Thursday, May 20, 2010

Huffington Post Column 18 - To the Tea Party - It's Not Your Country

In the late 1950's I attended and then worked at a Jewish camp in the Delaware Water Gap area where New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey come together. Near the camp was a town that, we were told, was the headquarters (national or local I'm not sure) of the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization, during the war. In that town was a hotel that explicitly refused to serve Jews and with which we made great sport of going to and getting thrown out of.


That was, as I said, in the late '50's. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act became law in the United States, and what was legal in 1958 became illegal. Like it or not, that hotel would serve Jews, African-Americans, and anyone else that came through its doors, and, I believe, the US became a better place for that.


All of this came up for me as I watched Rachel Maddow interview Rand Paul after his primary victory in Kentucky (see the interview here). In what may have been one of the best TV interviews ever, Rachel, for 15 minutes, without interrupting or being rude, without raising her voice or being in any way unpleasant, asked one question: "Do you believe stores and restaurants should be allowed to deny service based on race, gender, sexual preference, etc.?" She asked it in as many different ways she could, and tried to get an answer from Dr. Paul who bobbed and weaved in an equal number of ways, doing anything he could other than answering the question yes or no.


I don't know much about Rand Paul. He's a physician and is the son of Libertarian Ron Paul. He ran in the Kentucky GOP primary to run for Sen. Jim Bunning's seat, and won the primary by 23% over his closest opponent, running as a "Tea Party" candidate. He began his acceptance speech after the primary victory by saying "I have a message from the Tea Party – we've come to take our country back," leavin very little doubt as to where he stands and whom he represents. In fact, he mentioned the Tea Party nine times and Kentucky only once in his four-minute speech.


So I don't think it's a leap to go from Paul's evasiveness on the subject of discrimination in public accommodations to the Tea Party's being populated overwhelmingly by white people, to a concern for a return to the bad old days that had Rebers Hotel refuse service to me and my fellow counselors.


It would be way too ironic if the election of an African-American President is the stimulus for undoing fifty years of progress in Civil Rights, but I really can't account for the sudden and virulent resurgence of the Radical Right any other way. Granted, best estimates of the Tea Party's membership puts it at between 15 and 20% of the electorate at most, and even Mitch McConnell, no mean rightie in his own right, opposed Paul's nomination, and mainstream Republicans (whatever that means) like Michael Steele and Karl Rove (did I just say Karl Rove is mainstream?) haven't rushed to defend him. Still, I find it worrisome.


The bottom line is I don't buy that the country is theirs to take back, unless by "take back" they mean back to the days of the Bund and the KKK. That's not the country that my parents emigrated to in the 1920's, and it's not the country I grew up to believe in, even growing up in those same bad old days. We have a teacher teaching geometry using angles for assassinating the President as his case in point, we have the President being burned in effigy in Wisconsin, but I refuse to believe that this is any more powerful a lunatic fringe than was the Bund in its effort to vilify FDR ("President Rosenfeld") and to get the US to either stay out of the war in Europe or to enter it on the Nazi's side.


I have a message for Rand Paul and the Tea Party: "It's not your country, and we, the true heirs of Jefferson and Lincoln, aren't giving it up." November is the election that counts, and we need to make it a clear statement to the bullies on the Right that they are not in charge.


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