Posted tagged ‘The Tea Party’

Dare I Speak of the Tea Party Once More?

July 28, 2010

Last April was by far the biggest month when it comes to readership of this blog.  It received 493 hits, which is over twice the number of hits it received on the next most viewed month (last May – 243 hits).  When you consider that the average hits per month are 218 and that the lightest month had only 105 hits, the volume for April is really quite remarkable.

Why this significant spike in readership?  Controversy!  Everyone loves to savor a juicy controversy.

What was the source of this controversy?  It centered around two of my postings – “The Perfect Storm” and “The Perfect Storm Revisited.”  These postings addressed my deep concerns about the actions and directions of the growing Tea Party movement, and my concerns about the connections which I perceived existing between the Tea Party and the Republican Party.

Well, let me start off by saying that my posting of “The Perfect Storm” was far from perfect.  Indeed, the very fact that I followed it up with, “The Perfect Storm Revisited” testifies to my own sense that it did not successfully communicate the message I intended for it.  But one need only read the comments to the “Revisited” posting to see that my critics were far from satisfied with my clarifications within expressed in this revisiting.  While today, I could readily revise my statements in that posting as well, I still maintain that the heart of its message was on target.

Recently, the Tea Party has once again become the center of public attention.  This time it is because the NAACP, in convention, ratified a resolution chastising the Tea Party for not repudiating (or as Sarah Palin would say, “refudiating”) those elements within its ranks that proclaim a racist ideology.

When I first heard that report, I admit that I smiled.  After all, that is the very message which I attempted to communicate in my “Revisited” posting, and for which I was so thoroughly castigated by so many, even to the point where the leadership of my congregation strongly encouraged me to place an open disclaimer on the blog itself, distancing the congregation from the contents of the blog.  Now, my posting did not only reference the racism found in elements of the Tea Party, but other hate ideologies and the endorsement of violent actions as well.  But then, of course one would rightfully expect an organization like the NAACP to focus on racism.  After all, that is their mission.

Though I smiled at first hearing the news reports, that smile quickly faded as I started to hear the responses coming from Tea Party supporters, and even from some who would not be considered supporters – such as President Obama and Vice President Biden.  From the Tea Party itself came a rather bizarre mixed message.  The first thing they did was to remove from their coalition one of the most offensive of groups along these lines – the group called the Tea Party Express.  But then Tea Party spokesmen started making remarks about how the NAACP itself is a racist organization, even pointing to the fact that their name uses the “racist” term “Colored People.”  In other words, while on the one hand, they admitted that racism was a problem within their ranks, and needed to be repudiated, on the other hand they sought to deny that racism was their problem but rather chose to declare that it was far more the problem of the NAACP.  Talk about projection!

It should come as no surprise that I support the NAACP in their recent action.  While I hesitated to publicly proclaim this support at first – for fear of stirring up that previous hornet’s nest – I came to realize that more than I feared being caught up in another controversy, I feared that my silence on this matter could somehow make me complicit in the promulgation of hatred and prejudice.  Our past is full of bystanders who may not have agreed with the purveyors of hate, and who may have been repulsed by the actions of those hate mongers, but who, for various reasons, but mostly out of fear, chose to remain silent and on the side lines.  I cannot and will not become one of them.

As I stated in my “Revisited” blog, in no way do I challenge the right of the members of the Tea Party to hold and express their political opinions, regardless of whether or not I agree with them.  That diversity of thought and expression is what makes America great.  However, when such free discourse turns into expressions of hatred, that is where we need to draw the line.  All people of good conscience – whether they be Democrats or Republicans or members of the Tea Party – should and must feel duty and honor bound to purge such prejudice from their political rhetoric, and they must actively denounce and distance themselves from those who promote such messages.  That is what I said in April.  That is what the NAACP has said in July.  I stood by that message then and I stand by it now.  However, I have to admit a certain relief in finding that others, especially those of the caliber of the NAACP, seem to agree with me.

Prejudice as a Chronic Disease

April 14, 2010

Lately, I have been writing about my concerns over the growing Tea Party movement and the prejudices that it appears to have fueled and brought to the surface.  Though there are those who have taken exception to such comments, I stand on the evidence as it is almost daily reported in the media.

However, things are not so black and white as we would always like them to be.  Prejudice is not solely the purview of one particular group and ideology.  Rather, it is a chronic disease that effects us all; even those of us who dedicate so much of our lives in the battle against it.

Last night I had an experience which gave me much pause for thought.  I had been teaching an adult education class at our synagogue.  As is typical in such situations, the class ended, the adult learners left, and I remained alone in the building to close the place up.  As I was leaving the building, having turned off all the lights and set the alarm, I was about to lock the door when I spotted a group of three African American youths walking across our secluded parking long, walking the pet pit bull.  My heart rate increased, as I stood in the shadows, by the door, waiting until they walked beyond my field of vision before I locked it – just in case I needed to get into the building and activate the alarm.  They exited our parking lot without incident.  I do not think that they even noticed my presence.

