A piece in Sunday’s New York Times book review section compared the Tea Party to the Ku Klux Klan.
The review, written for the Times by historian Kevin Boyle, evaluates two new books on the Klan. It opens with an indirect but unmistakable suggestion that the Tea Party is a modern version of the racist white supremacist organization.
Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it.
No, not that movement. The one from the 1920s, with the sheets and the flaming crosses and the ludicrous name meant to evoke a heroic past. The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they called it. And for a few years it burned across the nation, a fearsome thing to behold.
That a portrayal of the Tea Party as a racist and intolerant movement could get past the editors of the New York Times is perhaps not surprising, given what I think are widely held assumptions about the movement among the Northeast’s liberal ruling class.
What is somewhat shocking is the prevalence of these views given the fervent – even stubborn, in my view – embrace by the Tea Party of Herman Cain. I don’t think any of the GOP candidates has aroused more passion among conservatives this year, including Newt Gingrich.
Beyond probably being racist, the Tea Party is generally thought – in the non-conservative sectors of my city, Washington – to be amply comprised of boneheads and jerks.
For example, you cannot in polite company in Washington say, “You know, those Tea Party people, I think they have some really smart ideas,” without being laughed out of the room or, at best, have people quietly go back to their typing and try to pretend nothing just happened.
I am sure that Tea Party members are viewed in negative terms by the Obama people, most of whom fit quite nicely into mainstream Washington. The upcoming campaign, which will feature corrosive attack rhetoric against Republicans from the president, will no doubt exacerbate the misperceptions and suspicions about the Tea Party.
The Times, which thinks of itself as our nation’s newspaper of record and which at the very least helps shape elite opinion, should be combating dangerous stereotypes, not promoting them.