If you are on the left in America today, it may be difficult to understand the vehemence of the right’s opposition against the Obama Administration. The Democrats want to provide cheap and quality health care for all citizens, lower most people’s taxes and protect them from the greed and dishonesty of corporate America. How could anyone take issue with that?
It’s why the Tea Party was so unexpected and why the left doesn’t know how to deal with it.
The president and other Democratic Party leaders have mocked the movement on occasion, not appearing to take it seriously. Commentators are, desperately it seems, trying to find ways to denounce tea partygoers. The protesters, they say, are driven by irrational fears. They have been eroused by Fox News propaganda. Or, the most damaging attack so far, they are really racist.
In February, on his MSNBC show, Keith Olbermann was one of the first to suggest that the Tea Party movement may be intolerant. His network has subsequently continued to report on the phenomena in similar terms while other left-wing outlets ridiculed the protesters because some among them have been imbeciles, carrying signs comparing the president to Adolf Hitler and calling the Democrats “communists”.
Not everything is about race
Lunacy on the fringes hardly discredits the whole movement, though. Every protest has its idiots. Undoubtedly there are racist sentiments among some of the tea partiers but the Tea Parties aren’t racist events themselves.
More telling than the supposed lack of African Americans among the tea partiers is how some media interpret that to mean the whole movement is racist. The very pundits who pride themselves on being “post-racial” are struggling to understand, it seems, that opposition to a black president may have more to do with his policies than the color of his skin.
“These are my people — Americans”
An amusing scene took place last Thursday when an NBC reporter by the name of Kelly O’Donnell interviewed an African American tea partier at a rally in Washington DC. The man, Darryl Postell, a Air Force veteran, laughed when O’Donnell observed that there weren’t an awful lot of black people in the crowd.
Asked if he ever felt uncomfortable in such a predominantly white environment, Postell rejected her blatant assumption that race should even matter.
“No,” he answered, “no, these are my people — Americans.”
O’Donnell’s question wasn’t ill intended. She even sympathized with those tea partygoers who expressed dismay with being wrongfully portrayed in the media.
“Among the first things you hear from attendees at a Tea Party event,” she said, “is frustration about being portrayed as racist because of some ugly signs and poor behavior. With no prompting from me, many expressed that concern.”
Still, many talk about race and the Tea Parties within the same context, whether they wonder out loud, like Olbermann does, where the black people are, or stress that the movement is largely made up of whites.
What isn’t mentioned that over 90 percent of African Americans voted for Barack Obama. That most tea partiers are white hasn’t much to do with the Tea Parties then; it’s because most black people supported the president from the start.
Now a sign that shows Obama wearing a Hitler mustache is more spectacular than the legitimate concerns of many right-wing Americans about excessive government spending and the expansion of entitlement programs, but that’s what the Tea Parties are about.
In spite of some unsettling rhetoric and imagery, the 20 percent or so of Americans who identify with the movement can’t be all bigots. They are honest citizens who are expressing their concern about the direction in which the incumbent administration is taking the nation. They deserve to be treated as such.