In the wake of the attack on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January, when overheated political rhetoric became the subject of overheated national debate (even though it had nothing to do with her shooting), President Obama called for a new era of civility in politics. A National Institute for Civil Discourse was even created to research and promote respectful political dialogue.
Rep. André Carson of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) must not have been paying attention. He is standing by the unconscionable race-baiting he displayed at an Aug. 22 CBC town hall meeting in Miami. In a video compilation of footage from several such events during August, Carson can be heard accusing Congressional Tea Party members of exhibiting the racism of pre-civil rights era legislation:
I’m saying right now, under [CBC] Chairman Emanuel Cleaver’s leadership, we have seen change in Congress... but the tea party is stopping that change. And this is beyond symbolic change. This is the effort that we’re seeing, of Jim Crow.
It gets more outrageous. “Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens,” Carson continued, to supportive cries from the audience. “Some of them in Congress right now with this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me — I’m sorry, Tamron [town hall moderator Tamron Hall from MSNBC] — hanging on a tree.” This last rhetorical flourish earned rousing hoots of agreement from his audience.
Carson’s office defended his remarks by saying they 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.” Suggesting that only non-whites are economically disadvantaged, and that the anti-big government Tea Partiers’ agenda is to advance white corporate interests, the spokesman went on to say that
[t]he 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…
So, yes, the congressman used strong language because the Tea Party agenda jeopardizes our most vulnerable and leaves them without the ability to improve their economic standing.
Carson’s remarks came a mere two days after Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters from California, also member of the CBC, said at a California town hall that “the Tea Party can go straight to hell.” This crudity came shortly after both Vice President Joe Biden and Democrat Rep. Mike Doyle were quoted as comparing the Tea Partiers to terrorists (a word Biden later denied using), and after Democrat Rep. Luis Guitierrez called them “arsonists.” Farewell, new era of political civility.
Speaking of terrorists and rhetoric, Carson, one of two Muslims serving in Congress (along with Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota), objected to Rep. Peter King’s recent congressional hearings on Islamic radicalization. “I'm deeply troubled by much of the rhetoric surrounding these hearings,” said the man who accused Tea Partiers of wanting to lynch blacks. He doesn’t believe Muslims should be the primary focus of such an investigation:
For one, those [terrorist] incidents are not an accurate depiction of the millions of peace-loving Muslims across this country. And I could point to many other acts of domestic terrorism – acts by Timothy McVeigh, the Ku Klux Klan, and the numerous neo-Nazi organizations across this country that are actively training for race wars.
Carson, the man who believes a race war is a more imminent threat than Islamic terror plots, has tried to smear the Tea Party as racists before. Back in March 2010, he and Democrat Rep. John Lewis, another CBC member, told reporters that Tea Partiers protesting the health care reform legislation hurled racial epithets at them outside the Capitol. As conservative media revolutionary Andrew Breitbart describes in his recent book Righteous Indignation,
They claimed immediately, without any proof, that black congressmen had been spit at and slurred with the N word fifteen times (as Indiana representative Andre Carson stated and the press dutifully reported)…
To reiterate: there was no proof that the N word was used, or that anyone was purposefully spit upon. That Tea Party crowd was a sea of New Media equipment. Not only were there hundreds of people armed with Handycams, Blackberrys, and iPods, so were the mainstream media, which had come in expectattion of a display of vbiolence and backwardness by the Neanderthal Tea Partiers. They were there covering every inch of the event. Does anyone really think that somehow they missed it?
Breitbart went on to offer a $100,000 reward for evidence of Carson’s and Lewis’ claims. No one ever came forward. The New York Times even printed a weaselly-worded correction, reluctantly acknowledging that Tea Partiers were guilty of no racial slurs. But the time and energy that went into pursuing the truth of the matter was a useful distraction for the Democrats. Prominent black activist Mary Frances Berry explains the tactic behind such demonization:
Tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. There is no evidence that tea party adherents are any more racist than other Republicans, and indeed many other Americans. But getting them to spend their time purging their ranks and having candidates distance themselves should help Democrats win in November. Having one’s opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness.
In response to the recent CBC rhetoric, Republican Rep. Dennis Ross from Florida shot back at Waters and Carson: “I’m a Tea Party caucus member and have spoken at two tea party rallies,” Ross said via Twitter. “I am also NOT a racist. Maxine & Andre – get a grip.” Another Republican Representative, Florida’s Allen West, who is a member of both the CBC and the Tea Party Caucus, wrote a letter to CBC Chairman Cleaver asking him to condemn Waters’ rhetoric and Carson’s racebaiting:
I believe it is incumbent on you to both condemn these types of hate-filled comments, and to disassociate the Congressional Black Caucus from these types of remarks. Otherwise, I will have to seriously reconsider my membership within the organization.
Perhaps the CBC should seriously reconsider the membership of André Carson.