Sunday, July 18, 2010

Memo to VP Biden: There are racist elements in the Tea Party "movement."

Vice President Biden has a long history of foot-in-mouth disease, to be sure, but, often giving him the benefit of the doubt, I've thought that his occasional moments of political inappropriateness -- saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and saying it stupidly -- were reflections of a certain candor, of a willingness to say things that most politicians won't, that is, on the whole, quite admirable.

So I was disappointed today to hear him waffle badly on the issue of Tea Party racism:

"Do you think elements of the Tea Party are racist?" This Week anchor Jake Tapper asked Vice President Joe Biden in an EXCLUSIVE interview. Biden equivocated at first, but then settled on a pretty firm no.

"Well, the truth is that at least elements that were involved in some of the Tea Party folks expressed racist views," he said.

"I wouldn't characterize the Tea Party as racist. There are individuals who are either members of or on the periphery of some of their things, their -- their protests -- that have expressed really unfortunate comments. And, again, it was all over TV, all over your network, you know? A black Congressman walking up the stairs of the Capitol," he said, referring to alleged racist epithets said to an African-American Congressmen by alleged Tea Party members during the apogee of the debate over health care reform.

"I don't believe, the president doesn't believe that the Tea Party is -- is a racist organization. I don't believe that," Biden said. "Very conservative. Very different views on government and a whole lot of things. But it is not a racist organization."

No one with any credibility, including its most ardent critics, has suggested that the Tea Party "movement" is a racist organization (to that extent that it can even be called an organization). For the record -- I haven't, and I, of course, have been deeply critical of the teabaggers and their fringe-conservative politics.

You wouldn't know this from recent Tea Party hysterics, but the NAACP didn't say that either, and it was the NAACP that prompted Tapper's question with its innocuous statement that there are "racist elements" among the teabaggers.

But are there "racist elements" in the "movement"? Yes, of course there are, and Biden knows it. What he said is that the "organization" isn't racist. Fine, but he also said, without quite saying it, that there are racist elements in it: "There are individuals who are either members of or on the periphery of some of their things, their -- their protests -- that have expressed really unfortunate comments."

I understand the need for political tact, but what is the point of such cowardice -- yes, it's cowardice. and not candor at all. Why not just be honest? Why not just be blunt? There's actually a lot of racism in the Tea Party "movement." It's not just isolated to a few rogue individuals waving Confederate flags and mouthing off about the president's race. And the "comments" of these racists haven't been "unfortunate" -- what a wishy-washy word to use -- they've been indications of a nefarious and deep-rooted bigotry that animates so much of the right, particularly the anti-government, anti-Obama populism of the teabaggers, who direct so much of their angry virulence at a president who is of mixed race but who is, for all their intents and purposes, black, and, lest we forget, at any government policy that seeks to benefit non-whites (even if benefits whites, too), be it health-care reform or immigration reform or what have you.

But, no, Biden backs off, trips up, and fumbles. But, again, why? Republicans don't watch themselves the same way Biden did with Tapper. They exaggerate the other way, responding to any perceived slight with incendiary rhetoric, driving the political/media narrative by effectively defining the two sides of any debate, leaving no room for nuance (or for the truth).

For all that Democrats/liberals/progressives do wrong, I find this to be among the most frustrating. Why let Republicans control the narrative? Why not push back? Why not take the fight to the other side? Why not define what is at stake? Why not show some courage?

There are racist elements in the Tea Party "movement" -- a lot of them. And there is a lot of evidence of it. And it's not like Democrats have to watch what they say lest they lose the teabagger vote. They don't have it regardless. The Tea Party "movement" is overwhelmingly Republican. What Biden and others should say -- and say with conviction, and say repeatedly -- is that a "movement" that in many ways is deeply racist, and that espouses views (including a view of government as the enemy) that are extremely dangerous, is tied up with the Republican Party, that is increasingly inseparable from the Republican Party -- and that a vote for a Republican in November is a vote for the fringe-conservative views of the teabaggers.

That is what this is about. That is what is at stake. Just stop the waffling and tell the truth.

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