Author's note: Much of the mainstream media coverage of tea parties has been unfair and based on outright lies. But I have to give credit to my city’s newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for publishing my column last Thursday. A few days later, the newspaper published a complimentary letter to the editor. Editor Ken Foskett told me the response was “terrific,” with about 3 to 1 in my favor. On June 22, the newspaper in a small article titled “Grass-roots groups endorse candidates” published the endorsements and web site pages for the Georgia Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity.
My column reappears with permission.
I guess I’m a populist even though with a Ph.D. in English I don’t fit the profile. As someone who has attended tea party rallies and town hall meetings here in Georgia I’m supposed to have “common sense” but not much book-learning. You know, we can fix cars, bake a cherry pie, and clean a pistol.
But we’re irrationally afraid that the Obama guv’ment will take those guns away from us. I’m part of a group that can be “ugly,” according to Paul Krugman. This sentiment, unfortunately, was repeated by Lee Harris in his new otherwise impressive book titled The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite. Harris does see the movement as evidence of a healthy American “natural libertarianism.” But in placing the movement into the context of populist movements (many of them bloody) in history, he mischaracterizes it as tending toward irrationality and paranoia.
Harris is my friend and I was at the Carter Center to hear him speak recently. Intending his book to be a warning, he mentioned the possibility of racist tendencies coming out.
During the question session, I asked Harris if he had attended any rallies or meetings. He admitted he had not. I then told about my experience here in Atlanta at four such events. White participants did outnumber blacks, but that certainly wasn’t due to any racism.
In fact, every black participant and speaker was embraced warmly. Radio talk show host Herman Cain, speaking in Cobb County last year, recreated his “Rapid Fire” segment. One participant said that he welcomed a black president—like Herman Cain--to thunderous applause and cheers. I also told the people at the Carter Center about how tea party participants did not even litter (in stark contrast to protests on the left).