The NAACP accusing anyone of “racism” is like Mel Gibson accusing his wife of being abusive—at this point, the first impulse is to cast a critical eye on the accuser. When the nation’s oldest civil rights organization passed a resolution recently condemning the Tea Party for supposedly harboring racists, they likely changed few people’s opinions about that movement. In fact, in the minds of many Americans, the NAACP calling people racist probably isn’t even considered anything new or newsworthy—it’s simply what they do.
This is not to say that the NAACP doesn’t believe its own press. Though the NAACP’s recent resolution asked Tea Partiers to repudiate the “racist elements” in their midst, you don’t have to listen long to president Benjamin Jealous, or old race-huckstering standbys like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, to realize that such “civil rights” leaders’ perception of Tea Party racism isn’t relegated to a few crazy slogans or signs. Their view of grassroots conservative is in line with what the larger Left, as evidenced by the columns of the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, or the words of pundits like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, all believe about not only the Tea Party, but the GOP and any other white folks who dare to organize outside the Democratic Party. That Republican Congressman Joe Wilson would yell “you lie!” at Obama, has mostly to do with the president being black, insists Dowd. Conservative anger over the president’s national healthcare plan, is obviously racial in origin, says Krugman, Matthews and Olbermann. That conservative whites must be racist or are at least in league with them, is nothing new for the Left—and certainly nothing new for the NAACP.
Ironically, when liberals subscribe to such caricatures of white conservatives, it makes them every bit as goofy as the wackiest Tea Partier. Ask a Tea Party guy holding a sign portraying Obama as a Nazi, or Nancy Pelosi as Satan, whether or not he believes Democrats are all socialists who might destroy the country. We already know the answer. Now ask a gathering of liberals whether or not Tea Party folks and their allies in the Republican Party are all racists who might tear down the country. We already know the answer there as well. Matthews dedicates every episode of “Hardball” to this premise. The NAACP issues press releases about it. For such conservatives Obama is the root of all evil, and such liberals believe the same about anyone who opposes this president, with both groups ascribing their own extra-sinister attributes to their political enemies (racist, socialist) to pepper an already established, mostly emotion-driven hatred. So much of today’s politics isn’t over policy differences, per se—but political identity.
This brings us to the most deplorable and encouraging aspects of the Tea Party—none of which has much to do with race. The Tea Partier who honestly believes that America has just now reached the breaking point due to the ascendancy of Obama and the Democrats is really just the partisan Republican of old, and has now simply expanded his yelling activities beyond the TV in his living room. This perception of the Tea Party, coupled with the belief that such protesters also have hoods and robes stuffed away in their closet, is, by-and-large, what the Left believes. To the extent that this is true, this type of Tea Party is worthless precisely because it will fade away the moment Republicans start spending us into oblivion again.
But rejecting the old partisanship that has long characterized American politics is exactly where the Tea Party is encouraging. How many Tea Party folks now defend the big spending, budget-busting George W. Bush years? Sure, they will point out that Obama is spending more, and they will admit to voting for Dubya—but a significant portion of Tea Partiers will not defend him. Talk radio might still defend Bush, and Republican politicians who marched in lockstep with the last administration try to stay as quiet as possible about it—but the Tea Party base? Republicans like Bob Bennett in Utah and Bob Inglis in South Carolina, formerly thought of as “conservatives,” were rejected by their angry constituency, precisely for their complicity in the big spending associated with Bush. For decades, the mainstream conservative philosophy has been “those damn Democrats!” Today’s conservatives are more likely than ever to damn Republicans too.
Not-so-coincidentally, Republicans Bennett and Inglis now denounce the “extremism” of the Tea Party movement, in a manner similar to the NAACP and the Left. But what the Tea Party primarily represents—a genuine concern over government spending and debt—is a message popular far beyond the actual movement, something the establishment of both parties now sense. Says a Republican establishment now scared of its own base, “they’re extremists!” Say liberals scared of a conservative uprising, “they’re racists!” But both sides are still reluctant to call the Tea Party “serious,” something our leaders secretly fear and are equally as reluctant to admit.