Diversity in the Tea Party? Now, that's a contradiction in terms. FreedomWorks -- a corporate lobbying group behind the Tea Party movement -- has announced that it has launched an outreach effort to minority groups including African-Americans, Latinos and Jews. The outreach and advertising campaign, called DiverseTea, is a response to claims, substantiated claims I might add, that the Tea Party is racist.
"I really get a little tired of diversity talk from liberals," said FreedomWorks chair Dick Armey.
People of color and other minorities need membership in the Tea Party like they needed membership in the White Citizens' Council during Jim Crow. And the notion of Tea Party diversity is just as implausible. Some organizations simply were not meant for inclusion. DiverseTea is merely a public relations stunt, an effort to broaden the appeal among white moderates of a faux grassroots movement backed by rightwing philanthropy. In other words, this is a prime example of window dressing -- with expensive white sheets.
On its website, DiverseTea says that government has gotten too big, and they are opposed to "bailouts of the irresponsible" and "federal bureaucrats taking over our health care," adding:
We are black, brown, and white. We are Jew and gentile. We are from different communities, various backgrounds, and all races, colors, and creeds. We will Take America Back, not from Democrats or Republicans, but from an arrogant political class that puts its interests before those of all Americans.
But the populist-sounding rhetoric belies the insidious roots of the Tea Party movement.
FreedomWorks is an organization that engages in "astroturfing" -- the creation of an artificial grassroots movement by powerful lobbyists and corporations. Among its clients are life insurance companies, Big Oil and the pharmaceutical industry, for whom it seeks deregulation and the status quo. A vocal opponent of health reform, FreedomWorks was behind the angry town hall meetings since 2009. The group worked with BP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Conservative Union, among others, to create fake "grassroots" support for more offshore oil drilling.
FreedomWorks is funded in part by the billionaire Charles and David Koch, brothers and oil magnates who dabble in ultra-conservative politics because "this right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves." Bringing down the Obama administration is what they're all about, and their pet projects reflect this reality. They started another astroturf group called Americans for Prosperity, which opposes health care reform, the stimulus and environmental regulation, and helped bring down green jobs czar Van Jones. Americans for Prosperity has received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which supports the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, and bankrolled Ward Connerly's anti-affirmative action crusade and the infamous book The Bell Curve.
DiverseTea is not a new phenomenon in the effort to whitewash and sugarcoat intolerant causes. The Tea Party tried to put on its happy diversity face with UNI-TEA, which has been a flop -- although I'm sure Uncle Ruckus is a fan. And the anti-immigrant organization FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) created You Don't Speak For Me, a Hispanic anti-immigrant front group, and its defunct African-American counterpart Choose Black America. FAIR, which drafted the infamous Arizona law SB 1070, has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The law was signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who proclaimed "I love them [Latinos] from the bottom of my heart." FAIR has received funding from the white supremacist and pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund, which supports studies linking race, genetics and intelligence. And even as Tea Party now represents the energy of the Republican Party, the homophobic GOP claims to make overtures to gay Republicans, another oxymoron. This, as it has alienated the LGBT community, Muslims, Arabs, Latinos, blacks and anyone who is not a straight, white conservative Christian fundamentalist.
For further proof that diversity and tea don't mix, one need only observe the movement's standard bearers who aspire to political office. For example, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul argued that the federal government should allow private businesses to discriminate against blacks. Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell said she wouldn't have lied to Hitler to save Jews from the Nazis. Ken Buck, the Tea Party senatorial candidate from Colorado, opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest. He also believes that the military should not allow the openly gay to serve, and should be as homogeneous as possible. Meanwhile, New York Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino wants to house welfare recipients in prison, where they would receive job training and learn personal hygiene. He likes to send racist and sexist emails, including a video of African tribesmen called "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal," which is popular on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront.
Similarly, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has positioned himself as a Tea Party mover and shaker, demonstrated his contempt for diversity when he said that openly gay people and sexually active single women should not be allowed to teach in the classroom.
The only visible minority outreach efforts by the Tea Party seem to involve acts of outright racial animosity and intolerance. In Harris County, Texas, a Tea Party organization is suppressing the minority vote by lodging unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud against voter registration groups, referring to the headquarters of one such group as the "New Black Panthers' office."
When I look at the current crop of Tea Party faithful, I draw parallels with the Southern segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s. They would be right at home busting up heads at a lunch counter sit in, or hurling racial epithets at some black student being escorted to school by the National Guard. Not unlike their forebears, the Tea Partiers reflect the sentiments of the angry lynch mob-- lacking any coherent philosophy other than jingoism, raw anger, their hatred of the "other," and a desire to return to the good ol' days, which were not so good for those other people. And like the rabble-rousers of Jim Crow fame, they do the dirty work at the behest of oligarchs such as the Koch brothers, who find them useful if not entertaining.
Real diversity means inclusion and tolerance of different viewpoints, backgrounds, orientations and lifestyles, not tokenism. So, if you are a diverse applicant for admission to the Tea Party gang, know what you're dealing with. Better yet, know your enemy. Your work is cut out for you.
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