April 16, 2010
I had intially wanted to use this post to write about the passing of Benjamin Hooks, a giant among giants in the civil rights movement who passed away this week. Hooks deserves his own post, and will have one in upcoming days after the rest of the pack has had its say.
But at the risk of repeating myself -- and further legitimizing what most serious analysts consider a fringe movement -- I yet again turn my lonely eyes to the phenomenon known as the Tea Party, a purportedly grass-roots organization seemingly dedicated to the collapse of the federal government. Their plan: a refusal to pay taxes, a willingness to take arms against a popularly elected president and a seemingly unquenchable desire to "take back their country" -- even though it's unclear exactly what "their country" was, who took it away from them, or why.
I just finished listening to "The Diane Rehm Show," a popular news chat program on my local NPR affiliate. Today, Diane and her guests cogitated on the domestic news of the week, including the rising Dow Jones numbers, prospects for immigration reform and President Obama's push for tougher regulations on Wall Street.
What got my blood, to paraphrase Sachel Paige, "angried up," however, was an intense discussion of the Tea Party, which held high-profile rallies in Boston and Washington earlier this week. The news roundup quickly pivoted into an intense Tea Party debate, turning on notions of race, class and facts that really aren't facts. Rehm and her three-member panel attempted to distill the anger old white guys feel about the country's new direction now that an African American president is in office.
It also touched on the confrontational nature of recent TP protests, and some of the harsh rhetoric its leaders, like Sarah Palin, employ. It's not uncommon to see signs calling for open revolution against the US government and not-so-subtle hints that violence is the only way to re-establish the America they want to see.
At one point in the discussion, after everyone acknowledged that calls for violent overthrow of the federal government, veiled death threats, overt death threats and people packing heat at presidential speeches are a bad thing, Rehm asked her guests if they know of any prominent leaders on the right -- congressmen, RNC Chair Michael Steele, Fox News talk show hosts, anyone -- who is "standing up and saying, 'Knock it off'."
Sadly -- but not surprisingly -- no one had an answer.
Usually, I would avoid linking to an hour of warbling from Rehm and the clubby, inside-the-beltway windbaggery of her largely color-free panel of pundits. But this one deserves to be heard -- not only for the White Men Gone Wild discussion, but for lefty WashPost columnist EJ Dionne's verbal beat-down of conservative WashExaminer editorial writer Byron York.
On three occasions, Dionne dismantled York's misleading defense of the Tea Party, whose white-male, largely middle-class membership was detailed on the front page of the New York Times. After reciting statistics from that story which calls into question the populist, grass-roots image of the TP crowd, Dionne then called BS on York when he threw out a popular but out-of-context fact conservatives use to work up the TP faithful: 47 percent of Americans don't pay taxes.
You know who doesn't pay, goes the unspoken follow-up: THOSE people.
At most TP rallies, this chunk of bloody red meat is thrown out to show how the deadbeats among us don't pay their fair share while at the same time soaking up taxpayer-funded "entitlements" like welfare and unemployment benefits which add to the already bloated national deficit. But Dionne, my favorite limousine liberal, put York's weak jumper into the cheap seats by archly pointing to a NYT piece by David Leonhard explaining the true nature of that statistic, and why it's so misleading.
Dionne also dope-slapped York after York claimed that the angry left was just as confrontational and disrespectful to the White House when President George W. Bush was in office. Poppycock, Dionne replied But York held fast -- until Dionne cocked back his rhetorical hand and let fly.
"I hope someone is studying this," Dionne, clearly irritated, said to York. "Somebody should do empirical work on this. One of us is right, and one of us is wrong."
But the one that nearly made me throw my radio across the room came from a journalist I respect: veteran NPR anchor Linda Wertheimer, who declared she no longer believes that race is an unspoken central factor in Tea Partier's outrage at the Obama administration.
Say what? Really? Joanie, set her straight.