a lunatic named bin Laden with a lot of crazy followers who want to nuke our country. There are a lot of things that can be eliminated. Pork, entitlements are a couple of them. Start picking apart a 2100 page bill and I bet there is a lot there you can find to eliminate.


Yesterday's Primaries: How disappointed are you in last night's results? Does this show that the political power of the Tea Party has been overhyped?

Judson Phillips: I'm disappointed in some results, but you aren't going to win every time. But this is the year candidates should be behind the tea party movement.


re: Arizona Law: Please note that the Arizona law does not state that a person needs to be pulled over first. That is the whole point, police can stop anyone, even if they are just walking down the street doing nothing. As the questioner mentioned, this is a perfect anti-big government for the Tea Party.

Judson Phillips: it does require some law enforcement contact, other than randomly picking someone out.


D.C.: Does the Tea Party support representation in Congress for DC, since the original Boston Tea Party was to protest taxation without representation?

Judson Phillips: No


Silver Spring, Md. : "We want our country back..."

What do you all mean? Are you saying the country changed -that much -- since Obama came into office?

Really, what has changed that much within the last year and a half?

If the Tea Party does get what it wants, what would you change. What is the platform? What is your objective, and are there any concrete plans once you have gotten who you want into office?

Judson Phillips: Let's see... we now have deficits in the trillions. Obama has shoved through socialist health care. The government has taken over GM. He is trying very hard to push cap and tax through. He just revealed to all of our adversaries one of our most closely guarded secrets. And that doesn't count the fact he bows to every one except his fellow Americans.


Chantillly, Va.: How do you plan to attract moderates to your movement? Please be specific.

So far there is no evidence that moderates in any meaningful number have been swayed.

Judson Phillips: I'm not trying attract moderates. Moderates are just those who have no core beliefs. I have a lot more respect for liberals than I do moderates. I'll disagree with liberals but they have core beliefs.


Miami: Judson: RE: The Reagan plan

Regardless of what he said he was going to do he brought a tripling of the Gross Federal Debt, from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion.

Among Reagan's failures was that he did not control federal spending growth. Federal spending rose 69 percent from 1981 to 1989.

Why is he a hero to you?

Judson Phillips: Should Reagan have vetoed some of those spending bills. Sure. He should have. But no one is perfect. He defeated communism which is one of the reasons he is a hero to me. The simple fact is under Reagan and his tax cuts, GDP grew faster in a shorter period of time than it did under either Bush or Clinton.


Tea Party composition: All polls indicate that the typical tea partier is indeed white and over 50. Why won't you admit this? Your anecdotal answers aren't persuasive.

Judson Phillips: And your polls are not either. You know what Disraeli said. There are lies, damn lies and then there are liberal polls.


Anonymous: Do you feel Obama has been dismissive and callous towards Vice President Biden? I specifically recall a photograph from a few months ago where some in the news media and conservative blogosphere commented that it looked like Obama was "looking down" on the VP.

Judson Phillips: I have joked that Joe Biden is absolute proof that there is validity to the birth certificate issue. After all, who would want him as President. Bush/Cheney had an interesting relationship and I think Bush used his vice president in a better way (regardless of whether you agree with policy or not) than other presidents did. Anyone remember Mondale, who's main job as VP was to work on his tennis game?


Milwaukee, Wisc.: One of the things I've noticed in the media coverage of the Tea Party is that the focus seems to be on its members' concern for their individual rights and state's rights. I'm always a little wary of people or groups that are constantly talking about rights without also discussing their responsibilities. But I'm also very aware that I might not be getting the full picture in the articles I read. Does the Tea Party have any specific philosophy about their responsibilities in addition to their viewpoint regarding their rights?

Judson Phillips: I think the political class is afraid of the Tea Party movement. After all, we get people out as volunteers and get them to the polls. For them, it cannot be the same as usual in DC. A lot of them are going to be unemployed after the first of the year and that does scare them.


Takoma Park, Md.: Does the federal government have any role in addressing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

Judson Phillips: Yes. It does. It is a threat to the country and the spill originates outside of the state's territorial waters.


Reagan: "The simple fact is under Reagan and his tax cuts, GDP grew faster in a shorter period of time than it did under either Bush or Clinton."

At a cost of the tripling of the deficit.

Let's be real here, you don't have a problem with debt, the deficit, or government spending. You have a problem with Democrats doing it.

This is why no rational person acknowledges your "movement" as anything beyond a cheap shill for the GOP.

