Two months ago, I discussed Rand Paul’s primary election win in Kentucky by conveying that the Tea Party Movement remained an anomaly: representing no particular political ‘party’, nor promoting the agenda of any succinct ‘movement’. Much of the dialogue surrounding the phenomenon had been a series of questions: Who are they? What do they stand for?
At first, the Tea Party appeared to be independent-minded Americans concerned about government spending. However, the rhetoric quickly spiraled out of control: with claims that Obama was leading the country toward communism, denigrating health care reform as a socialist takeover, questioning Obama’s legitimacy, birthplace and nationality. It’s most vocal, paid spokespeople including Sarah Palin and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann provided fuel for the fire with subtle, yet effective comments, creating a divisive sentiment.
The rhetoric took a very clear racial focus when Rand Paul openly admitted his lack of support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Hundreds of Tea Party participants have felt equally comfortable conveying their bigotry using signs and imagery displaying President Obama in blackface, African warrior garb and other forms meant to demean and diminish him. Michele Bachmann has gone as far as to suggest, Obama wants to enslave Americans.
Perhaps this wave of negative sentiment began in the halls of the Republican National Committee, when we gave a pass to the RNC chair candidate who recorded the song “Barack the Magic Negro”, parodying the voice of Rev. Al Sharpton. It seemed after weeks of trying to explain how inappropriate it all was, the Republican establishment went back to business as usual: dismissing complaints as much to do about nothing. Nearly two years of Rush Limbaugh’s bigoted rants across the radio airways, and all the apologies he has received from the right, has legitimized the new face of racism: less subtle, yet increasingly more self-righteous. Characterizing our president in treasonous ways and asking us to forgive them for the privilege. These attitudes and approach to government reform and critique have led many political pundits to consider the Tea Party a fringe, far-right group of people who claim to be angry about government spending, but are actually upset that America is becoming less white, more multicultural and their number one enemy is the black president who has become the poster child of the change we should believe in.
WATCH MARK WILLIAMS SPAR WITH MNSBC’S TAMRON HALL OVER THE TEA PARTY:
But perhaps the political tide within the Tea Party ranks is finally changing. It remains suspect. The NAACP recently called on the Tea Party to expel all racist imagery and ideology among its members and especially its leadership. The Tea Party umbrella organization responded, in particular through comments made by Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, who impersonated Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, in a racially charged letter, claiming that President Abraham Lincoln was racist, and that African-Americans enjoyed slavery and wanted their gig back.
Williams went on tp deride Jealous as ”[Uncle]Tom’s nephew and NAACP head colored person.” The Tea Party Federation rightfully expelled Mark Williams and the Tea Party Express from the greater organization, after members of the Tea Party Express (arguably one of the largest of the Tea Party groups) refused to remove Williams from office. In fact, The Tea Party Express tried to justify Williams’ comments as satire – as though this was the Vaudeville era of the 1920’s and blackface was still in vogue.
It’s the same old story: much like “Barack the Magic Negro” was dismissed as comedy, Mark Williams’ letter is explained as satire — but black anger and rage is racism and should be denounced. It seems the conservative movement is stranded like Alice in Wonderland – and trying to take us with them down the rabbit hole. We cannot afford to forget the hundreds of years of chattel slavery and a century of legalized and institutionalized discrimination: and we certainly cannot act like degrading references to that brutal history is excusable as satire.
Be that as it may, the Tea Party Federation, led largely by this African-American spokesman, Jim Webb, co-founder of the group TeaParty365, has decided to soften its image by planning a summit this summer to address these accounts of racism in their ranks. According to a Fox affiliate in Philadelphia, “The rally, called Uni-Tea, will feature white and black Tea Party supporters in [an] all-day event that will feature live music, a web cast and plenty of Obama bashing.”
It remains unclear what resolutions, if any, will result from the summit, but the speakers featured will be at least predominately people of color. The Tea Party has a strong conservative base which is overwhelming white, older, wealthy and male – but are trying to improve their image. For a party which is not a party, and a movement which is not really a movement, this may be simply another act which results in no action. Only time can tell.
Establishment Democrats, as usual, express concern, but no real anger: Vice President Joe Biden stated in an interview this past Sunday that the Tea Party as a whole is not racist but suggested some of its rank-and-file are. This remains a political strategy to appeal, as much as possible, to the independent voters who are aimlessly seeking answers to the nation’s political malaise. But at least some have acted with more resolve. Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick of the 1st Congressional district in Idaho told Tea Party Express in a letter Monday that he had no choice but to decline the their endorsement after the group refused to publicly rebuke and oust spokesman Mark Williams. Rep. Minnick called Williams’ comments “reprehensible.”
Like corrupt televangelists, Mark Williams, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann and many other Tea Party contributors tell people what they want to hear, encourage them to pay heftily to hear it and leave them empty, with no substantive message. Racist sentiment and undertones have found a divisive, yet opportunistic place in their rhetoric.
I find this reflective of William Faulkner’s famous line: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. It is a sad truth that this is what the new political landscape has created: messengers with no message, leaders incapable of leading, and voices that would serve us better if silenced. In the meantime Mark Williams, and the most obvious like him, have been silenced by the Tea Party leadership, and that is a very good thing.