As some of you know from reading my Facebook page, I had a lousy day recently. Part of the problem was banging my head repeatedly and ineffectually against a problem at work, but a majority of it was from reading the news. Although I try hard not to let the negativity out there get to me–and I try hard not to pass it along, even under the guise of “you must be warned”–it got to me. As someone once said about all the studies showing all the different substances that cause cancer in lab rats, “You force-feed a rat an overdose of anything long enough, it will cause cancer.”
Two incidents specifically have got me down. The first is the violent beating of a gay man here in Salt Lake City. He was attacked after leaving a club hosting a Gay Night, and beaten nearly to death. The attackers even premeditatedly held his head against the curb so as to break his jaw when they kicked his head. Reports from the victim and others indicate the attacks were anti-gay motivated.
This makes me sick, both figuratively and literally. This is inexcusable. No one should ever treat anyone like that for any reason, period. People who would do something like this cannot truly be considered “people” in my book, and yet even as punishment for this crime I would never suggest they receive similar treatment. It takes a special depth of evil to be willing to do something like this to someone, and while on an intellectual level I know people are capable of this, seeing such clear and relevant evidence of that frightens and sickens me. I hope these people are caught, and I hope they get the maximum penalty allowable. We don’t need people like that on the streets.
Unfortunately, our political discourse seems on a premeditated campaign to stir up that same level of violence in the name of class and race warfare. It’s bad enough when average citizens do it. It’s worse when our elected officials engage in it–they should know better. And that leads me to the other incident that really gets to me, though it’s really the latest in an ongoing string of incidents that’s had me on slow-boil for some time now.
Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind, recently made the public statement that “Some of them in Congress right now of this tea party movement would love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.”
I know many people are frustrated with the Tea Party movement, but let’s all just step back from this a bit and look at this carefully. This is an accusation against the Representative’s own colleagues in Congress. He is basically saying these people want to murder blacks. Not just reduce their government benefits, not just push them into greater poverty. They want to kill black people.
I have yet to see any actual evidence of this from the congressman. He doesn’t name any specific names–of course not! That would be libel! But it’s no more acceptable to level such charges against a group of people. What does he think he’s trying to accomplish by making such a statement? He’s trying to stir up anger against that group. But doesn’t anger lead to violence? Isn’t the proper response against someone who supposedly wants to kill you to fight back, killing them if necessary? Isn’t this the same sort of inflammatory language we all supposedly decried when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot?
Carson only backs down a little, not retracting his words, but offering explanation. Through his spokesman he said his remarks were “prompted in response to frustration voiced by many in Miami and in his home district in Indianapolis regarding Congress’ inability to bolster the economy.” Jason Tomcsi, a Carson spokesman, said in a statement issued to news outlets, “The Tea Party is protecting its millionaire and oil company friends while gutting critical services that they know protect the livelihood of African-Americans, as well as Latinos and other disadvantaged minorities. We are talking about child nutrition, job creation, job training, housing assistance, and Head Start, and that is just the beginning. A child without basic nutrition, secure housing, and quality education has no real chance at a meaningful and productive life.”
Hey, we’re all frustrated with Congress’ “inability to bolster the economy.” But 99.999999% of us don’t go around claiming it’s because a few members of congress want to kill black people. And since when was the debt ceiling debate about bolstering the economy? That’s the issue where the Tea Party really made its voice heard. The debt ceiling debate was about not wrecking our economy further. And no one has gutted anything yet.
Does Congressman Carson really believe that the debt in this country is not an issue? Does he really believe we can go on borrowing and borrowing forever? Does he think that blacks will be better served if the US defaults on its debt and goes through a Greece-style government bankruptcy? I doubt it. I’m willing to give him that benefit of the doubt he doesn’t really think this way.
Furthermore, does he really think that the Tea Party is made up of people who are personal friends of “millionaire and oil compan[ies]”? I’ve been to a Tea Party rally (which is more than I’ll bet Carson can say), and most of these people have probably never seen either a millionaire or an oil company exec. They’re not concerned about protecting millionaires and oil companies. They’re concerned about protecting themselves from what they percieve as a over-reaching government that can’t control itself. Whether you agree or not, it’s a valid concern.
So are child nutrition, job creation, job training, housing assistance, and other programs Carson favors. His concerns are valid. His concerns for how fiscal responsibility will impact minorities is valid. Blacks especially have been adversely and disproportionately impacted by the economy. So why not focus on his valid concerns instead of ad hominem attacks?
Carson is disingenuous in suggesting that these programs are only of concern to minorities. Poor whites benefit from these same programs. But that’s not the point. The point is that instead of simply pointing out that the budget cutting measures supported by Tea Party-supporting members of congress (remember, there is no real Tea Party; these congressmen are still either Democrats of Republicans in most cases) would adversely impact black people, Carson instead chose to go straight for the “racist” claim–and not just a racist claim, but a violent racist claim just one step short of advocating reciprocal–if not preemptive–violence.
I’m willing to bet he won’t couch his arguments on the House floor in the same language. As nasty and combative as Congress has become, you know that argument would win him few friends and even less support. No, his speech was given to other black people. It was designed specifically to enflame his base, not just stir them up. “Stirring them up” would be to warn them what was at stake and encourage them to contact their congressmen. No, he’s purposely fomenting the threat of violence by turning one group of concerned citizens against another in order to put pressure on those he sees as his opponents.
