If they can't stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen, but who would brew their tea? Republicans are up in arms over a campaign flier issued by Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida that uses a burning Ku Klux Klan cross as the capital T in Tea. Despite rebukes from some party leaders, Grayson is unrepentant, comparing himself to Harry Truman in the giving-them-hell department. His supporters want to lob the ball back to the TP side of the court, challenging them to prove the negative by publicly denouncing or renouncing the racists in their midst. You know, the way Muslims have to prove that they're not terrorist sympathizers by denouncing terrorism every time they open their mouths in public. Republicans should understand the concept.
Naturally, by accusing the Tea Party of hate, Grayson has opened himself to the charge of hate speech. That's the way politics works here. The fact is, criticism of President Obama from the right is no more intrinsically racist than criticism of Zionism is intrinsically anti-semitic. But I wonder whether that's sufficient to take the TP off the hook. Republicans may assume that Obama is the only subject here -- that Democrats are trying to exploit the President's race to suppress criticism of his policies. I'm not sure, however, that critics of the Tea Party are concerned only with its opinion of Obama. Accurately or not, they perceive a larger hostility to minorities or Others on the part of a group identifying itself with traditional American values. Speaking personally, I'm inclined to split the difference. The particular object of contempt for the American right, broadly defined, is the "loser," the person who supposedly prefers dependency to honest toil and is too lazy or stupid to make himself useful in a 21st century economy. While many on the right may be tempted to relegate entire races or other demographic groups into the loser category -- always making individual exceptions like Herman Cain or Ben Carson -- most will readily admit that whites make up a large number if not the majority of losers in this country. Their contempt toward losers comes through most strongly on the internet, where their vitriol on comment threads is usually directed at correspondents who aren't presumed to be black, Hispanic, etc. If TPs hate you -- and most, of course, will dispute the verb -- it's for what you do (or don't do), not for what you are. So it's unfair to reflexively label them as bigots, but no more unfair than it is for them to label anyone with a more expansive vision of government than theirs, or anyone less worshipful than they toward the private sector -- as socialists, communists, etc. If we really want to be fair in the game of politics, then Democrats ought to be entitled to cry "racism" as often as Republicans cry "socialism," if not a little more often. After all, they probably have a better idea of what racism is than Republicans have of what socialism is, and that should count for something.