Racism in the Tea Party or a tempest in a tea pot?


By: Robert E. Meyer

To many political observers, it probably appeared that the Tea Party movement came out of the woodwork or even thin air. But the roots of the movement go back before then.

The Tea Party is sometimes considered to be a reactionary response to Obama’s presidency, and has therefore been vilified with false innuendos and inaccurate labels. Earlylast year the movement was deemed to be a group of fringe, angry crackpots, who were fit to be scorned and laughed at.

As the movement gained momentum, the laughter stopped, and it became necessary to depict the movement in derogatory terms. Accusations of racism and hatred began to tag along with the Tea Party. Just recently the NAACP has called on the Tea Party to purge the racist elements within its ranks. Of course such insinuation already presupposes such elements exist and can be readily identified. But let’s face it, virtually every organization has its bad apples mingled in with the good fruit.

If that wasn’t enough, in April, an Oregon activist announced a plan to infiltrate Tea Party protests, and deliberately misrepresent the movement by encouraging confederates to attend and carry inflammatory placards. How would you tell genuine participants from impostors?

If one asks the rhetorical question, “When did you stop beating your wife,” it is assumed that wife beating occurred in the past. The burden is on the one making the accusation to offer evidence for his assertion. What is missing is the evidence, but making the charge creates a beneficial distraction.

Presently, character assassination is the new American pastime du jour. We all recognize that racism is a serious offence, but few are as careful and keen to observe that false accusations of such a vice are equally egregious. One must then ask about the general motives behind such accusations. I think the answer becomes obvious: nobody likes to be accused of bigotry in any form, and claims of such motives or illicit conduct cause the one being accused to abandon his arguments or agenda and focus on defending himself from the allegations. It’s a strategy of desperate distraction, hopefully to stall the momentum of a movement that has been politically effective.

The way they are connecting the Tea Party with racism is to assume that any opposition to the president’s policies are de facto evidence of impropriety. It seems dissent was only patriotic during the prior administration.

I have been sympathetic to the grievances and agenda of the Tea Party, but had not experienced the happening first hand. But recently an acquaintance, who is an expert in American history was invited to be an event speaker. That accorded the opportunity for a credible account of what was going on, which was unfiltered by news media editing.

As irony would have it, one of the other speakers was The Reverend David King , a tall African-American man. He is also a candidate for the Wisconsin Secretary of State position. Rev. King used part of his allotted time to poke fun at the idea of racism in the Tea Party ranks. It made for quite a comical moment.

At this point, it doesn’t appear that the Tea Party is a bona fide “youth movement.” The preponderance of the several hundred people in the audience were adults ages between 40 and 60. There was a fair amount of homemade signage, with slogans that were often clever, but not insensitively provocative.

The tenor of the attendees was cordial, but intense. The themes were patriotism, the loathing of excessive government spending, concern over eroding spiritual foundations, and a desire for personal autonomy without excessive government strictures.

The Tea Party movement has often been criticized for the perpetual theme of claiming they will “take back America.” That phrase has been examined in a pejorative manner by detractors. I would myself abandon that phraseology, in favor of a more endearing sentiment. I would say that the movement is about restoring the influences of government into the hands of the people. There is a justified fear that the American citizenry has lost control over its government. Statesmen and representatives of the people have been replaced by self-serving politicians. A recent case-in-point was the passing of a health care bill, which was highly unpopular, and was passed seemingly without proper legislative due diligence.

In addition, there is concern over the mounting national debt, the threat of increasing taxation, the rebirth of Keynesian economic policies, and pre-eminence of left-leaning political policies. It would be a mistake to still be laughing about the Tea Party. In early primary elections, they have often proven to be the “king-maker,” pushing their chosen candidates over the finish line.

The Tea Party is about “hope and change” as much as Obama appeared to be about those virtues as a candidate, two years ago. To describe what I believe this movement is about in a nutshell, I present an except from the First Amendment “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

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