I recently had an instructive exchange with a teabagger over on fivethirtyeight.com. This guy makes his teabagger meetings sound about as threatening as a sewing circle, filled with high-minded Hallmark rhetoric about reducing the size of Big Government for the safety and financial future of the country. Other readers on the blog have at times expressed concern over the racist and violent imagery coming from 'bagger rallies, but he consistently ignored these comments.
Just for fun, I called him on it and accused him of sticking his head in the sand. His response essentially implied that said reports were a figment of the liberal imagination and the neither I nor anyone else could cite actual instances of racist imagery or threats of violence. When I provided citations, he answered (I think this was the point) that he personally had an African-American minister and that therefore there was no racism or violence among the 'baggers.
Now, this guy is a supercilious twit whose intellectual reach doesn't go any further than a melange of Republican/Libertarian talking points. It was all too easy to yank his chain (forgive me, Father, for I have sinned), so I told him to stop hiding behind his minister's robes and either quit the ostrich thing or admit that he agreed that racist and violent imagery was a legitimate teabagger tactic. He made a snarky, flip comment about the likely results of the November election. He didn't respond at all after I contributed (with citations) a revolting description of a typical lynching and asked if he could finally understand that threats of sexually mutilating our African-American president coupled with calls for states' rights might seem racist to some people. I concluded that he was a fellow traveler with purveyors of racism and violence pornography, and said so. (I rather liked that phrase!)
So, are the teabbaggers racist? Even I will concede that if an African-American conservative showed up at a 'bagger coven, he or she would be greeted with open arms. But what if fifty or a hundred appeared? What if the group was a mix of African-Americans and Latino immigrants? That they would be welcomed, I'm less sure about.
At heart, there's a nativism or tribalism underlying 'bagger meetings that makes them little different in spirit than an Afghan mountain man using homemade weapons to repel outsiders. That's why the 'baggers hate Obama, don't like immigrants, and in fact don't like anyone who doesn't agree with them right down the line. They claim to love America, but it's a peculiar kind of a America composed exclusively of members of their tribe. They love America, maybe, but in the end they hate most Americans.
At one level, it's easy to understand the impulse and even sympathize with it. The 'baggers feel invaded, and history is replete with invaders who conquer and enslave. Pretty soon the paranoia about the Other kicks in, the talk of violent resistance and civil war grows, the paranoia escalates, and the anger grows more intense.
But just because the impulse is understandable doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't rise above it. I mean, isn't that what we're called to do either by our god or by our consciences? The liberal imagination not only allows for a diverse world, it celebrates the possibilities of such a world. The 'baggers see this as naive, no doubt, as they reach for their guns and agitate for open carry laws. Maybe so, but I'd much rather live in my world than theirs. At least I'm not afraid to go to downtown Seattle in the daytime and least I love Americans.
Last week, the 'baggers mustered only a few hundred people to protest health care legislation, not exactly the March on Washington. Over time, I don't think the 'bagger backlash can survive its lack of know-how. Ironically, what they need most in order to last as an independent movement are the skills that only community organizers bring to the table. In other words, they need ACORN and Barack Obama, the one group and the one person they despise above all others. Sometimes, life is funny...
Hawaii sez "Enough! No more requests for birth certificates! He was born here, already"...