Mar 20, 2010
Too much tea party racism
As protesters call Dem leaders "nigger" and "faggot," it's time for Republicans to denounce them.
By Joan Walsh
When the tea party movement began last year I saw it as right-wing reaction, but given the economic turmoil across the country, I tried to understand it. Maybe there was populism within the movement that the left needed to recognize. I attended a local tea party last April 15, tax day, and while I didn't find folks whose minds seemed mutable by liberal populism, at least it seemed possible to have a conversation. I wrote about a former banker and a Democrat who made common cause with some of the protesters around the bank bailout and Goldman Sachs's overall influence on government. She had some good conversations. I saw closed minds, but I didn't see violence or overt racism. Of course I was in San Francisco, so it probably wasn't representative of the tea party movement, but I still think the effort to understand the economic anxiety that's part of what's motivating the tea partiers was worth my time.
A year later, though, it's worth more of my time to say what many resist: The tea party movement is disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches. On Saturday, as a small group of protesters jammed the Capitol and the streets around it, the movement's origins in white resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was impossible to ignore. Here's only what the mainstream media is reporting, ignoring what I'm seeing on Twitter and left wing blogs:
* Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis was taunted by tea partiers who chanted "nigger" at least 15 times, according to the Associated Press (we are not cleaning up language and using "the N-word" here because it's really important to understand what was said.) First reported on The Hill blog (no hotbed of left-wing fervor), the stories of Lewis being called "nigger" were confirmed by Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones and Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, who was walking with Lewis. "It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a former police officer. "He said it reminded him of another time."
* Another Congressional Black Caucus leader, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, was spat upon by protesters. The culprit was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges.
* House Majority Whip James Clybourn told reporters: "I heard people saying things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus."
* There were many reports that Rep. Barney Frank was called a "faggot" by protesters, but the one I saw personally was by CNN's Dana Bash, who seemed rattled by the tea party fury. Frank told AP: "It's a mob mentality that doesn't work politically."
* Meanwhile, a brick came through the window at Rep. Louise Slaughter's Niagara Falls office on Saturday (the day she argued for her "Slaughter solution" to pass health care reform, though it was rejected by other Democrats on the House Rules Committee).
On Thursday MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews grilled tea party Astroturf leader Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity about supporters who taunted a man with Parkinson's disease at a tea party gathering in Ohio last week. Phillips insisted the bullies just didn't represent the tea party movement. But such demurrals don't cut it any more. At the Nashville tea party gathering last month, a proponent of the kinder, gentler tea party movement, Judson Phillips, tried to distance himself from crazed and racist elements – but later endorsed racist speaker Tom Tancredo even after he told the convention: "People who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama." Tancredo blamed Obama's election on the fact that "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country." He got some of the loudest cheers of the weekend.
So I'm having a hard time tonight trying to believe almost uniformly white tea partiers are anything other than a racist, right-wing reaction to the election of an African American president who brings with him feminists and gays (even if he doesn't do as much for them as they would ideally like)...