Give Ben Jealous credit. He cracked the code to finishing off whatever credibility the non-Fox News media was still imparting to the tea partiers, and it turns out to be as simple as “condition” … “response.” Jealous’ big win in a minute. But first, a bit of background.
Over the past year, the “tea party movement” has gone from media darling to freak show, as polls revealed that it wasn’t the third party novelty Politico and Chuck Todd kept telling us it was, but instead, are just a bunch of angry Republicans. I was one of the many media types who wrote about, made contact with, and tried to understand the tea parties, and I what I came away with is that they generally fall into five groups, which sometimes intersect:
1) Older, well off white guys who think poor people and illegal immigrants are trying to use the recession as an excuse to steal from them. (See Rick Santelli and the guy who threw money at that Parkinson’s patient.) This group is only sort of racist (they mostly hate Mexicans) but their common denominators are that they want their taxes cut, and they think everyone who isn’t rich is lazy. Group 1 are definitely Republicans.
2) Bush bitter-ender, religious wingnuts. Some in this group are a little conflicted about George W. Bush because many of them have been hurt by the recession. But they’re still seething over the way they feel Dubya was mistreated, made fun of, and disrespected by the “liberal elite,” because they interpret disrespect for Bush (and now for Sarah Palin) as disrespect for them and for their deeply held Christian values. As payback, they want Barack Obama to suffer, to be humliated and disrespected, and to fail in the same way George did. Palin not becoming vice president upped their disappointment and rage even more. This group will tell pollsters they’re “independent” and “mad at both parties,” but really they’re Republicans. There are some loonies in this group, who think they’re in group 3) because they watch and listen to Glenn Beck, but really, they’re just nuts. It’s here that you’ll also find most of the sign misspellers, birthers, Black teabaggers and a good many wacky elected officials who are pimping the “movement” for personal fame. (See Michelle Bachman, Sharron Angle, and Palin herself.)
3) Paulite Libertarians. This group thinks they’re more sophisticated than 2) because they’ve read Ayn Rand. They don’t hate anybody, but they’d really like to get rid of Social Security, Medicare, and virtually all business regulation and taxes, so they’re allies of Group 1). Many of them supported Ron Paul for president, and they’re the one group who sometimes really aren’t Republicans, and who could be a threat to the party if they vote their own way. They are kind of the stepchild in the “movement” because they’re not warmongers, don’t much care for George Bush, and aren’t all hopped up on gays and Jesus, but they come together with 1) and 2) on illegal immigration. (See Alex Jones, Rand Paul…) Traveling with Group 3) are some wacky conspiracy theorists and gun nuts who think the black helicopters are coming and that the Federal Reserve is a One World Government Satan.
4) Republican party and corporate operatives who are milking 1) for fundraising, and using 2) and 3) to elect more Republicans and build astroturf “grassroots” support for insurance companies, oil and gas companies, big banks and corporate America in general, to further enrich and empower themselves, their clients and their friends. (See Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Fox News…) This group also includes various grifters who are milking 2) and 3) like proverbial lady cows, for serious profit (see Glenn Beck)…
and last, but not least:
5) Flat-out racists. (See Rush Limbaugh)
By proving himself to be firmly in Group 5, while playing the media’s designated tea party spokesman, Mark Williams handed Jealous and the NAACP an easy win. Even people like me, who initially wondered why the organization would bother with a resolution against a sputtering, dying news story, completely got where Ben Jealous was coming from after seeing (and reading) Williams in action.
And by crafting a resolution that in the end is apparently not a condemnation of the tea parties as a whole, but rather a call for them to join all Americans in condemning racism, (the equivalent of asking all Americans to declare their affection for puppies) the NAACP set a really rather brilliant trap for most incendiary members of the tea party claque. People like Williams (who after all is a right wing talk talk jock, basically a guy who makes his living being an ass) couldn’t help themselves.
Had the tea party reaction been calm and intelligent; had they stuck to the plan of shoving Black tea types in front of every available camera (they had to spread the three of them pretty thin…) and made the crazy uncles and aunties stay in the attic, the go-along, get-along media would have happily done the “on the one hand, on the other hand” stories they wanted to do in the first place.
Instead, by obsessing over irrelevancies like the New Black Panther Party (which made it look like they were fishing for Black groups to condemn, just because they’re black)… having surrogates deny there’s any racism at tea party protests when their own leadership has in past instances taken steps to bar racist signs from their rallies (implying the signs have been there before…) and when the evidence is all over the Internet and the teevee… and firing off a demonstrably racist, but mostly just stupid, “letter to Lincoln from the colored people,” the tea party dropped the ball, and then Williams blew up the ball. After a couple of days of Mr. “Obama is an Indonesian welfare thug” and the NAACP are “colored” slave traders, who can argue with what Jealous wrote on Friday (emphasis added):
Instead of joining us to repudiate racism, Tea Party leaders have attempted a tit for tat and demanded that we condemn the New Black Panther Party for reported hate speech. It is a false argument. Of course we condemn hate speech from anyone and any organization, including the New Black Panther Party. But that party is a mere flea compared to the influence and size of the Tea Party. And the New Black Panther Party is not a member of the NAACP. What we are asking the Tea Party to eschew is not the racism of some outside organization, but the bigotry within.
