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Obama Says Race Is Key Component in Tea Party Movement


On March 12, 2010, President Barack Obama welcomed to the White House Kenneth T. Walsh, a former White House reporter and author of "Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House."  As the first African American to win the White House, Walsh says a "serene and confident" Obama had agreed to sit down for a candid interview for the book.

According to Walsh, Obama didn't hesitate to "dive in" to the subject of race, and stressed how his administration was working to build a race-neutral administration.

"Americans, since the victories of the civil rights movement, I think, have broadly come to accept the notion that everybody has to be treated equally; everybody has to be treated fairly," Obama said. "And I think that the whole debate about how do you make up for past history creates a complicated wrinkle in that principle of equality... I think that every president should feel an obligation to deal with not only issues of discrimination, but also the legacy of slavery and segregation that has been such a profound part of our history."

"Obviously it's hard for me to engage in a mind experiment and say, well, if I weren't African-American, would I feel less strongly about it or more strongly about it—and I know I feel strongly about it," he continued. "I do come to this issue with personal experiences that are unlike any previous presidents."

In a more candid moment, Walsh notes, Obama admitted that race is still an issue for him in many ways, suggesting it was a "key component" to the growing tea party movement:

In May 2010, he told guests at a private White House dinner that race was probably a key component in the rising opposition to his presidency from conservatives, especially right-wing activists in the anti-incumbent "Tea Party" movement that was then surging across the country. Many middle-class and working-class whites felt aggrieved and resentful that the federal government was helping other groups, including bankers, automakers, irresponsible people who had defaulted on their mortgages, and the poor, but wasn't helping them nearly enough, he said.

A guest suggested that when Tea Party activists said they wanted to "take back" their country, their real motivation was to stir up anger and anxiety at having a black president, and Obama didn't dispute the idea. He agreed that there was a "subterranean agenda" in the anti-Obama movement—a racially biased one—that was unfortunate. But he sadly conceded that there was little he could do about it.

His goal, he said, was to be as effective and empathetic a president as possible for all Americans. If he could accomplish that, it would advance racial progress for blacks more than anything else he could do.

This reported dinner conversation marks the first time President Obama has publicly linked the tea party movement to accusations of racism many on the left have made toward the conservative resurgence.  Whether or not the president meant for this conversation to rise to a level of public awareness is not clear, but the unguarded moment offers insight into the president's personal views of the tea party movement.

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