Tea Party’s racist antics are anything but ‘isolated’
As if the last-minute push to get the health care bill passed wasn’t fraught enough with ugliness, Tea Party protesters took things to another level when they hurled hateful epithets – and spit – at one openly gay legislator, Barney Frank, and another, Emanuel Cleaver, who is black.
Even more appalling: Though certain Republican Party leaders rightly condemned the acts, others brushed them aside – Rep. Devin Nunes even not-so-subtly suggested that those who were attacked got what was coming to them because Democrats are trying to push-through health care legislation: “When you use a totalitarian tactics, people, you know, begin to act crazy.” Makes sense. Except, oh wait, if by totalitarian you mean completely legitimate congressional procedure.
John Boehner was just as clueless, calling the use of slurs “reprehensible” but “isolated” – which, if you have a pulse, you’d know they are not.
Let’s take the Tea Party’s first-ever convention just a month back. There, Tom Tancredo declared that Barack Obama was elected by “people who could not even spell the word vote or say it in English.” He also trotted out the standard racist offering of literacy tests for voting, measures that were outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases like Guinn v. United States and Smith v. Allwright and by the Civil Rights Act. In using such inflammatory rhetoric in its public coming-out party, the Tea Party established itself as a movement intertwined with racist sentiments. These latest acts are only follow-ups to the foundation that was laid back when the movement originated; they are certainly not uncharacteristic or isolated.
Princeton professor Melissa Harris Lacewell smartly predicted on Twitter over the weekend that Tea Party apologists would quickly find some faulty logic to stand on: “I’m waiting for this logic: teabaggers can’t be racist. Clarence Thomas’ wife is one.And she is *married* to a black man.” It’s the same line of thinking that got Michael Steele symbolically elected to head the RNC, and sure enough, Steele himself minimized the incidents, preferring to think of them as the result of “a handful of people who just got stupid and said some ignorant things” and not characteristic of the entire Tea Party.
When I attended a meeting of the Coffee Party in Los Angeles, the overwhelming sentiment in the room was people wanting to find a place to condemn the overtly racist mantle the Tea Party had taken up. It’s frustrating that ordinary citizens recognize this easily, but lawmakers whose condemnation would actually mean something cannot.