Tea Party leader Sarah Palin quickly joined the chorus of conservatives denouncing the NAACP resolution that condemned the “racist elements” in the party. But Palin should take a close look at the NAACP resolution. It called on Tea Party leaders to denounce the racists within their movement. In other words, if as Tea Party leaders loudly protest that they are not racists, and neither is their movement, then it should be an easy step for them to promptly surround any individual that turns up at a Tea Party rally or event and shouts a racist slur or waves a Confederate flag, Texas Lone Star flag, an Obama Joker poster, or a sign or banner with a crude racist scrawl on it and insist that they immediately cease and desist, scrap the sign, or be ejected.
Tea party leaders should have no problem quickly and forcefully publicly denouncing the Iowa tea party group that put up a billboard comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin as well as Ryan J. Murdough, a white supremacist running for a seat in the New Hampshire legislature. They should issue press releases, statements, and public announcements reminding the press and their locals, chapters, and membership that racist acts, utterances, and displays will not be tolerated at any Tea Party sponsored event, and will be met with swift rebuke.
Tea party leaders loudly protest that they denounce the racists in their midst. But what proof is there of that other than their word? Their protest came only in response to the national spotlight that the NAACP tossed back on the issue of Tea Party racism. There was not a single word in Palin’s retort to the NAACP about racist slurs or signs at rallies. Though the anti-Obama Iowa tea party billboard was removed there was not one word from her about it, or any of the other displays of racism by some tea party activists. That criticism from her would be a starting point for Tea Party leaders making a credible case that they can police their own ranks and weed out the racists among them.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF THE TEA PARTY VS. NAACP
The big issue though is whether the Tea Party is inherently racist? Tea party leaders insist that the racist acts at their events are committed by only a few bad apples and do not represent the Tea Party’s values. But those acts fuel the widespread public perception that the Tea Party is chock full of unreconstructed bigots. And that their members have been whipped into a fury by the mere thought of a black man in the White House.
That’s much too simplistic. Palin and other Tea Party leaders make a legitimate point that their group is not monolithic. They represent a wide and diverse spectrum of individuals and views. A New York Times survey of tea party members in April found that a majority was not ill educated, low income, blue collar whites in the South and Heartland America, but were middle class, many were wealthy, and highly educated. Four in ten were Democrats or Independents. The one thing they shared in common was the feeling that the country was going in the wrong direction.
This is hardly new. Three decades ago, the GOP found that the volatile mix of anti-big government and defense of personal freedoms could whip frustrated, rebellious, angry whites into frenzy far better than crude race baiting. The target of their anger was big government that tilted unfairly in spending priorities toward social programs that supposedly benefited minorities at the expense of hard-working whites. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government.
Tea Party activists pound on Obama, the Democrats, big government, the elites, and Wall Street. Yet, they also grouse about abortion, family values, gay rights, and tax cuts but not racism.
Right-wing populism, with its mix of xenophobia, loath of government as too liberal, too tax-and-spend, and too permissive, and a killer of personal freedom was the engine that powered Reagan and George W. Bush’s White House wins. Scores of GOP governors, senators and members of congress have used wedge issues to win office and maintain political dominance. The GOP grassroots brand of populism has stirred millions operating outside the confines of the mainstream Republican Party.
Palin pushed back against the charge that they are racist by citing the election of Obama as proof that the country has become a “new post-racial society” and that naked racial bigotry is a thing of the by-gone past. This of course is fiction and the racist outbursts at Tea Party events that she and other Tea Party leaders turn a blind eye too is the best proof of that. Their point though that the tea party may not be racist is a valid one. Yet the NAACP was right to call out the Tea Party for saying and doing nothing about the racists among them. The question for Palin and conservatives is will they do the same?
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