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The Tea Party Wants You to Call Them Racist

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I thought I was finished with the Tea Party.

Then I wake up to the news that one of the leaders of the Tea Party posted a "satirical petition" from the NAACP to Abraham Lincoln calling for the repeal of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

Evan McMorris-Santoro has the whole story at Talking Points Memo.

Mark Williams, author of the "letter," uses the phrase "Colored People" over and over again, because, after all, that's what NAACP stands for. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. So that's ok.

He also makes clever puns.

He has the NAACP declare in their letter that "we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing." Get it? Get it? Cause they used to pick....gosh, that sure is funny.

In the unexpurgated version, Williams declares:

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.

In the updated version on Williams' website, "massa" has been replaced with "someone else."

Now, just between you and me, someone might view all this and conclude that Williams had a problem with black people.

But hey, just because someone likes show tunes, gladiator movies, and when you type man into their browser "" pops up, it doesn't mean that they are gay.

So we shouldn't jump to any conclusions.

Especially since that is exactly what the Tea Party wants.

You see, liberals have a fundamental problem with racism. The main problem is that we won.

As a result of the historic victories by liberal Republicans and Democrats over conservative Republicans and Democrats who wished to keep our society mired in the abominations of slavery, Jim Crow, and separate but equal, we have a way of thinking about race and racism that is mired in those victories.

Up until the 1960s, it was perfectly normal and acceptable not only to hold but to express virulently racist views. By the 1980s, as Lee Atwater explained of the conservative movement's use of white resentment toward black advancement:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"--that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me--because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Today we've reached the point where it is actually an insult to be called racist! So, since no one will openly admit to being a racist, we have to search for hints and clues about someone's racial politics.

As toxic as the association is, it gets tossed around like crazy.

The other day, a commentator here called me a racist for describing the narrative of To Kill a Mockingbird as that of a white paternalist defending a simple minded black man.

And since it is so deadly, we contort ourselves to avoid having our friends be considered racist, as Whoopi Goldberg did in her defense of Mel Gibson.

The end result is that the word has completely lost its force. The only way it remains useful is as a way to polarize sides and shut down debate. Exactly how our friends in the Tea Party movement are using it.

Calling the Tea Party racist is like throwing Br'er Rabbit in the Briar Patch. They will scream and cry about the injustice of it, but don't be fooled. Nothing delights them more. Not only can they wax poetic about the horrible injustice of being called racist, they get to display their long list of counter-examples of black racism.

The sins of the other side, as The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, have become the only acceptable way to publicly express racial resentments in modern America.

Like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party's modus operandi is to say things that skirt up against the edges of the impermissible, allow the "liberal media" to compliment itself on the power of its Spider Sense in detecting the subtext and then surf the backlash that the reaction causes.

Remember, most of the Tea Party's target audience doesn't have the time or inclination to monitor the news 24/7. They don't see the natural development of a story.

The typical Tea Party supporter experiences media coverage of Tea Party gaffes like someone seeing a fight in progress. It's hard to tell who started it; all that is clear is that your guy is getting his butt kicked.

The Tea Party always tries to generate this sort of image for its followers because it fits so perfectly into their victim mentality.

As tempting as it is to call the Tea Party racist, they don't deserve to have their horrible, infantile ideas shielded from scrutiny by that linguistic gift.

I would suggest an equally accurate and far more damaging epithet: "naïve."

Postscript: I just watched a great video that says it a little differently but I love it. Courtesy of the brilliant, brilliant Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine.

Update: And he's gone. The Tea Party high command has refudiated Mark Williams.