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Feb. 8 2010 - 4:12 pm | 882 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

Tom Tancredo hates my mother

JOHNSTON, IA - DECEMBER 12:  (FILE PHOTO) Repu...

he would not have let my mother vote.

Over the weekend, a group calling themselves Tea Party Nation held a gathering at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. There, with many dressed in their finest Revolutionary War outfits, they paid good money to listen to a handful of speakers, including someone who briefly served as the Governor of Alaska.

One of those speakers was former Republican Congressman Thomas Gerard Tancredo, a small man with a giant appetite for hate. During his less than remarkable speech, Mr. Tancredo claimed people “who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English” essentially decided the last election. You know? The one that put an African-American in the White House. He went on to suggest a literacy test be required to insure such a travesity does not ever again happen to the country he claims to love. A literacy test which would effectively bring back the days of Jim Crow. A literacy test which prevented African-Americans from voting. A literacy test which was banned by the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

 Now, you would expect such statements to produce outrage from the crowd or, at the very least, a smattering of boos. Well, you would be wrong, such sane acts do not occur in the Real America of either Tea Party revelers or GOP supporters. Tancredo received wild applause and later was congratulated by Jason Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, who called the former Congressman,”an amazing politician.”

 It is no secret Tancredo hates immigrants–regardless of color or nationality. He doesn’t see them as hard-working people trying to make a life in this country (much like his very own Italian-born grandparents). He puts no human face to them at all. Which means, Mr. Tancredo would have hated my mother.

My mother was born in Italy. By the age of 24, she had already suffered the loss of a husband, a six-month old child and a younger brother to disease and the bombs of World War II. Eight years later, she married my father and spent 35 years in a long, lonely, abusive and poverty-ravaged relationship. In the process, though she spoke barely a word of English, she became a proud citizen of the United States. She voted in every election, even though she could neither pronounce the word ‘vote’ nor spell it. I remember the hours we both put in as she prepped for the test which would certify her as a US citizen. One of the questions was to name the first President of the United States. In the event my mom forgot George Washington’s name, I asked her to keep a dollar bill folded in her hand.

She passed the test and cried when the Judge pronounced her and the others in the crowded room US citizens.

But if Tom Tancredo had his way, she would never have had the chance to vote. Instead, she would be ridiculed by a small-minded man and his merry band of followers. And maybe my mother couldn’t speak English as well as Mr. Tancredo but here’s what else my mother couldn’t and wouldn’t do:

She wouldn’t join a group called Young Americans for Freedom as the student activist Tancredo did and give speeches in support of the Vietnam War. But when it came time to show his real Tea Bag colors, as it did when he received 1-A draft status in 1970, Mr. Tancredo did not go fight as he had urged so many others to do. He came armed with a doctor’s note which claimed he suffered from depression and panic attacks reducing his status to 1-Y deferment. Further proof that the ones who are always eager to send our young men and women into harm’s way have never themselves fought in the field of battle. They just go to the dinners.   

My mother would not raise her hand as Mr. Tancredo did when asked during a Republican debate for the Presidential nomination if he did not believe in the theory of evolution. She knew her Bible and may have lacked for a formal education, but she wasn’t an idiot–she never bought into the theory of a man with a white beard sitting on a cloud who looked an awful lot like Charlton Heston inventing the world and all that’s in it in six days and on the seventh kicked back and popped open a keg of beer.

My mother would not create something called Team America as Tancredo did and put it in the hands of a man who assaulted and insulted an African-American woman and pled guilty to the charges. She would certainly not have kept him on the job after he copped the plea, as Tancredo chose to do.

She would not have voted against the renewal of the Voting Rights Act as Mr. Tancredo has done nor would she have called Justice Sonia Sotomayor a racist as he has done on more than one occasion.

 My mother died in 2004, so she did not hear the words spoken by this angry and bitter man. But there are others who did hear them and said nothing. Not one single representative of the Republican Party has yet to condemn his words. And they have had plenty of opportunity to do so, to come down on the hate and to side with what is good and decent.

 You know who did pin Tancredo to the mat? Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas. On an MSNBC program, Moulitsas came out in favor of health care reform and used the care given to veterans as an example of a government-run program. On the other side, Tom Tancredo scoffed at such a notion and claimed that veterans would prefer a private choice.

And that was his big mistake, taking on Moulitsas. Yes, the right can attack the man and they like to poke fun of him, but the kid has chops and the kid also has done something Tancredo and his ilk never had the courage to do–he served his country. “I’m a veteran,” Moulitsas said. “I did not get a deferment because I was too depressed to fight a war I supported in Vietnam. I’m a veteran and veterans want a more effective V.A.”

