I was going to open this piece with an analogy about the tea party groups and why they're treated seriously by the press and the Republicans. The analogy would go something like: "Imagine [insert left-wing activist group here] getting a serious profile in a mainstream newspaper, and imagine serious Democratic politicians appearing at their convention."
The problem is, when I really evaluated what the various far-left activist groups are all about and compared them with the tea party movement, there really wasn't any equivalency. At all.
Because when you strip away all of the rage, all of the nonsensical loud noises and all of the contradictions, all that's left is race. The tea party is almost entirely about race, and there's no comparative group on the left that's similarly motivated by bigotry, ignorance and racial hatred.
I hasten to note that I'm talking about real racism, insofar as it's impossible for the majority race -- the 70 percent white majority -- to be on the receiving end of racism. That is unless white males, for example, are suddenly an oppressed racial demographic. But judging by the racial composition of, say, the Senate or AM talk radio or the cast members playing the Obamas on SNL, I don't think white people have anything to worry about.
This isn't an epiphany by any stretch. From the beginning, with their witch doctor imagery, watermelon agitprop and Curious George effigies, the wingnut right has been dying to blurt out, as Lee Atwater famously said, "nigger, nigger, nigger!"
But they can't.
Strike that. Correction. TeaParty.org founder Dale Robertson brandished a sign with the (misspelled) word "niggar." So they're not even as restrained as the generally unstrung Atwater anymore.
Most of the time, they merely imply the use of the word. Rush Limbaugh referring to the president as a "black man-child," for example. Every week, a new example pops up on the radio and somehow the offenders are able to keep their job while Howard Stern is fined for saying the comparatively innocuous word "blumpkin." Limbaugh, on the other hand, can stoke racial animosity on his show by suggesting that health care reform is a civil rights bill -- reparations -- and no one seems to mind. And no, the impotence isn't an adequate Karmic punishment for Limbaugh's roster of trespasses.
The tea party is an extension of talk radio. It's an extension of Fox News Channel. It's an extension of the southern faction of the Republican Party -- the faction that gave us the Southern Strategy, the Willie Horton ad, the White Hands ad and the racially divisive politics of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It's an extension of the race-baiting and, often, the outright racism evident in all of those conservative spheres.
But unlike the heavy-handedness of Dale Robertson and others, the tea party followers are generally more veiled about why they're so outraged by our current president.
In the New York Times this past weekend, David Barstow profiled a teabagger from Idaho:
SANDPOINT, Idaho -- Pam Stout has not always lived in fear of her government. She remembers her years working in federal housing programs, watching government lift struggling families with job training and education. She beams at the memory of helping a Vietnamese woman get into junior college.
But all that was before the Great Recession and the bank bailouts, before Barack Obama took the White House by promising sweeping change on multiple fronts, before her son lost his job and his house. Mrs. Stout said she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated -- even manufactured -- by both parties to grab power.
Now you might be saying to yourself, I don't see the racism here. But if you eliminate all of the reasons for Stout's participation in the tea party movement as being contradictory or nonsensical, all that's left is race.
She claims to be against the bank bailouts, but the tea party is against the president's bank fee designed to recover the TARP money. They also appear to be against financial regulatory reform. None of this makes any sense. If tea partiers are against the bailouts, basic logic dictates that they ought to be in favor of getting the money back. Or do they prefer that the banks keep the money and orchestrate further meltdowns? Honestly, I'm not even entirely sure they realize that the bailouts and the recovery act (stimulus) are two different things. But they're also against the recovery act -- you know, whatever that is.
She also told the New York Times that she's tired of politicians "manufacturing crisis."
Right. Three things here.
First, where was she -- where were the teabaggers -- when the far-right endorsed and supported a massive increase in the size of government, unitary executive power grabs and unconstitutional measures fueled by fear-mongering over the very remote threat of terrorism? Crickets chirping. The odds of being killed in an airborne terrorist attack are literally 1 in 10 million. You're much more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by a terrorist.
Second, I refuse to believe that health care is a "manufactured crisis." People are going broke and dying every day. Even the most conservative estimates show that there are 9/11-level casualties each month due to a lack of adequate health insurance. The horror stories are readily available online. Just Google "health insurance horror story" and see how manufactured the crisis is.
Third, look at any bar graph of the economy as of one year ago or any basic jobs number and tell me if the crisis is manufactured. Hell, Pam Stout's son lost his house! How can she possibly suggest the economic crisis was manufactured?
I hate to single out one person, but Stout's incongruous anger is indicative of the entire movement.
From the outset, the tea party was based on a contradictory premise (the original tea party was a protest against a corporate tax cut). And when you throw out all of the nonsense and contradictions, there's nothing left except race. There's no other way to explain why these people were silent and compliant for so long, and only decided to collectively freak out when this "foreign" and "exotic" president came along and, right out of the chute, passed the largest middle class tax cut in American history -- something they would otherwise support, for goodness sake, it was $288 billion in tax cuts! -- we're left to deduce no other motive but the ugly one that lurks just beneath the pale flesh, the tri-corner hats and the dangly tea bag ornamentation.
Irrespective of whether the president passed a huge tax cut or went out of his way to bring Republicans into the health care process, the seeds of racial animosity from the far-right were sown during the campaign. In those lines waiting for then-vice presidential candidate and current tea party heroine Sarah Palin, their loud noises spread the pre-scripted lies, lies that entirely hinged on the president's African heritage. A white candidate would never be accused of being a secret Muslim. A white candidate would never be accused of being a foreign usurper. Only a black candidate with a foreign name would be accused of "palling around with domestic terrorists."
In the final analysis, when you boil away all of the weirdness, it becomes clear that the teabaggers are pissed because there isn't yet another doddering old white guy in the White House -- like they're used to. That's what this is all about.
By way of a postscript, one of the many faceless radio talk show wingnuts, Jim Quinn, this week called President Obama a "Kenyan wuss" who should be "slapped silly." The Kenyan lie and the "slap silly" insult aside, this president is no wuss. You know how I know? He's a black man who ran for president and won despite the growing mob of gun-toting militant white bigots like Jim Quinn who are sucking air in America. President Obama achieving this despite the hatred and threats against him takes serious guts. Guts that Jim Quinn and the tea party movement will never understand.