Daily Beast's Bouie Partly Defends Alan Grayson's Tea Party/KKK Comparison

October 24th, 2013 8:55 AM

When it comes to liberals standing up to indefensible rhetoric from others on the Left, the Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie illustrates how NOT to do it.

Oh, sure, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) was wrong to compare the Tea Party with the KKK but "it would be needless political correctness to dismiss the Tea Party as completely unrelated to the Klan, or at least, the reactionary currents that gave it life," Bouie insisted in his October 23 piece, "Grayson's Folly: What the Tea Party and the KKK Have in Common." Bouie did his best armchair psychiatrist impression in diagnosing the supposed xenophobic and reactionary neuroses of American conservatives (emphasis mine):

For starters, it’s no accident that the Tea Party emerged during a period of mass immigration and rapid cultural change. Like the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s—which directed its energies against Catholic immigrants from Ireland—or the “modern” Klan of the 1920s—which, in addition to blacks, targeted Italians, Jews, and Eastern Europeans—the Tea Party has its roots in demographic anxiety; the profound fear that the country is turning into something foreign and un-American. Earlier this month, pollster Stan Greenberg released results from several focus groups he held with Tea Party and other Republican voters, in which they expressed their fears and concerns. His conclusion?

“They have an acute sense that they are white in a country that is becoming increasingly “minority,” and their party is getting whooped by a Democratic Party that uses big government programs that benefit mostly minorities, create dependency and a new electoral majority.”

On the same token, a new study (PDF) from the liberal Center for American Progress on public attitudes about rising diversity finds that white conservatives are alone in their discomfort with a rapidly changing polity. When asked to give their views on a series of statements, 61 percent of white conservatives (and 56 percent of whites older than 65) agreed that “discrimination against whites will increase” as the United States became more diverse. Likewise, white conservatives were mostly likely to believe that diversity would bring an end to a “common American culture” and increase the likelihood of “racial strife.”

These twin fears—of being isolated and of being overrun—are common in American history, and have inspired a wide range of ideologies, tactics and reactionary crusades. To wit, the Tea Party’s radical, anti-majoritarian approach to congressional negotiating—which saw its pinnacle in the most recent government shutdown—has its roots in “nullification,” the antebellum idea that a political minority could cancel a law it opposed. Moreover, as Zack Beauchamp correctly argues in long-form for ThinkProgress, the Southernness of the Tea Party owes itself to the reactions of the past: “Today’s Republican radicalism, with all of its attendent terrifying brinksmanship, is the grandchild of the white South’s devastating defeats in the struggle over racial exclusion.”

Again, I don’t agree with Alan Grayson’s claim that the Tea Party is the Ku Klux Klan of the 21st century—it’s reductive, inaccurate, and offensive. But reactionary movements—like their ideological counterparts on the Left—aren’t isolated phenomena; they grow out of longstanding conflicts and anxieties in American life.

Of course $17 trillion in debt and a government overhaul of the health care system leading to exploding costs and diminishing individual freedom are policies that rightly lead to anxiety, and that not unique to certain Americans based on skin color.

Rather than engaging the Tea Party on its small government, pro-free market philosophy and honestly arguing against its ideology, liberal pundits like Bouie seek to simply discredit the movement by dismissing it as irrational, xenophobic, reactionary, and yes, the Left's favorite trope, racist. 

This attitude among liberals creates a climate that encourages the blowhards like Grayson to go off the deep end. But rather than unequivocally denounce the blowhards, folks like Bouie step in to offer half-hearted denunciations that actually further the line of attack they're ostensibly meant to denounce. Bouie knows it and his editors surely do as well. Shame on all of them.