Judson Phillips: Yes, and your heros, the liberal democrats of the 80's were spending like drunken democrats. I have problem with democrats and liberals being in control of the government. IT's sort of like leaving a convicted sex offender alone with children. It is a very bad idea.


D.C.: Mr. Phillips,

I find it ironic that you're complaining about being taxed too much, when you failed to pay your federal income taxes for four years and have filed for bankruptcy in the past. Response?

Judson Phillips Threw a Tea Party, and Trouble Came (AOL News)

Judson Phillips: I find it ironic that you rely on an AOL article that has been totally discredited. My wife was shocked to find out she had been widowed in the past.


Anonymous: It's curious to me that so many Obama supporters assume that those who disagree with him do so based on race. Most of the people I know who disagree with him talk about specific policies of his that they don't like. I am not a member of the Tea Party. But I am under 40 ... I think we need to delay when we get Social Security and Medicare and reduce the benefits of them. Otherwise, eventually we will not have them at all.

Judson Phillips: I am older than you and I have already written off all of what I have paid into SS. I'll never see it.


Virginia: Reagan ranks 5th in GDP growth behind Johnson, Kennedy, Clinton, and Carter.

Why do you toss our phony facts?

Presidents And Prosperity (Forbes.com)

Judson Phillips: wrong. GDP under Reagan went up by 23% in five years. Under Bush and Clinton, it only went up 21% in 7 years.


Kettering Ohio: I am not a TPer, but I think the movement is on to something that is beginning to frighten the political class. We are overly-taxed and a significant portion is hidden, e.g., corporate taxes (which you and I pay ultimately), federal requirements that cause the states and local governments to raise their taxes to pay for the mandates, etc. I think the slam on the movement about Medicare and SS are specious because we already pay, and have paid for years, a separate tax for these entitlements.

Judson Phillips: One of the biggest complaints the people in this movement have is our byzantine income tax structure. Accountants can't get it right. Tax lawyers can't get it right. the average American can't get it right. One of the things almost everyone in the tea party supports is a simpler system. Laffer said right now, even with the insane Obama spending, a flat tax of 11% would cover all of our obligations. For most Americans that would be tax cut. It's a great idea.


Falls Church, Va.: Do you believe the president was born in the U.S.?

Judson Phillips: Yes. But I am really puzzled why he is spending millions of dollars to keep that birth certificate under wraps. That makes no sense. Jack Cashill did an interesting article speculating on why he would do that, assuming he was born in Hawaii (which I think the evidence supports that). There is something there he does not want released. Also, I think it is interesting that the media has not crawled all over him for all of the records he has not released. School records, bar records, all kinds of records. Of all our recent presidents, he is probably the most unknown.


Chicago Park, Calif.: I have noticed that the media of the new Arizona immigration law has been about as unfair and one-sided as their coverage of your group. That fact that most people favor the law and the Tea Party seems to frighten the liberal media. The fact that their coverage over Arizona is so one-sided has stirred riots and assaults on police. What is your take on this?

Judson Phillips: While a lot of the media coverage has been unfair, there are some media outlets that have worked at being fair to us. I think a lot of the negative coverage is due to the fact most of the media establishment do not understand the Tea Party. A majority of the major media is located in Washington or NY. I'd love to see some members of the major media based in Tupelo, MS or the Quad Citys or Nachadoches TX. I think if we had more media from middle America these issues would get better coverage.


Maryland: I am sorry but your answer of "I think the political class is afraid of the Tea Party movement. After all, we get people out as volunteers and get them to the polls. For them, it cannot be the same as usual in D.C. A lot of them are going to be unemployed after the first of the year and that does scare them" is really offensive. This us vs. them mentality is really repulsive to me. I am a hard-working middle class American and I don't agree with anything you are saying, and I have a right not agree with you. But you splitting the citizenry into classes of "elites/political class/Washington insiders/liberals" vs "real Americans" is just plain wrong! and that's the problem with your movement.

Liberals are just as American as you are and you and your movement has no right to question people's patriotism or Americanness just because they disagree with you.

Judson Phillips: Yes we do. You folks in the left do far worse. Patriotism is not something that cannot be measured. It can be. And you folks on the left, as a general rule are not patriotic. You do not love this country. You are embarrassed by us.

I hate to tell you this, but those of us in fly over country are the real Americans.


Judson Phillips: I want to thank the Washington Post for inviting me and thank you for your questions. I hope I have answered them. I am going to have to run now. I have several commitments this afternoon. Anyone who is interested can reach me through the Teapartynation.com website. Thank you!


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