Cain’s Train: Race and the Tea Party

The revisionist rhetoric of the Tea Party Movement often works to siphon out those deemed un-American. Some contend that the proliferation and success of the Tea Party Movement has been fueled by what can be termed ‘majority panic’ — attempts by majority groups to combat shifting demographics that may work to stymie ideological narratives of superiority.

In “The Fears of a Tapering Majority: Mere Media or Growing Reality?”, I discuss the increasingly documented phenomenon of ‘white racial anxiety.’ In the blog, I highlight the Tea Party Movement, viewing it as a sort-of dogmatic, concrete manifestation of new-aged racial anxiety. While the Tea Party still runs on revisionist, pro-constitutionalism rhetoric, the conceptions of race within the movement may be more malleable than one may think.

The first black Tea Party group was founded in January in Houston; and, now, Godfather Pizza CEO and rising Tea Party fixture Herman Cain is rising the popularity ranks of an overwhelmingly white constituent base. In Cain’s newest campaign video, the presidential hopeful elicits much of the same pro-American imagery that helps to define the relationship between an ideological movement and a very real constituency.

The gist of the video: Ken Burns portraits of his family, American flags ad nauseum, cowboy hats and more all backdropped by country music fanfare. While the video is replete with nationalistic and patriotic semiotics, it is also driven by racial rhetoric. A Cain supporter is also seen saying, “People ask me if its [the Tea Party] is about color. And, I answer, ‘yes, it is. It’s about the red, white and blue.’” While in another scene, Cain says, “I left that Democrat plantation along time ago.

The mixture of overt Americana with racial undertones intertwines two distinct, yet wholly connected ideological realms within a single sequence of frames. And, while Cain’s success within the Tea Party may be a step toward a post-racial America, the video and Cain’s platform may still help to perpetuate the Tea Party’s take on just who and what constitutes ‘American.’ Still, Cain and the Tea Party, indeed, may have mastered a strategy for introducing racial egalitarianism into a headstrong (and arguably regressive) constitutionalist rhetoric.