Because at the end of the day, the Tea Party has no more power than Moveon.org, Code Pink, the NRA, the NAACP, or the Shriners’ Temple of Peoria. They don’t get to vote in congress. They only flex power by putting pressure on their representatives–something that is open to everyone. As the media constantly point out to us, the Tea Party does not represent the majority of America. So if they don’t, why can’t the majority of Americans pressure their congressmen to do what the majority wants? They can, and they could, (and they do,) just as easily as the Tea Party! Use the Tea Party as a model, not a whipping-boy.
But the Tea Party is a convenient bad buy. Because it’s not a centrally organized group there’s no central voice that can speak up and fight back against such relentless attacks. It also makes it more difficult for them to denounce the few true racists and trouble-makers in their ranks, and their opponents capitalize on this constantly. Early on someone flung enough mud that some stuck.
Are there racists in the Tea Party? Yes. There are also racists in the Democratic party and the Republican Party, in Moveon, and Code Pink. Are they against President Obama? Yes, by and large, but he’s not their only target by a long-shot. Are they against President Obama because he’s black? Perhaps a few are, but most of them are quite able to separate the man and his policies from his skin color.
Indeed, it’s their opposition that can’t seem to separate Obama’s policies from his skin color. They continually insist, in spite of the extraordinary amount of contrary evidence, that the only reason Americans could ever disagree on policies is because of race. Never mind that we were just as divided as a country over Bush’s policies, over Clinton’s policies, and over the policies of every other white president in history. Do they really believe that because Obama is black we should all just all fall into lockstep and agree with the president on everything?! Overnight?! In spite of decades of differing opinion?
Because that’s what they’re saying every time they claim that opposition to Obama’s policies can only come from racism. The very notion is itself racist. Obama doesn’t need to be coddled and protected from differing opinion because he’s black. He’s quite capable–or should be–of handling disagreement and resistance. Black people are every bit as capable as anyone else of being president, showing leadership, and handling criticism, disagreement, and opposition. Only a racist could believe otherwise.
And that’s why I get frustrated every time people attack the Tea Party as racist. I’m not a member of the Tea Party, but I sympathize with many of their tenets. I want fiscal responsibility in government. I want our representatives to be more responsive to their constituents. I want to limit the influence of money in politics–on both sides. I want us to do something to stop this incredible run-up of debt. I was not thrilled with it under Bush, and I’m not thrilled about it now.
Unlike the Tea Party, or at least many of the Tea Party (again, there is no single, unified Tea Party), I’m not opposed to some increase in taxes to help bring down the debt (not the deficit, because that implies the tax increases need to be permanent). But I don’t trust Washington to use that money to pay down our debt. It’ll be gone before we know it, off to fund some other entitlement or incentive program to make sure yet another constituency relies too much on the government for continued support.
I know cutting many of the programs that cost so much would impact minorities disproportionately. And I know they’ve already suffered disproportionately in this economy. I understand their pain and frustration to some degree (I’m not so arrogant as to suggest I understand completely–my experience is not theirs, and vice versa), having been unemployed for over two years and on the verge of running out of savings when I did finally find a job. So I’m in favor of seeing if there isn’t some way we can lessen the impact on those already hardest hit while still doing everything we can to control spending so that those programs can continue in some degree, at least.
Because like it or not, if you think things are painful now, try when the government has NO money to fund ANYTHING. Those hardest hit now will be even harder hit. And they’ll hit back. The Greek and British riots have done a good job demonstrating what happens when a bad solution turns into no solution at all. It’s not pretty, and it quickly turns into the violence discussed in the first part of this post. And that scares the daylights out of me–as it should you.
So that’s why I’m so frustrated, disgusted, and sickened by people like Carson (he is by no means alone), who purposely exacerbate an already bad situation. His comments helped no one. It brought us no closer to a solution to anything. If anything it made it even harder for anyone to come together and make the tough decisions that have to be made. America has some tough decisions ahead, and we need to make it easier for our elected officials to do the right thing, not harder.
So if it’s not too much to ask, can we all (and by all, I mean all (and I include myself in this), not just the Left, the Right, the Greens, the Blues, the Chartreuse, the Muppets, the Beatles, or the Who) just calm down, say what we mean in the most respectful and calm manner we can, and give the other side a measure of respect rather than automatically assuming they’re the most diabolical, sociopathic, idiotic form of evil ever to walk the earth just because they have a different viewpoint than we do?
Because if we can’t, we’re not that far from becoming those depraved beasts referenced in the first incident. One good push, and next time it’ll be packs of blacks beating Tea Partiers, or packs of conservatives beating union members, or Southerns Baptists beating atheists, or wiccans beating transcendentalists, or what-have-you. If that doesn’t bother you, it should. What can be done by or to one group can be done to another. I may not like what, say, Code Pink stands for, but the minute I look the other way when someone uses violence against them is the minute I give my approval for someone to come after me.
There are forces in this country that, by accident or by design, are trying to turn us all against each other. Nothing threatens their plans as much as people reaching across the divide, getting to know and appreciate each other’s perspective, and working together to find some sort of common ground to build on. They rely on “divide and conquer” to achieve whatever their various aims be.
Please, let’s not let them win. We will only solve the problems facing our society if we pull together, not apart. Let’s not continue this tit-for-tat. It’s not about who said what first, it’s about who is going to step forward and not say it this time. Let’s all work harder to make the world a calmer place. It’ll be a much better place to live.