What Passes As Fairness to Tea Partiers in The New York Times


On Friday The New York Times ran a "Political Memo" by Kate Zernike anticipating Glenn Beck's rally at the Lincoln Memorial the next day. Here is how it began:

It seems the ultimate thumb in the eye: that Glenn Beck would summon the Tea Party faithful to a rally on the anniversary of the March on Washington, and address them from the very place where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech 47 years ago. After all, the Tea Party and its critics have been facing off for months over accusations of racism.

Would the Times call a speech by President Obama to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a "thumb in the eye"? After all, many people have accused him of socialism. It is inconceivable that the Times would describe the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan as a "thumb in the eye," even though that is how its critics see it.

The sad thing is that Zernike is trying to be fair. She writes that "Tea Party leaders say they are outraged, as anyone would be, by accusations of racism: they do not see themselves that way." She includes Tea Party rebuttals to charges of racism, quotes black supporters of the movement, and notes that Beck describes himself as a defender of King's legacy. But she also deems it relevant that "the movement has not attracted blacks proportionate to their representation in the larger population"—a standard that would condemn the Republican Party, the National Hockey League, and my synagogue as racist. Zernike's antipathy to Tea Partiers is hard to miss in this passage, where the line between her views and those of the movement's detractors fades away:

In the Tea Party's talk of states' rights, critics say they hear an echo of slavery, Jim Crow and George Wallace. Tea Party activists call that ridiculous: they do not want to take the country back to the discrimination of the past, they say, they just want the states to be able to block the federal mandate on health insurance.

Still, the government programs that many Tea Party supporters call unconstitutional are the ones that have helped many black people emerge from poverty and discrimination. It is not just that Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky, said that he disagreed on principle with the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required business owners to serve blacks. It is that many Tea Party activists believe that laws establishing a minimum wage or the federal safety net are an improper expansion of federal power.

Critics rightly note that Dr. King spoke over and over of the need for this country to acknowledge its "debt to the poor," calling for an "economic bill of rights" that would "guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work." In Mr. Beck's taxonomy, this would make him a Marxist.

In other words, it's not just the occasional "Go Back to Kenya" sign or unverified claims about racial epithets that taint the Tea Party. Anyone who supports federalism, questions bans on private discrimination, fiddles with the "federal safety net," or opposes the minimum wage is objectively racist, even if he does not see himself that way.

More on the Beck rally here, here, and here.