By DeWayne Wickham
I just read the NAACP’s report on the links between racial and religious bigots and the Tea Party, and there’s nothing in it that makes my skin begin to crawl, but I still think there’s good reason for concern.
“We know the majority of Tea Party supporters are sincere, principled people of good will,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in the opening line of his forward to this 94-page report. In other words, the Tea Party is not the Ku Klux Klan.
Of course, it’s the job of the NAACP, which was created 101 years ago to combat racism, to keep track of things like this and to sound the alarm when it believes bigots have reached a critical mass anywhere in this society.
The Tea Party has some bigots in its ranks, the civil rights group’s report concludes, but there’s no evidence that they have a commanding presence in the group. In fact, Jealous said Tea Party leaders have taken welcome “first steps” to weed out racist images and actions at their gatherings.
That’s the good news about this fringe political movement.
The bad news is that it is less an independent voice for political reform than an appendage of the Republican Party, to which it has attached itself like barnacles to the bottom of a rusting ship. The Tea Party is the GOP’s life raft.
Don’t be fooled by the political gains Republicans are expected to make in the midterm elections. The GOP is on the critical list. The wins it will score, possibly enough to give it control of the House of Representatives, will be short lived. They are the dying gasp of a political party that has become too intolerant and too white in a nation whose population soon will be dominated by Hispanics, blacks and Asians.
Today’s Republican Party looks — and sometimes acts — more like the National Party that foisted apartheid on South Africa back in 1948, than the GOP that won 32% of the black vote in the 1960 presidential election.
It is the nation’s deep-seated economic problems that have given life to the Tea Party movement, which in turn has removed the “do not resuscitate” sign from the Republican Party.
The Tea Party didn’t start out as a wing of the GOP, but in aligning itself and its interests with the Republican Party in the midterm elections, it has effectively become just that. And once in office, Tea Party members (to be distinguished from Republican candidates who were backed by the Tea Party) will have no choice but to toe the GOP line in Congress — or become powerless backbenchers.
And worse, the efforts the Tea Party has made to bring racial and ethnic diversity to its ranks will be severely compromised by the movement’s alignment with a Republican Party that is widely rejected by black and Hispanic voters.
This is worrisome because, as Jealous points out in the NAACP report, “ties between Tea Party factions and acknowledged racist groups endure.”
It’s possible the Tea Party made a smart move in joining up with the Republican Party. As the GOP’s political partner, it could be in the best position to inherit the lion’s share of its followers when the GOP finally implodes.
Or it could have made a big mistake in hitching a ride on a dying star.