Race To The Bottom 2011: Notes From Last Night’s Tea Party Debate

By Arturo R. García

And things only got more disturbing after that video.

CNN’S partnership with the Tea Party for Monday night’s Republican presidential debate in Florida was definitely a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a news organization that likes to paint itself as being above political pettiness was visibly validating an astro-turfed faction of a party even longtime supporters are comparing to death cults. But on the upside, this was a chance for more people to see just how beyond the pale these folks really are.

In that regard, they did not disappoint.

So while many of the contenders busied themselves taking shots at Texas Governor Rick Perry, the audience made its’ presence known in ways perhaps not even the candidates anticipated – or wanted.

Perry, who came into Monday evening with some media-driven momentum, was jeered by members of the crowd for defending the Texas DREAM Act. Of course, he was also behind a state ban on sanctuary cities for immigrants, but it was enough of an opening for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to accuse him of supporting “people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally.”

For his part, ex-Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum doubled down on the xenophobia. Not only did he accuse Perry of trying to attract “illegal — I mean Latino — voters,” but he took aim at Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-TX) criticism of U.S. foreign policy before this past Sept. 11th, leading to some pushback from the audience. The transcript of the exchange is under the clip.

SANTORUM: We were attacked because we have a civilization because we have a society that is antithetical to the civilization of the Jihadists. And they wanna kill us because of who we are and what we stand for. And we stand for American exceptionalism. We stand for freedom and opportunity for everyone around the world and I am not ashamed to do that.

PAUL: As long as this country follows that idea, we’re gonna be in a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have been explicit (boos begin).They have been explicit and they wrote and said, ‘We attacked America bcause you had bases on our holy land of Saudi Arabia. You do not give Palestinians fair treatment and you have been bombing (boos intensify) I’m trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing. At the same time, we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for ten years. Would you be annoyed? If you’re not annoyed, there’s some problem.

Paul was also involved in the other major audience flare-up, when host Wolf Blitzer asked him about healthcare costs:

BLITZER: You’re a physician, Ron Paul, so you’re a doctor, you know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question: a healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, ‘You know what? I’m not gonna spend $200 or $300 a month ’cause I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s gonna pay for, if he goes into a coma –

PAUL: In a society that expects welfareism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of it.

BLITZER: What do you want?

PAUL: What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. My advice for him would have a major medical policy.

BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about – taking your own risks. (Applause) This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody …

BLITZER: But, Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?


Late in the debate, businessman Herman Cain said he would bring “a sense of humor” to the White House if elected, “because America is too uptight.” Right now there’s plenty of comedy to go around in this field, alright – if you’re into gallows humor. It’s gonna be a long race, folks.

Top video courtesy of Crooks and Liars
Other videos courtesy of ThinkProgress

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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  • ch555x

    Fine by me if they want to sprint to the bottom…just don’t require me to participate.  Now, there’s the free market!

  • dersk

    Really, if anything the question was an argument for universal coverage.

  • PatrickInBeijing

    Can we really imagine ANY of these people as President?  A few of them have moments when they seem sane, but they are really really scary.    And the Tea Party audience is even scarier.  Race to the Bottom is just the beginning, they are going even deeper if they can.  I thought Huntsman was supposed to be the grown up, and yet I saw him reported as saying that being against a border fence was treasonous?  I blame this all on Ronald Reagan who first emptied out the asylums in California.

  • Digital Coyote

    It’s times like these when I remember why I can’t listen to Ron Paul: he’ll say something astute or reasonable (in this case, his remarks about our foreign policy) and then chase it with something that makes my brain bleed (usually vaguely related to how the free market’s freedom will take care of everything).

    Racialicians: are you genuinely surprised that the audience is cheering for death the death penalty or letting other people die?

    The group of people the tea party appeals to is typically financially secure, rabid in the correctness of its particular faith, and overwhelmingly white.  There are participants who don’t meet these criteria but they are typically foot soldiers (who ultimately have no value beyond being able to vote and willing to volunteer lots of time for the cause) or “proof” of how inclusive this movement is supposed to be.

    Misfortune, then, rightly happens to people who:
    – didn’t use their “freedom” (confounding issues of  the individual’s reality be damned) to make the “right” decisions.  Everyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  Failing to do so is proof you want to live off the government and speaks volumes about your character.     
    – weren’t blessed by a higher power to have more (probably because of something they “did”).  The nation is a city upon a hill and favored accordingly.  So, too, are individuals among us.   
    – are part of groups marked by deviance from (white) cultural normatives.  If they didn’t (commit more crimes, have babies out of wedlock, drop out of school, live off the government, etc.), they wouldn’t be in (jail, on death row, poor, in a job they didn’t like,etc.).

    The tea party and its supporters don’t care how they look clapping for deaths of others–while claiming to support life–because, in their minds, a. the affected people always deserve what happened to them and b. this will never happen to them.

    • Mickey

      Cosing. They are either delusional beyond belief or stupid by default. To think that nothing can happen to them and only happens to others that, supposedly deserved it, is extreme & mental. This country is in need of a serious enema.

    • Mickey

      Cosing. They are either delusional beyond belief or stupid by default. To think that nothing can happen to them and only happens to others that, supposedly deserved it, is extreme & mental. This country is in need of a serious enema.

  • guest

    really? just let them die?….i’m pretty sure they would be quick to change their tune if they found themselves in such a position and they wouldn’t say they brought it on themselves either. these people scream independence and freedom to the top of their lungs to feel better about themselves when their hypocrisy, selfishness, irresponsibility, and greed is so obvious. how can folks ignore the root cause of problems? how can they have the nerve to say its okay for america to bomb and destroy other countries, but be upset or act surprised when terrorists or hate for america pops up? how can folks encourage such a bully mentality on a larger scale (I can push you down, steal from you, destroy and weaken you, control you, but don’t you even THINK of raising a hand to me) i will never understand…smh

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, the audience was special. Applauding for death row executions and saying society should let a man die b/c he doesn’t have access to healthcare. If and when all of our government protections are taken away these people are going to be awful sore. Or just dead. The majority of us cannot just uproot ourselves and go to some secret paradise and afford any medical procedure that we want.

  • http://twitter.com/lkrier Laura Krier

    “BLITZER: But, Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

    This chilled my blood. 

    • Mickey

      I found that very disturbing.

    • k.eli

      The sad part about it is that I’m willing to bet that the majority of those people cheering would consider themselves to be pro-life. Yeah right. More like pro-birth – after that you’re on your own.

      • Anonymous