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White Concedes, the Tea Party Parties On

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At 9 p.m. at the Hilton hotel in downtown Houston, Bill White conceded the governor’s race to Rick Perry. He said the margin will narrow as the evening draws on, but it will not be enough to overcome his loss in the early returns. He congratulated Perry and urged his supporters to keep working on civic issues.

He also urged civility, that all of our leaders including our national leaders, deserve respect. Respect for diversity, he said, includes not only respect for people of different ethnic backgrounds, but also respect for different points of view.

White had actually won over a few Republicans who were tired of Perry’s secessionist antics and failure to support education in Texas, and he hoped they would carry on. But conservatives have the wind at their backs, and no matter how decent and competent a man White was, he was not likely to carry a state that voted for McCain.

I got to the White’s reception after spending an hour with a crowd of tea party supporters who almost certainly voted for Perry. The King Street Patriots had rented the Crystal Ballroom at the former Rice Hotel, an elegant, Romanesque room with crystal chandeliers and romantic murals. It embodied Houston history.

I wanted to talk to a member of the group and see if just one King Street Patriot had some inkling of the racial anxiety they are stirring up. I stood at the back of the room with a man in his mid fifties, the father of two girls in private high schools, the owner of two businesses that keep him far too busy to indulge in poll watching.

He was drawn to the King Street Patriots because they had uncovered perhaps as many as 20,000 fake voter registrations, supplied by groups allied with Democrats. There is a difference between a fake registration and actually voting, but this man could not see the difference. If there are fake registrations, it’s entirely possible there are people voting several times, though of course, he didn’t know of any instances.

He couldn’t see that there is any racial component in the poll watching activities. He acknowledged that there were problems in the 1950s, but couldn’t figure out why blacks are so aligned with the Democrats and not the Republicans. It was Democrats, after all, who enforced Jim Crow voting practices, he said. Why can’t the blacks see that?

I told him I had a black friend who said he knew old ladies who were terrified of voting if they had to run a gauntlet of white poll watchers. Couldn’t he see the racial animosity this poll-watching movement is stirring up?

I had delayed this question through a long conversation, getting to know this man, telling him a little bit about myself. I was hoping there would be some give in him, some reflection, some empathy about our country’s sorry racial past.

He allowed that he had never seen so much racial tension in the country as he does now. He said he had grown up in a cotton patch. He had seen the separate water fountains. He had seen the riots in the 1960s and ‘70s. But as for the fearful old women, he said firmly, “They need to get over it.”

Houston has always been a relatively tolerant city. We have our share of black politicians and leaders. We haven’t experienced voter intimidation in a long time. Now we have a racial movement that is unable to see its own racial animosity.

I am afraid this is just the beginning. The fear mongering about a black conspiracy to steal votes will only grow stronger. I had a brief fantasy today that if some of these tea partiers could be brought into a room and get to know some black civic leaders and voters, and listen to their feelings, and know their history,  maybe this movement would lose some of its momentum.

But now I sense that this election’s events are only the beginning. The real purpose is to depose Obama in two years. And the response will be: Racism? What racism?