Driving home, the more I pondered what had just happened, the more troubled I was by it.  After all, they were just three teenagers, walking their dog and having a typically loud teenage conversation.  One could say that they were dressed like “gang bangers” but what does that really mean?  They were dressed in clothing which was culturally accepted for their community of friends and neighbors.  So why did my survival instincts kick in?  Why did I automatically perceive a threat?

The painful answer in to be found in the chronic nature of our prejudices.  They can become so ingrained in us that even when we openly deny them and actively engage in the struggle against them in our society, still there are echos which remain within us, and perhaps never leave us.  They are perpetually there, lurking in the darker corners of our souls.  They are like a latent virus, just waiting for the right conditions to be triggered so that it can wage its attack upon us.

It is a difficult reality to face that there is a bit of the bigot in each of us.  But face it we much.

So what can we do about it?  Accept it and surrender to our prejudicial nature?  I think not.  What makes all the difference in the world between a decent human being and a out-&-out bigot is not whether or not we possess any prejudices, but rather in what we do about the prejudices we possess.  The difference is to be found in our choices and in our actions.  While the bigot embraces his or her prejudices, nurtures them, fuels them, and grows his or her own ego identities upon their foundations, the decent folks among us must confront our prejudices, examine them, measure them, judge them for what they are, and then suppress them; deny them any fuel.  Indeed, we need to counteract them with acts of altruism.  While we may not always be able to avoid that increase in heart rate and that knot in the pit of our stomachs, we can recognize them for what they are; flaws in our character, and then proceed in the conduct of our lives in ways which mark our continual attempts to eliminate or at least counteract those flaws.

Three teenage African Americans and a pit bull out for an evening’s walk.  They taught me an extremely important lesson, and they did not even know that I was there!

Revisiting “The Perfect Storm”

April 13, 2010

Boy, my last posting on this blog – “The Perfect Storm” – has generated just that; a bit of a storm.  Of course, in a perfect world (as opposed to a perfect storm) I would love for many, many people to read my postings and find them insightful, moving, and right on target.  However, in this imperfect world, as a blogger, I should be content with the fact the my blog simply is being read.  Of course, I would love it if my critics would read some of my other postings along with the ones with which they disagree, and I would be ecstatic if they could tell me what they liked as well as what they disliked, but perhaps that is asking too much of human nature.
Tonight I received a email from one of these distressed blog readers, who also happens to be a resident of my community.  He presented several issues which he had with my posting, not the least of which was my use of an analogy between what I see happening today and what happened in Nazi Germany.  This person also took great exception (not without some definite merit) to my characterization of the Republican party.  Since I felt that this person most certainly deserved a serious and thoughtful response, I immediately framed one for him.  I wish to share with you a portion of that response:

Now to your comments about “The Perfect Storm”:

The blog is far more directed at the Tea Party Movement than at the Republican Party.  It is this movement that troubles me greatly – not because they hold and express views contrary to my own, but rather because they have promoted violence, racism, and revolution as a means of addressing their concerns rather than entering into civil debate.  Contrary to what you have said about your perception of my stance, it is indeed the message of this movement that either we all are with them or “we can go pound sand.”  And yes, there has been violence born out of this movement.  There have been Congressmen who have received death threats.  Bricks have been thrown through the windows of some congressional offices (kind of like Kristalnacht), and racial slurs and racist language has been used.  I look at this form of behavior and I do find it very Nazi like.  As I said in the blog, the similarities between these violent expressions is just too hauntingly similar to the violence perpetrated against the Jews of Germany by the SA – the Brown Shirts.  When we permit violence to replace discourse, we are heading for trouble unless we shut that down pronto.

I know that there are those who cringe at Holocaust analogies.  However, every year, at our local Yom HaShoah observance, we include a reading called “The Shoah and Today.”  This reading, which is reframed every year, attempts to remind us that if the death of the Holocaust martyrs are to have any ongoing meaning for us, then we must take whatever lessons we have learned from the Holocaust to heart and apply them as storm warnings in today’s world.  Indeed, usually in that reading, we include the famous quote by the philosopher George Santayana, who said:  “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”  I think that we all agree that making contemporary Holocaust analogies concerning Darfur and Rwanda are appropriate.  However, it is my firm belief that when we wait for situations to turn as extreme as those before we make such analogies – when we wait for the acts of genocide to take place – then we are way too late.  When considering Holocaust analogies, we should not restrict ourselves to the end product of the Holocaust but rather, we would do a far greater good if we turn our attention to the early stages of the Holocaust, when the Nazis were just getting started in what would ultimately result in that great human tragedy.  For if we are able to honestly recognize disturbing similarities between early Nazi activities and events that are occurring today, then we can step back and say, “Hold on there!  If we let this behavior go unchecked then it will end very badly for all of us.”  In this light, the use of threats, violence, and hate speech to promote a political ideology should serve us as a massive red flag.