After my speech, I was approached by a man named Chris, who asked that his last name not be used. He’s a member of both the Tea Party and the NAACP. He thanked me for denouncing the racist elements of a party to which he is loyal. He explained that he felt increasingly uncomfortable within the Tea Party. We want Chris to live in a world where he can feel comfortable in both organizations.
Over 2000 delegates voted. The resolution was proposed by our Missouri State Conference, from the home state of the Council of Conservative Citizens, widely recognized as the linear descendant of the White Citizens Council. Their fealty to racism is not obscured.
Like Stormfront.org, a website founded by former KKK leader Don Black, the Council celebrates its allegiance to and influence in the Tea Party. The avowed racist David Duke notes that thousands of Tea Party activists have urged him to run for president. When the Tea Party marches by, Duke thinks it’s his fiesta.
Our members know too well the pain and the potential danger of white supremacist groups. Since our resolution was publicized, a number of our branches and our corporate offices are reporting violent threats.
We have all seen the blatantly racist signs portraying President Obama as a monkey. We have seen the press conference with the civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis describing how he was spit on and called the N-word, or Rep. Barney Frank being called a vicious slur for gay men.
Dick Armey and other Tea Party leaders have not only refused to disavow the racism — they have denied it.
With increased influence comes increased responsibility. It is long past time for Dick Armey and the Tea Party leadership to take a stance. Instead, they remain silent while many of the group’s leaders are attacking the NAACP, calling a historically multiracial, anti-racist organization “racist.” We are receiving death threats and other threats of violence for asking them to rout the violent, racist factions in their midst.
Let’s see … death threats, racist and homophobic insults, tea party leaders and supporters behaving exactly like the racist cretins many people think they are, and an inability to mount a simple self-defense without getting ugly, angry and offensive …
Game… set … match.
The media will now internalize the tea party movement as seen through the lens of Mark Williams.
The Tea Party Express is discredited if they keep him on as their spokesman (ditto CNN if they keep booking him, although what booker could resist. He’s an inflammatory soundbite machine…)
Williams looks both arrogant and punked for backing down, but not graciously. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for Jealous to call you, man…) and he’s busted himself down to the status of Dale, the “N-word” sign guy. (Also meant satirically, according to Dale.)
Meanwhile, the creaky NAACP suddenly looks relevant, and Ben Jealous is on the booking lists at all the TV and cable networks. The organization’s October rally will now attract more media attention and a rainbow of Americans who are sick of the nasty, spitting, hyper-partisan hot mess that the tea party movement has become. In contrast, the Mark Williams/Glenn Beck tea party movement’s next act is to feed Beck’s God complex by publicly worshiping him on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
You can bet the Beckians are going to round up every living tea party minority and paste them to the television cameras, in a mad scramble to make a 97 percent white “movement” look invitingly diverse. If they do, they’ll turn off legions of tea partiers who will be outraged that Group 4) is giving in to the “thuggery” of political correctness and scrubbing them like they’re doing poor Sharron Angle.
It’s all worked out really, really well … for the NAACP.
Next time, just to top themselves, the tea parties should put David Duke on CNN.
Related reading: Media Matters on the right’s “frenzy of race-baiting.”
UPDATE: Do take a minute to read this piece on age, race and the tea party movement by Matt Bai in the New York Times. It really gets to what I think is the heart of the matter, and I think it adds a sixth group, who might be called “late middle-aged tea party sympathizers”:
According to Pew, there is nearly a 20-point spread between Mr. Obama’s approval ratings among voters younger than 30 and those older than 65. Among independent voters older than 50, Mr. Obama gets passing marks from only 35 percent, while about half of those voters 49 and younger say they approve of his performance in office.
These numbers probably do reflect some profound racial differences among the generations, but they are more indicative of how young and old Americans approach the issues of the day, generally. Older Americans now — no longer the New Deal generation, but the generation that remembers Vietnam, gas lines and court-ordered busing — are less enamored of expansive government than their parents were. They fear changes to their entitlement programs, even as they denounce the explosion in federal spending. They are less optimistic about the high-tech economy, more fearful of the impact of immigration and free trade.
And the country they “want back,” is not the one they grew up in and that fed their resentments, but what they fancy was the more blissful, simpler “Mayberry” America their parents had. You know, the one from their imagination…