 And what did Tom Tancredo do? He demanded an apology for being called what he was–a coward–and when he did not get one he stormed off the show. As he does whenever he is asked to stand his ground and fight, Tancredo runs. Maybe he headed for the doctor’s office to get another note. 

My mother would have loved that. She always liked it when punks were shown the door and bullies were beaten at their own game.

 I was ashamed to learn that Tom Tancredo is Italian-American. As if we didn’t have it bad enough with a high drop-out rate and growing drug problem among our youth. And for every Mario Cuomo we get up and out, we somehow end up with a million tattooed melons like the “Jersey Shore” crowd. So, the last thing we as a group needed on our plate was this gnat spewing his venon in Nashville.   

I’m afraid the hate will not end, there are far too many people in this country who feel the way Mr. Tancredo does. Some hide their words better, some are sharper and have learned to use the coded language that their fellow brethern seem to understand and embrace, others are brazen and shout it out loud and often. The election of an African-American has given them free reign to open the flood gates of hatred–of minorities, immigrants, gays, working women, or just anyone who is not like them, looks like them, thinks as they do.

I don’t know what kind of an America these people who ridicule science, insult hard-working immigrants (many who have sons and daughters fighting overseas, Mr. “Can I have another Xanax”  Tancredo), mock gays, hate unions, and point with disdain at other countries as if our land was perfect and free of poverty and strive want.

They do seem eager to embrace war, that never seems to bother them, so long as they are not the ones doing the fighting and the dying.  

They look to the past for their answers, a past where they controlled the levers, where they decided who could vote and who couldn’t and who could work and who had to sit by the sidelines and watch. 

A past filled with discrimination and hatred.

A past where a woman like my mother would be laughed at for not being able to say the word ‘vote’ or spell it. As if that very act serves as the calling card of a model citizen.

A past where the tools of ignorance were embraced as if they were a badge of honor.

A past that is all too painfully crawling on its belly toward our present.


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  1. collapse expand

    THANK YOU! for your insightful comments re. Tom Tancredo. The fact that audience members listening to his recent speech applauded his racist comments was sickening. How many attending that convention even knew what he was really talking about? The questions asked of African Americans for over 70 years to make sure they did not vote is a shameful part of our history. If those audience members had been given a literacy test from the 1950s, THEY THEMSELVES would not have passed it!

    God save this country from the hatred brewing at these gatherings!

    I am descended from Irish, German and Dutch Immigrants, proud of it and I stand ready to give others the blessing this country has given my family.

    C. Farley

  2. collapse expand

    Lorenzo – Very insightful thoughts. I too am of Italian descent, although maybe a generation behind you. My great great grandparents came over on the boats with nothing more than a small suitcase and a dream.

    What irks me to no end is this: 1) Tancredo seemingly forgets everything that was probably taught to him at a young age about the importance of Ellis Island(how does an Italian forget? Isn’t it every Italian grandparents pleasure to remind his/her family where they come from? :) ).
    And 2) How does he, or anyone else, simply get away with these anti-immigration, racist stances when our country is largely a country of immigrants?

    I’ve never understood the line of thought where folks in this country blast immigration on one hand, then go have dinner with their 2nd or 3rd generation immigrant family members that night.

  3. collapse expand

    Why do you assume that a literacy test is “racist?” Isn’t reading something that everyone can learn in public school?
    Why is it that any test of intelligence seems to be “discriminatory” against democrats and people of color? For example, people who are too stupid to figure out how to punch a ballot…
    Seriously, I personally would prefer to restrict voting to those who could (at a bare minimum)articulate one single issue supported by the candidate for whom they are voting. And yes, articulate it in English, thanks.
    I am married to an immigrant who did not speak a single word of English when he arrived here, but he learned.
    Do we really want to choose representatives based on ignorance, illiteracy, and incompetence? Hasn’t been working too well so far.

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    About Me

    I've written eight books (A Safe Place; Sleepers; Apaches; Gangster; Street Boys; Paradise City; Chasers and--coming in July, 2010-Midnight Angels). I've written a dozen film scripts and a half-dozen TV pilots and am working on my next one now, Night and Day for Lifetime. I also worked as a writer/producer for Law&Order and was managing editor of the CBS series Top Cops. When I was much younger I worked at the New York Daily News and for way too many magazines to list (most of them no longer in business). I love sports, politics, travel, wine, dogs, reading, working out, great Italian food, old friends, history, movies, television, plays. I live in the city where I was born, worry about my kids even though they are adults now and love quiet time in the country with my wife. The older I've become, the more liberal I've become and I don't believe everyone is entitled to an opinion. I believe everyone is entitled to an informed opinion. I hope my posts will bear that out.

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