When the country voted for a black man as President for the first time in its history, many of us predicted a new day in America. We saw a once unfathomable day where a person born to a poor white woman and an immigrant father could become the Head of State and one of the leaders of the Free World. We saw a person who was rewarded for his intellectualism and not just pitied because of his status as a social minority. We saw a person who was able to defeat not one, but two very strong and potent political machines based on the premise of hope. It was the dawn of new day.
Then, in a move that surprised even me, the Republicans offered their own version of history. With the appointment of Michael Steele as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, I was convinced more than ever that America had come around full circle. While I believed (and continue to believe) Steele’s appointment was done in the name of political strategy, just the fact the Republicans were willing to accept a black person as the face of their party was noteworthy. The country – for the most part – was starting to come around.
Some of what has happened this year has made me reconsider things.
We have watched the videos, heard the reports, read the articles. There should be no denying at this point that the Tea Party movement – while noble on some levels – has mostly become defined by its lunacy. What started off as a protest against out-of-control government spending (ironic that this outrage is only starting now, and not for the previous 8 years. But I digress) has turned into a misplaced spur of racial, ethnic, and social hatred. The contempt and hatred directed at certain people through Tea Partiers has been shameful and – in some cases – downright scary.
And Republicans, by essentially leaning on and catering to these people, now stand to bear the weight of this insanity.
Unlike many of my liberal friends, I’m not so quick to consider the entire movement a bad thing. I think it’s certainly misguided, as with everything involving politics and civics. This movement is not unlike anything else involving the general electorate; this is a movement full of people who rely on talking points and fear tactics instead of facts and knowledge. And I certainly don’t think every member of the Tea Party – or the Republicans who align themselves with the movement – is a racist, violent, lunatic hellbent on spewing hatred. Not at all. In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say that I believe those people only represent a very small percentage of the movement. The problem with the folks on the fringe have come to be the face of the movement. Those who need to distance themselves from this fringe haven’t done so.
Over the last 50 years or so, Republicans have carried certain crosses. Whether it’s associations with the Klan, the religious right, or the Tea Partiers, Republicans have been forced to fight mounting perceptions of being bigotted, intolerance, knuckle-draggers. Facing that battle, Republicans of today should be extemely cautious about the people with whom they associate, the kind of inciteful rhetoric they use, and what kind of behaviors they condone. Because frankly, when I hear people like Michelle Bachmann, Jim Boehner, Sarah Palin, John McCain, and – yes – Michael Steele defending Tea Partiers without forcefully calling the fringe out (in some cases, actually igniting them), they will bear a heavy weight for the small percentage of loons out there. The same can be said of those representing the leadership of the Tea Party movement. The rank and file leadership of the movement also needs to come out emphatically against the festering subculture of hatred, bigotry, and irrationality that has come to define the Tea Party movement. As long as leadership continues to address all of this with muteness, any potential arguments they may have against health care reform, taxes, government spending, etc. will get categorized in the bigot category. Letting a subculture define you is destructive toward your cause.
Hmmm. It seems like I’ve made this argument before. Something about a monolithic group having their agenda defined by a small group of embarassing clowns. Or maybe I’m just making this all up.