Matt Bai's "Political Times" column Sunday is based on the NAACP issuing a resolution smearing the Tea Party movement as racist: "When It's About Race, It's Probably About Age, Too." It appeared online under the title "Beneath Divides Seemingly About Race Are Generation Fault Lines," which probably reads better in a mirror.
After mocking Newt Gingrich, who had the idea of the NAACP and the Tea Party undertake a series of town-hall meetings, Bai took seriously the racism smear from the NAACP, which these days is more of an interest group for black liberals than a "civil rights group," as Bai termed it. Bai ultimately concluded that both the Tea Party and the NAACP "represent disproportionately older memberships" and thus reflect racial attitudes of the past, but not before passing along a discredited media myth.
The question of racism in the amorphous Tea Party movement is, of course, a serious one, since so much of the Republican Party seems to be in the thrall of its activists. There have been scattered reports around the country of racially charged rhetoric within the movement, most notably just before the vote on the new health care law last March, when Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, the legendary civil rights leader, was showered with hateful epithets outside the Capitol.
The Times and the rest of the mainstream media have long made this unsubstantiated allegation, based on comments from Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana who claimed a crowd chanted "the N-word" at him and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. But there was no evidence it ever happened. Does Bai have something? If so, perhaps he can collect from new media mogul Andrew Breitbart, who's offer of $100,000 reward for proof of racial slurs being hurled at the March protest remains unclaimed. It would seem like easy money, with all the Blackberries, cellphones and video cameras on the Hill the day of the vote.
Bai dug himself deeper by hypothesizing slurs being hurled by imaginary "hateful 25-year-olds" at Tea Party rallies, based on his own myth of "hateful epithets" being hurled at Rep. Lewis:
This does not mean that there aren't hateful 25-year-olds coming to Tea Party rallies and letting fly racial slurs. What it does mean is that a sizable percentage of the Tea Party types were born into a segregated America, many of them in the South or in the new working-class suburbs of the North, and lived through the marches and riots that punctuated the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. Their racial attitudes, like their philosophies of governance, reflect their complicated journeys. (This is true for a lot of older, urban Democrats, too, who consider themselves liberal but whose racial commentary causes their grandchildren to recoil.)