The so-called “tea party” must be doing something right. The rhetoric from Democrats is intensifying and it is starting to get downright ugly. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida sent out a fundraising email letter with a heading that described it as “no more popular than the Klan.” The email included a graphic that depicted the “T” in tea party as a burning cross. Quoted in the Huffington Post, Jennifer Burke, national outreach director of TheTeaParty.net, said “as a black Tea Party activist, I could say that there’s nothing more offensive than equating the Tea Party with the Ku Klux Klan. The hate speech uttered by sitting congressman Alan Grayson is deplorable.”
I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps someone should remind Grayson that historically, the Klan has been linked to the Democratic Party. Grayson’s attempt to link the tea party to the Klan isn’t accurate, historically or otherwise. As to his reference to the tea party’s popularity, those who identify themselves as tea party outnumber liberals by a significant number. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 22 percent of Americans identify themselves as tea party, while 19 percent identified as liberal. Grayson’s statement is not only malicious in its intent, it is factually wrong.
U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said of the tea party from the floor of the senate, “the anarchists have taken over.” Here in West Virginia, the president of the state Senate, Jeffery Kessler recently tweeted “Ted Cruz is an IDIOT & Tea Party is NUTS!”
This hateful rhetoric coming from elected representatives is simply bad behavior. It is the politics of exclusion. While driving around with bumper stickers that say “coexist,” what is being practiced is intolerance. Intolerance is the root cause of racism in the first place. As tea party critics scream “racism” in their crowded theaters, what then can be said of their disdain for Ted Cruz who is Hispanic? That is a rhetorical question.
Sadly, the intolerance has filtered down to the local level. Last week the Jefferson County Democratic Association held its monthly meeting at the Charles Town Library. The subject of the meeting was running for office. When the JCDA discovered that there were members of the local tea party group, We the People of Jefferson County, in attendance, they were asked to leave by Delegate Stephen Skinner. On local television news, Skinner said, “We have a constitutional right to assemble and we have a constitutional right to meet without the other party in the room.”
One of the problems with Skinner’s argument is that the JCDA was using a public meeting room. One of the rules, as stated on the County Commission’s website, is that all meetings held there must be open to the public. I’m assuming that those rules apply to Democrats. Inexplicably, the president of the County Commission, Dale Manuel, strongly defended Skinner’s actions. In checking with officials of the Jefferson County GOP, its meetings are usually held on private property but on occasion they use the room. However, in contrast, that group’s meetings are always open to the public and no one has ever been ejected from a meeting based on their party affiliation. Only members can vote, but anyone can attend.
The tea party is not a political party, and it is nonpartisan. The local group includes members that are Democrats. Ironically, We the People had sponsored a similar tutorial about how to run for office prior to the 2010 elections. In attendance were Democrats, including Virginia Graf, who ran for Congress.
The end result of this incident is that the Democrats lost an opportunity to show that they are civic-minded and inclusive. Rather than expand the tent and embrace diversity, the local leadership instead chose to discriminate against certain members of the community because of their affiliations. Delegate Skinner opined that those he evicted were glad because “they want to embarrass Democrats.” This is obviously not true, since We the People includes Democrats among its ranks and has in fact endorsed Democratic candidates in the past. If Democrats are embarrassed, and they should be, they shouldn’t blame the tea party; Skinner accomplished that all on his own.
— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry