Once again, no good deed goes unpunished. Millions of us in the tea party movement, for trying to head off a fiscal collapse that would hurt minorities and the poor worse than anyone, are called racists for our trouble. Come on, people, what’s that about?
On Aug. 22, Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana made headlines when he said tea party activists and their allies in Congress would “love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.” Carson’s scurrilous smear overshadowed some made-up history offered by Jesse Jackson the same day. The good reverend — who plays the race card the way your aunt plays bridge: habitually — compared the tea party to redneck segregationists, claiming to remember when Dr. King “fought a ‘tea party’ in Alabama.” Please.
It’s a little late to be sending up this trial balloon again in 2011, after all the holes that have been shot through the theory that we in the tea party have it in for our black and brown neighbors. Since 2009, hundreds of tea party rallies have been held all across the nation with scarcely a trace of bigotry or racism. Yet Carson’s comments are only the latest in a long string of unfounded accusations, many of them from his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus.
During the Obamacare debate in 2010, Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and James Clyburn of South Carolina accused tea party protestors of hurling racial slurs at them, but no evidence surfaced to support their claims. Around the same time, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri accused a tea party demonstrator of spitting on him, but video of the incident showed the confrontation was most likely a “say it, don’t spray it” moment.
In fact the only documented case of racism at a tea party rally occurred in 2009 when a man displayed a sign featuring the N-word (spelled wrong, proving again that bigots are stupid). The left and the media jumped on the incident as an example of rampant racism in the tea party, usually without noting that the offender was kicked out of the event and disavowed by its organizers; he had been causing them headaches for months.
That was one jerk with one obscenity in Houston; one. We had a far bigger and much more representative sample here in Denver on July 31, when I held the gavel as hundreds of tea party activists from 25 states gathered for the Western Conservative Summit — and a less racist group you could not find.
They gave the presidential straw poll victory to Herman Cain over a dozen white candidates. Listening to Cain, a patriotic black businessman, speak against the mess in Washington, the Summit delegates saw character, competence and charisma — not color.
Down the road in Colorado Springs, meanwhile, a young businessman transplanted from Chicago, Derrick Wilburn, has founded the Rocky Mountain Black Tea Party. Its mission, I learned at www.RMBTP.org, is “bringing together persons of color in the western United States to educate, inform, and encourage true diversity of political thought and expression.” The group’s well-attended monthly meetings prove that “black and conservative are not mutually exclusive,” says the cheerfully counter-cultural Wilburn. Maybe they should invite Reps. Andre Carson and Allen West in for a debate.
West is the retired Army colonel elected to the House from Florida in last year’s tea party-energized Republican sweep. He joined the Congressional Black Caucus as its first GOP member in some years, but has recently talked of quitting the group in disgust at Carson’s “reprehensible” and “desperate” rhetoric — which West equates to reverse racism.
So spare us the Alabama allusions, Jesse. Enough with the lynching fantasies, Congressman Carson. The only thing the tea party wants to kill is the deficit monster. Our only bias is against government overreach and fiscal irresponsibility. The R we care about is not race, it’s responsibility — the urgent need for restraint in spending and recovery in the economy, so that the United States does not become Greece.
All we are is a responsibility movement. We want to see Americans of all colors, all classes and all creeds come together in 2011 with the freedom-loving spirit of 1773 (when Bostonians first defied the Redcoats) and agree on new policies to make sure the land of opportunity isn’t driven into decline while our least-fortunate fellow citizens remain trapped at the bottom.
The goal is worthy and the alternative is unacceptable. The stakes are high and the hour is late. This is no time for the pettiness of pigment politics.
John Andrews, former president of the Colorado Senate and current director of the Centennial Institute, is the author of “Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century.”