All incipient political and social movements give birth to fringe
elements unable to control their baser instincts. As the primary
elections draw nigh in several states, those tattered fringes have
started to move to the front.
Out in Arizona, illegal immigration is the only issue that seems to
matter. (Never mind that they have yet to resolve a $2 billion
structural budget deficit, more than 20% of their total budget.) This
has local relevance because Michigans Attorney General, Mike Cox, has
climbed on board with those attempting to fight off a lawsuit filed by
the U.S. Justice Department attempting to undo Arizonas now famous,
or infamous, Senate Bill 1070 which allows local police to check the
immigration status of those they encounter in the normal course of
If Cox is going to lead us down this path, we might as well be
prepared for what could come next.
Arizona politicians, now infected with the vote-getting power of
anti-illegal immigration fever, have proposed new legislation that
will gut portions of the 14th Amendment (if youre born in the United
States, regardless of the nationality or immigration status of your
parents, you are an American citizen). A candidate for the
Corporation Commission a statewide office that regulates utility
rates claims he will shut off the power to any home occupied by
illegal immigrants. Uglier still, members of the National Socialist
Movement, swastika-wearing neo-Nazis who believe America should be
pure white without any shades of brown, black, yellow or red, are now
patrolling the Arizona desert carrying assault rifles.
This is what happens when legitimate issues are hijacked by splinter
groups run amok.
Which brings us to my tea party friends.
Theirs is a legitimate political movement dedicated to the proposition
that we need lower taxes, less government and that we have run afoul
of the constitution. It doesnt especially matter that theyve been
unable to define the specifics of their platform. They have excited
many conservatives who have finally removed themselves from their
couches and become involved in the political process, a very good
But they have also birthed those on the edge of sanity spewing hatred.
For far too long national tea party leaders have stood idly by while
the venom flowed.
In Iowa, Bob Johnson, the leader of the North Iowa Tea Party, a group
of about 200, erected a billboard comparing Barack Obama to Adolph
Hitler and Vladimir Lenin. The comparison is both vile and ludicrous.
There is ample room to disagree with President Obamas policies and
leadership. Thats fair game and it should be. But comparing him to
a maniacal mass murderer and one of the architects of a failed
political system that also purged tens of millions is offensive in the
Johnson at first claimed the billboard would be up for a month but
after only one day admitted comparing Obama to Hitler might have been
a distraction. Ya think? More mainstream Iowa tea partiers, to their
credit, quickly distanced themselves from the ugliness. The billboard
has now been papered over but the stench remains.
That, however, was fairly weak gruel compared to the actions of one
Mark Williams, the founder and leader of a tea party offshoot known as
the Tea Party Express. Williams is a Sacramento talk radio host of
the rant and rave self-aggrandizing variety whose rhetoric kept
getting more and more extreme, his inner rage less and less contained.
It all came slithering out a few days ago in his on-line blog in a
faux letter to Abraham Lincoln. We Coloreds, it began, have taken
a vote and decided we dont cotton to that whole emancipation thing...
It became even more execrable thereafter, a blast of unbridled
racism that catches in ones throat.
Williams, never one to admit a mistake, said it was all just satire,
an attempt to spark a discussion about race relations in the country.
He even claimed he had been successful in that effort, bringing to the
fore questions about the NAACP (he called them a racist organization)
and race in America.
The National Tea Party Federation, which claims to be an umbrella
organization holding together the loose coalition of various tea party
groups, thought differently, giving Williams and his Tea Party Express
That some tea party leaders have finally realized they cannot just sit
back and let Bob Johnson or Mark Williams define them is a measure of
maturation within their movement. That theyve waited this long has
hurt their cause and will strip away votes in the general elections in
November. Turning a blind eye to the worst instincts of their most
hateful followers has discouraged others from climbing on board.
That is especially true of those national figures, like Sarah Palin,
who have derived the most benefit from the tea party movement. Palin,
and others, criticize plenty on their endless fundraising tours around
the country as they position themselves for 2012. But, so far,
theyve uttered not a peep in opposition to the likes of Bob Johnson
or Mark Williams.
Their rhetoric helped give birth to the tea party movement, including
the ugly fringe elements. Ultimately, voters will judge them by the
company they keep. And by the company they refuse to reject.