Monday, April 19, 2010 at 5:39 AM
I was amused by a cartoon recently, which depicts the members of the Tea Party, America’s latest political movement, as mostly resentful white folks who have been ginned up with existential fear by right-wing demagogues.
The cartoon shows one of them reacting to the instruction to fill out this year’s Census form with a blue or black pen as if it were yet another attempt by the federal government (i.e., President Obama) to take away his freedom. So, to “take [his] country back,” he decides to fill it out with a red crayon, which symbolizes his infantile defiance. This, I submitted, illustrates the utterly fatuous nature of most Tea Party protests.
I am all too mindful, however, that the irrational rage depicted in this cartoon does not capture the racism that motivates most its members (a.k.a. tea baggers).
Nothing demonstrates this quite like the fact that George W. Bush has done more than any other president to plunge the country into debt by launching an ill-advised war in Iraq and funding supply-side tax breaks for the super rich. And, more to the point, he was the one who socialized the US economy by bailing out rich bankers on Wall Street. Frankly, this liberal record makes President Obama’s move to save jobs in the auto industry and provide access to healthcare for poor people on Main Street seem, well, conservative.
Yet few, if any, of these folks ever took to the streets to protest against Bush the way they are protesting against Obama. Among other things, they’re accusing him of being “a socialist” who does not share their American values, and of running a “gangsta administration” that rammed healthcare reform down the throats of the American people.
Never mind that, far from “taking away their freedoms,” Obama’s plans to save manufacturing jobs and lower taxes (even for the vast majority of Tea Party members) will give them greater freedom to pursue their happiness in every respect. And the way they’re going on about their guns you’d think that Obama has proposed a law to ban them. In point of fact, he has not even hinted at restricting the use of firearms….
This should expose the big lie behind their Tea-Party label, which is a plainly cynical attempt to co-opt the just cause of Boston revolutionaries whose iconic tax revolt in 1773 led to the War of Independence.
In fact, this craze is nothing more than a shrewd and willful attempt to wrap naked racism in the so-called traditional values of limited government and lower taxes. Of course, there is precedence for this:
For not so long ago, everyone from presidents to chief justices of the Supreme Court cited nothing less than the Constitution for the proposition that black Americans were not entitled to the same civil rights as white Americans. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that a significant number of white people are now buying into the proposition that a black man is not entitled to be president of the United States.
This is why Tea Party agitators were (and still are) propagating all of the nonsense about Obama being a Muslim who was not even born in this country. And it is why they are doing all they can to undermine his presidency.
Not to mention that stoking the simmering racial resentment of these folks makes good politics for the Republican Party (i.e., its Southern strategy) as well as good business for conservative talk radio and FOX News. Why else would the governor of Virginia issue a proclamation to celebrate the glories of the Confederacy without bothering to mention that its racist determination to preserve and protect the institution of slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War? And how else could Sarah Palin have racked up over $12 million less than a year after quitting her job as governor of Alaska?
The only question is whether the Tea Party has any greater power to return America back to the halcyon days when segregation made the prospect of a black president impossible, than the KKK had to stop the inexorable force of the racial integration that made Obama’s election possible?
It does not, ironically, in large measure because of the lessons of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. And, despite spreading anti-Obama fever with their incendiary rants about him taking away people’s freedoms and trampling over states’ rights, not even rabble-rousing demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck believe that the Tea Party poses any real threat to Obama’s presidency.
Instead, for these pied pipers, all of this talk is just entertainment, and they use their artistic license to tell lies shamelessly….
This is not to say that these Tea Party protests pose no danger. In fact, in an interview on Friday commemorating the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, here’s how no less a person than former President Bill Clinton drew comparisons between the anger and resentment of tea baggers and those of right-wing extremists who were venting during his presidency:
Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever. The fabric of American life had been unraveling… There were more and more people having trouble figuring out where they fit nit … we see some of that today…
This tea party movement can be a healthy thing if they are making us justify every dollar of taxes we raise and every dollar of money we’ve spent. But when you get mad, sometimes you end up producing the exact opposite result of what you say you are for … words really do matter. (politico.com)
Unfortunately, there’s nothing any government can do to protect us against a “lone wolf” like Timothy McVeigh. I will note, however, that because of his act of terrorism, the FBI is doing a much better job of infiltrating right-wing, anti-government militias.
Because, on the one hand, the Tea Party just provides a venue for white, angry men - who feel the presumptions and prerogatives of their race are unraveling - to blow off steam. On the other hand, these militias actually train them for a day of reckoning when they can “take their country back” (to give back to the Indians, the original owners, perhaps…?). But the FBI proved its effectiveness in this respect by arresting 9 anti-government militiamen just a few weeks ago for plotting a guerilla war against law enforcement officers….
This is why I am less worried about Tea-Party rhetoric escalating into acts of domestic terrorism than I am about that rhetoric inciting some wacko to channel John Wilkes Booth by attempting to assassinate Obama:
Let us pray that as Obama begins to look more and more like the truly inevitable Democratic nominee (and the next president of the United States), his Secret Service bodyguards will redouble their efforts to protect him. Because the last thing America needs right now is another assassination that triggers all of the lost hope and incendiary rage of the killing of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr… combined!
[Hillary wins New Hampshire; Defies pundits, but not her ill-fated destiny, TIJ, January 9, 2008]
Ultimately, notwithstanding their protestations of political independence, when push comes to shove, I suspect tea baggers will turn out to be nothing more than temporarily insane Republicans. This means that – apart from forcing Republican politicians to pander to their neo-Confederate fantasies – their national impact will be marginal at best.
In the meantime, though, one can be forgiven for thinking that the Tea Party constitutes a far greater political force. But this is only because the media devote a disproportionate amount of coverage to the antics of its members. And they do so of course for the same reason they provide blanket coverage of train wrecks and freak shows: tea baggers make good television!
Party crashers exposes Obama’s vulnerability to would-be assassins