My friend Cory Heidelberger and I have been arguing all year about the Tea Party movement. There has been a campaign of vilification waged against the Tea Party by unsympathetic members of the Press, by Congressional Democrats and the White House, and by Cory. The campaign has made three general accusations: that the Tea Party attendees were 1) Racist; 2) that they encourage political violence; and that they are xenophobic in general.
I have written a number of posts showing how pitifully weak the argument is in each case. The racism charge is based mostly on a handful of images, several of them of dubious significance. The same images get reposted over and over. The other main item for the prosecution was the supposed use of the "N" word when a couple of Black members of Congress walked passed a protest gather on their way to vote on Health Care Reform. That story has never been told with any detail. Was the racial epithet shouted once or more than once, by one or more than one person? I note that there is no audio record, nor has a single reporter said that he or she heard the supposed epithet. But assuming its true, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of Tea Party meetings. This is all you got?
The charge that Tea Party people encourage violence was ridiculously vacuous. The evidence consisted of the most ordinary types of political language, and those who made the accusations frequently used the very same language themselves. We have a very recent example of this. From CNN:
A New Hampshire state legislator resigned his office Thursday after becoming the second Democrat in as many days to speculate about Sarah Palin's death on Facebook.
State Rep. Timothy Horrigan made the remarks Wednesday night in a thread discussing the Alaska plane crash that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens.
"Well a dead Palin would be even more dangerous than a live one...she is all about her myth & if she was dead she couldn't commit any more gaffes," Horrigan wrote.
Horrigan was commenting on another post by a Democrat running for the state house, party activist Keith David Halloran, who found himself in hot water Wednesday after writing about the crash: "Just wish Sarah and Levy [sic] were on board."
Now for the life of me I can't figure out why Horrigan needed to resign. His comment was rather nasty, and maybe altogether out of line. It was certainly impolitic. It was not without a point that one can evaluate. "Party activist" Halloran's comment was more damning, but isn't it better to find out what is on these guy's minds than to silence them every time they make the mistake of speaking honestly?
The truth is that both sides think and say nasty things on occasion. Very few people on either side would dream of encouraging actual political violence.
As to the third charge, Cory offers only an article from the New York Times. He gives it his own headline in a comment to his blog post: "Xenophobia trumps Tea Party's professed respect for Constitution". Well, I read the article and it wasn't about the Tea Party movement at all. Indeed, the Tea Party is mentioned only twice: once referring to a specific Tea Party group in that nerve center of Temecula California, and once to a single person who is clearly worried about Islam in America. She claims that she got a lot of anti-Islamic literature from "others she knew from attending Tea Party events and anti-immigration rallies." One group of yahoos and a sample yahoo from the same group condemns a national movement? What I could do to the anti-war movement with that standard!
I don't doubt that most of the people who show up at Tea Party meetings are likely, for example, to oppose the building of a Mosque near to Ground Zero in New York. But so are 61% of New Yorkers! I expect that a majority of Americans across the board would be in opposition. I don't doubt that almost all Tea Party attendees support the infamous Arizona immigration law. So do 51% of Americans and 70% of Arizonans. Like it or not, the Tea Party movement is not a bunch of extremists. It's the vocal part of the mainstream.
Maybe that's what's really eating Mr. Heidelberger. I am not immune to his concerns. I think the opposition to building Mosques is, in most cases, un-American. But it isn't that issue that the Tea Party is "obsessed with". It is the expansion of government, the irresponsible growth in the Federal debt, and the current economy. I can understand why my friends on the left want to talk about anything else.