Harlem Democratic congressman Charles Rangel predictably took much heat when he flatly called the Tea Party "white crackers." He said this is the bunch that fought civil rights. By that Rangel meant the civil rights and voting rights bills in the 1960s, and affirmative action programs from the 1970s to the present. For that, they've demanded everything from an apology and now his resignation from Congress. Rangel's seemingly over-the-top racial broadside against the Tea Party was vintage Rangel. The congressman is no stranger to controversy and his shoot from the lip, pull no punches jibes at foes and even sometime friends is near legendary. But should Rangel apologize for his blanket indictment of the Tea Party as racist, and doing it with a racial pejorative to boot? Absolutely not; the problem with all the feigned indignation and hurt feelings is that his blast rings true.
Rangel has history on his side to back up his broadside. During the 1960s, GOP ultra conservatives, libertarian groups, and the far right from the John Birch Society to the Young Americans for Freedom waged a prolonged and bitter fight against liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans to block civil rights legislation. It was always the same argument. Those civil rights and voting rights bills encroached on state's rights, usurped the Constitution, and were a gross impediment to personal and commercial freedom.
Of course, one doesn't have to go back to the 1960s to make the case that Rangel inelegantly made that many of those who back the Tea Party today would have opposed civil rights back in the day. There are a few notable Supreme Court judges that used virtually the same arguments as civil rights foes of the past to gut the Voting Rights Act, and any other civil rights strengthening measure that has been on the court docket. There are legions of Tea Party affiliated GOP House representatives that cloak themselves in their read of the Constitution and libertarianism to relentlessly flail Obama and the Democrats for spending on domestic programs that aid minorities and the poor. Ron Paul and son Rand are the two top guns for the GOP's right-libertarian wing, and they have filled up a small directory with putdowns of past and present civil rights initiatives.
Then there's the Tea Party's well-documented silence when it comes to denouncing the overt bigots within the ranks of its various factions. This bunch unleashed a proliferation of Obama "Joker" posters -- showing him as Batman's ultimate nemesis -- crude, racist scrawls on signs and banners, Confederate flags and Texas Lone Star flags, and racist digs at the president and first lady Michelle Obama for a time.
The derogatory and insulting border line public racist pot shots at them have largely disappeared but that doesn't mean that the racism, which has more times than not defined the Tea Party disappeared. It has morphed into political respectability around the country.
But that's no surprise. Surveys have found that a significant number of Tea Party adherents are not Republicans, but independents and Democrats. They are contrary to the belief of some are not ill-educated, low-income, blue-collar whites, mostly in the South and Heartland. The majority is middle class, and many are wealthy and highly educated.
The single, overriding factor driving them, no matter their politics or party, is the feeling that the country is going in the wrong direction. This is not merely a case of respondents saying what they thought would be politically correct to survey takers, so as to not appear to be racist.
Nearly three decades ago, the GOP found that the volatile mix of big government and economics could whip frustrated, rebellious, angry whites into frenzy far better than crude race-baiting. Many middle-class and working-class white males genuinely viewed government as big, insensitive and a hopeless captive of special interests. Many more actually believed that they were losing ground to minorities and women in the workplace, schools and in society.
The target of their anger was big government which they believed tilted unfairly in spending priorities toward social programs that benefited minorities at the expense of hard-working whites. This translated to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government and shouts to fight back against the erosion of personal freedoms.
It requires no leap of imagination to connect the racial dots from the past to the present within the Tea Party ranks. One doesn't have to shout a racial pejorative at them as Rangel did to figure that if the titanic civil rights bills of the past were on the nation's legislative table today they'd again rush to the barricades to battle against them. For saying that, Rangel need offer no apology.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.