From the Sketchbook: Tea Party Catharsis


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.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate