From the Sketchbook: Tea Party Catharsis

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Denver, Colorado—Just a quick sketch: Andrew Breitbart is midway through his keynote address at the Colorado 9/12 rally (on 9/13) when he’s interruped, loudly, by a middle-aged black man in an orange Broncos hat and a Hawaiian shirt, with a fundamental disagreement: “You Tea Partiers are racist!”

“Go back and watch television and they’ll affirm your worldview,” says Breitbart.

Breitbart continues his remarks (about ACORN—maybe you’ve heard of it?) but the focus shifts away from him for a few moments as the dissenter keeps up his charge. He’s quickly encircled, but shows no sign of relenting. “You white people out here are splittin’ the country up with your hateful views!” Now he’s surrounded, by video cameras looking to capture this moment for posterity, and a dozens faces flush with vindication. This is what we’re up against; this is what the media never show you; this is the real racist.

To his right, a man and two women are holding hands tightly and bowing their heads; they’re praying, out loud, for his soul. A Tea Partier wants to know: “Did your mother teach you to talk like that?” Answer: “Did your mother teach you to be so goddam stupid?” The situation is not defused. Finally, he unleashes a furious: “Why don’t you all go down to Mississippi and burn some goddam crosses,” and makes his exit. Throughout all of this, a woman is standing just a few feet away from the spectacle, pleading with the crowd not to encourage him. “Don’t give him an audience! Don’t give him an audience!”

It was a good bit of advice, but also kind of fruitless, considering the audience: Spend more than 10 minutes at a Tea Party rally and you’ll find that one of the galvanizing themes, from the slogans (“We surround them”), on down to the speeches (the real bigots are liberals who suggest that Tea Partiers maybe, sometimes, have darker motives) is a constant affirmation of the right-wing worldview. There’s an us-against-the-world paranoia there, that ends up casting seemingly harmless figures (Cass Sunstein?) and organizations (ACORN) as certifiable Bond villains* bent on sucking all the happiness and freedom out of the land like so many dementors. And don’t even get them started on the light bulbs. If you’re an activist who sees a threat to the Republic on every corner, you ignore the crazy counter-demonstrator at your own peril.

So I guess it’s more than a little jarring to return from a few weeks in the wilds (note to Verizon guy: I couldn’t hear you for, like, a 2,000-mile stretch of Utah) only to discover that the number-one story in America is a senate candidate from Delaware who’s going to lose in November by double-digits, but—but—used to dabble in witchcraft back in the ’80s. That’s not to say Christine O’Donnell doesn’t matter, but the odds of her ever having a tangible impact on public policy are pretty slim, so maybe someone, somewhere, might be more deserving of our attention. It’s nice to have affirmation that the other side really has gone around the bend—and Lord knows you could build a pretty good case. Sometimes, though, a nut shouting incoherently on the steps is really just that.

*ACORN is SPECTRE in this analogy.

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