As far as the analogy that I made concerning the relationship between the SA and the Nazi Party, as compared to the relationship between the Tea Party and the Republican Party, upon further review I recognize that I was not as clear as I could have been and should have been.  The SA was an official arm of the Nazi Party and whatever they did was at the behest of that party.  While the Tea Party is in no way officially associated with the Republican Party, and they, in fact, deny any identification with the Republican Party, the connection between the two is strikingly obvious.  They endorse only Republican candidates and they target only Democratic ones.  Key Republicans, like Sarah Palin, openly identify with them and speak at their rallies.  It would appear that the Republican Party is trying to ride the crest of the Tea Party’s wave of popularity, catering to them in order to gain their support in the upcoming elections.  In this, the Republican Party is playing a very dangerous game, for the more they court Tea Party support, the more they become associated with the negative aspects of the Tea Party as well as with their shared ideologies.  If the Republican Party wishes to avoid being identified with Nazi-like behavior, then they have to make it a point of sharply distancing themselves from such behavior, making it abundantly clear that they will have absolutely no truck with those who strive to go beyond dialogue, debate, and the democratic process and rather choose to travel the path of violence and hate mongering in order to achieve their political ends.  Until the Republican Party is ready to do that, their silence presents itself as endorsement.  If you lay down with dogs, you may get up with fleas.

Let me make myself perfectly clear.  The Republican Party, the Tea Party; these are organizations.  Their identity is directly tied to their ideology and also to the actions that are taken in their name.  That is in no way to say that every member of these organizations are also, individually, to be so identified.  That cannot even be said for the individual members of the Nazi Party, for there were people in Germany who joined the Nazi Party for various reasons, but who, themselves, did not personally identify with all of Nazi ideology and were repulsed by some of the actions of Nazi Germany, including its persecution of the Jews.  This is to say that being a Republican or being a member of the Tea Party does not automatically mean that one identifies or agrees with every aspect of their party’s ideology or activity.  There have been several reports of Tea Party members who have publicly denounced the violence that has taken place in the name of their party.  However, there needs to be more such people.  There need to be so many Tea Party members who step forward in this fashion that they make it abundantly clear that anyone who promotes or perpetrates violence and hatred have themselves stepped outside of the Tea Party tent.  As far as the Republican Party members are concerned, there need to be more members of the Republican Party who are willing to express their discomfort with the growing relationship between their party and the Tea Party, that is as long as the Tea Party does not effectively separate itself from those violent elements within it.

Here are the links to two Youtubes which should help demonstrate why I am so concerned about the effects of the Tea Party in our society today:

A Perfect Storm Threatens Same Sex Marriage in Iowa

April 8, 2010

I was extremely proud to be an Iowan on the day that the state Supreme Court decided that same sex marriage in our state is legal.  I was even prouder on the day that I officiated at my first same sex wedding ceremony.  Yet even while I experienced such pride, I also fully expected that we had not heard the last from the opponents to such marriages.  Filled with the sense of their own righteous (or should I say self-righteous) indignation, they would marshal their forces and ultimately launch their counter-attack.  What did surprise me was that such a counter-attack was not immediate.  Yes, there were some measures taken by them, but they were generally weak and ineffectual; not at all in keeping with the usual means and methods of those on the right.  So still, I waited for the hammer to fall.

It seems clear that my wait is coming to an end.  A “perfect storm” seems to be gathering on the horizon for our state.  Contributing to the formation of that storm is the confluence of both the approaching of statewide elections, including the election for governor, and the rapid rise and growth throughout our nation, including in Iowa, of the group calling itself the “Tea Party.”  Inspired by such an intellectual midget as Sarah Palin, the “Tea Party” is clearly a manifestation of a radicalize version of the Republican Party.  Though they claim an identity separate and distinct from the Republican Party, their actions to date make their relationship to the Republicans appear to be more akin to the relationship which existed between the SA – the Brown Shirts or Storm Troopers – and the Nazi party in the Germany of the 1930’s.  Both groups serve as the “bully boys” of their parties and as such are not above making threats and performing acts of harassment.  Except in the case of the Nazis, they had the “integrity” to claim the SA as their own while today’s Republican party has neither claimed nor denounced the actions of the Tea Party.

As this perfect storm takes shape, we are seeing certain gubernatorial candidates claim that, if elected, they will eliminate same sex marriage rights.  We also see a growing concerted effort to target legislators up for re-election who support same sex marriage, as well as promoting candidates who oppose it.  And then, of course, we hear an increasingly vocal call for making the issue a matter for a public referendum, as if securing the equal rights of all Americans should be subject to the will of the majority.  If that were the case, women still would not have the vote and African Americans still would be the subjects of segregation, if still not enslaved.

There is no question but that Sarah Palin has a certain charisma, and she is a looker to boot!  But as history has shown us, too often in the past, charisma has turned toxic for a society when it has been abused to promote a dangerous and hostile ideology.  This is my great fear concerning the Tea Party.  Things are turning quite scary in America, and I suspect they will turn especially scary here in Iowa as the elections draw nearer and the debate over same sex marriage becomes more heated.

This is a time for people of conscience and courage to step forward and be heard.  It is so easy, and so convenient, to shirk our obligations to stand up and speak out in the face of such extremism.  We can justify our inaction and our apathy by claiming that these folks are just an extremist fringe  and not to be taken seriously.  However, to do so is to irresponsibly ignore the harsh reality that their numbers are growing and their actions are becoming bolder.  To quote Edmund Burke:  “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Let us take warning from his wisdom!