Way back in the 1980’s I held a tea party. I broke out the Limoges, I tracked down watercress—no easy trick in 1985—for fancy sandwiches, and I spent hours baking the requisite tiny pastries. As it happens, the guest list was all female, friends and colleagues. The centerpiece of the menu was a lethal brew called “Fish House Punch,” which consisted of liberal but delicious amounts of bourbon, dark rum, and apricot brandy. As I recall, the punch also featured lemon juice and strong, cold tea. Like I said, it was a tea party, and take my word for it, a good time was had by all.
One-quarter century later, having enjoyed all manner of tea in the intervening years, including formal tea with my delightful niece at the old Ritz in Boston and the even older Claridges in London, I fear that this fusty, anachronistic excuse to eat smoked salmon and quaff Champagne in the afternoon is in clear and present danger of being forever tarnished by the co-opting of “tea party” by latter-day grassroots activists.
I know that today’s partying Salada drinkers borrowed their moniker not from the Ritz’s menu, but from our Patriot forbearers in the mean streets of Boston. Even as I agree with the core principles of the Tea Partiers (fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, free markets), though, I cannot warm to this movement.
So I eagerly clicked on “Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated,” in today’s New York Times to educate myself and perhaps pinpoint the reasons for my wariness. It didn’t tell me much that I couldn’t figure out from watching news video of a Tea Party demonstration: men and women generally 45 and up; usually but certainly nowhere near always white; relatively financially OK, judging by their apparel; and moderate to conservative in their outlook, again using sartorial guidelines. But the Times also included this point of comparison between Tea Partiers and everybody else: the partiers are far more likely to have attended college, graduated from college, and gone on to post-graduate study. So much for stereotypes.
The Times’ poll did not shed any light on my take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the Tea Party, so to find an answer I dug deeper into the article and plumbed the depths of the 1300+ comments the poll received. And while what I found still did not resolve my inner conflict, it did surface the pulsating veins of inchoate logic and racial enmity that flow through readers’ disturbingly similar remarks.
For those of you unfamiliar with readers’ comments in the Times, a quick primer: the Times invites readers to respond to some of its articles and opinion pieces, and also lets readers endorse comments by clicking on a “recommend” button. You can get a pretty good sense of which way the public opinion wind of Times readers is blowing on a given issue by reading comments and checking their recommendations.
Let me give you a sample of the most recommended comments the Times received regarding the Tea Party poll. The numbers in parenthesis indicate the number of “recommendations” that comment received.
Now we’re polling these wackos? Making their racist, hating views even more legit in their eyes? (770)
So these yahoos haven’t figured out that there is no such thing as middle-class anymore? It isn’t about money, it’s about hate. I have always observed that there are two kinds of Republicans. Old money Republicans and selfish, conservative, redneck Republicans. The tea party being the latter of the two. They hate themselves and everyone else. Their lives have always sucked and they have had to struggle so to hell with anybody else that needs help. They’re complaining about universal health care because it benefits the poor and unemployed. Well, what do they think the initial purpose of Social Security was? Are they willing to give that back or not accept it all?? Highly doubtful. Almost everything in this country, when initially brought in to law was considered a ‘liberal’ idea, including formal education. People tried to shoot that down as well. So as far as tea party folks are concerned; shut the hell up..the Republicans were in charge for 8 years and did nothing but screw us all up. So shut your pie holes and go away. (1103)
These Tea Party folks are all racist hypocrites. All of their anger is rooted in race. Where the hell were they when President Bush massively expanded the size of the federal government, ran the country into huge deficits and recession, and cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans instead of middle-income families, as President Obama has done? Where were they when Bush threw away the surplus left by President Clinton? Only now after the election of an African-American Democrat are these tea-partiers coming out. Of course it’s about race. They just can’t stand watching a person of color lead our country. (771)
At their core, Tea Partiers resent people racially and ethnically different from themselves who — as they themselves do (Social Security, Medicare, home deductions, etc.) — receive government support, only the “bad” kind, i.e. “welfare” (as in Reagan’s “welfare queens” — code for blacks, who are the minority of recipients, by the way).
In the meantime, Tea Partiers give government the go-ahead to spend more on defense than the rest of the world’s governments combined.
Where’s “waste” to be cut? On domestic services, but only domestic services they don’t get or think they won’t need (and in this economy, they should give that a second thought).
This is a White Nationalist movement.
Fifty-seven percent of whites voted against Obama. When Tea Partiers say they want “their” country back, that “their” concerns are overlooked, that “they” aren’t represented in government, they’re speaking for that aging, diminishing demographic. (573)
Whoa. These folks are scary. To me, they are anti-American. Where is the tapestry of diversity which represents this great country? I don’t see one person of color in this group or any young people. It’s also shocking to think that so many of these folks still insist that Barack Obama is a Muslim or that he is a socialist. Frankly, I’ve not seen this kind of anger and ignorance in my lifetime and it makes me terribly concerned about our country’s future. (1612)
So according to the poll, these older white males take advantage of government services and appreciate those services and value those services and don’t mind paying what they do actually consider a “fair” price for those services … they just hate the president. Who happens to be black. This poll just points out to me that they ARE the racists they say they aren’t. (480)
Whew! It’s obvious to me that these folks did not read the same article that I did, or, if they did, simply ignored its findings while composing their comments. Even if you toss out some of the more unhinged rhetoric (“This is a white nationalist movement.”), you are still left trying to fight your way out of yards of complete and utter fabrication: “these older white males….just hate the president.” It seems to me that the real racism—and by that I mean a world view that assumes the intellectual inferiority of blacks—resides in the hearts and minds of those who seems to believe with total conviction that anyone who challenges the president is doing so simply on the basis of his skin tone. These racists—for that is what they are—are oblivious to their own logic, which categorically posits that no black man, not even the President of the United States, can be challenged on the quality of his record, agenda or beliefs. They look no further than the epidermis, either ignoring the president’s well-articulated platform or assuming that the president has only his skin color with which to lead the country.
Never let it be said that I do not search for common ground. Indeed, as dispiriting as I find these comments, I find myself in total agreement with at least one of the writers. The one who wrote, “Frankly, I’ve not seen this kind of anger and ignorance in my lifetime and it makes me terribly concerned about our country’s future.”