Is the Tea Party Like the KKK?

(The Root) —In recent years when the words "racial controversy" or "race scandal" and "politics" have appeared in the same sentence, the word "Republican" has usually appeared somewhere in the sentence, too. But this week a racially charged scandal has erupted involving Democrats.

High-profile Republicans are demanding an apology from Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) for using imagery and language in a campaign fundraising email that inspired comparisons between the Tea Party and the Ku Klux Klan. By Wednesday evening, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had expressed disapproval for the tactic, saying, "Obviously I am disappointed in the use of that imagery. Both sides need to dial back that kind of rhetoric and look to bring more civility into politics."


But for some her rebuke isn't enough. Former Florida Republican Rep. Allen West said in a Fox News Channel interview, "The president came out and started talking about civility in our dialogue. Where is President Obama? I think that the president should be speaking out about this. He should reprimand and censor Alan Grayson for what he said."

As Wasserman Schultz's statement denotes, this situation puts Democrats in a precarious situation. Comparing all Tea Party supporters to the Ku Klux Klan makes about as much sense as comparing or trying to connect the president and all Democrats to the New Black Panthers (which certain conservative-leaning reporters seemed obsessed with trying to do at one point). So just as progressives are outraged at these types of generalizations and often claim that they have no place in politics, they must be willing to set the same ground rules for criticism targeting conservatives.


There is just one catch. There is no question that there has been plenty of racist rhetoric and imagery to come out of the Tea Party movement. According to the Washington Post, members of the Congressional Black Caucus were spit on and targeted with racial epithets by Tea Party protesters during the debate over health care reform. A Confederate flag was flown at a recent Tea Party rally weeks ago.

Perhaps even more interesting, at a recent protest held during President Obama's August visit to Florida, Grayson's home state, the president's motorcade was greeted with signs that read, "Kenyan go home" and "Impeach the Half-White Muslim!" while the protesters sang the song "Bye, Bye Black Sheep." Now, these protesters apparently did not call themselves Tea Party protesters, but considering their feelings about the president, it is probably safe to assume that they do not identify as political liberals. The perceived connection between that racist tone and imagery and the Tea Party is so prevalent that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow recently devoted an entire segment to the topic.

All of which means that it is not hard to fathom why Grayson would dare to presume that the Tea Party has some race issues. I don't think anyone can argue that this presumption was far-fetched. Did his language go too far? Possibly. But plenty of Republican racial rhetoric has gone much further, and strangely, aside from a few rare occasions, rank-and-file Republicans haven't gotten as up in arms as they seem to be over this incident.

In a statement emailed to The Root, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said of Grayson's email, "When is enough going to be enough with the Democratic Party and their racism and bigotry?" What he seems to fail to understand is that plenty of minorities have been asking the exact same question about the Republican Party, and so far the answer seems to be "never."


So while it is certainly commendable that Republicans are now trying to be conscientious about turning down the dial on the racial rhetoric currently consuming and cannibalizing our political discourse, it might be more useful if they focused on turning it down in their own party before trying to help the party that elected a black president address any racial issues that it might have.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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