Conservative political groups and the NAACP have rarely been friendly. But their already cool relationship has taken a turn for the frosty in the past several days, as the NACCP took direct aim at the tea party movement at its national convention in Kansas City. Last night, delegates at the convention unanimously passed a resolution calling on the tea party movement to “repudiate the racist elements and activities” of its membership in the past.
The reaction from the right is as you’d imagine it.
Scattered incidents of bigotry at tea party rallies have been well documented over the last year, and even tea party leaders have admitted that racism — among other nasty -isms and -obias — can be found at tea party demonstrations. So to critics of the NAACP then, the argument essentially comes down this: tea party bigotry is tangential to the movement, not central to it.
NAACP president Benjamin Jealous agrees with that, and rejects the idea that the NAACP is taking on the ideals of all tea partiers.
“We do not think the tea party is a racist movement,” Jealous told me Tuesday as the clock ticked down toward a vote on the resolution. “Our concern is that it tolerates racism and bigotry by its members.”
“Either you make it clear that there’s no room for racism in your party or you take full responsibility for racist things that have happened at your rallies,” Jealous said.
In response to statements like that, the right ramped up a full Internet-based assault on the NAACP resolution, and the organization itself.
“I’m busy today so notify me asap when NAACP renders verdict: are liberty-loving, equality-respecting patriots racist?” Sarah Palin tweeted Tuesday. “Bated breath,waiting…”
Michelle Malkin called the NAACP convention a “grievance-palooza” and tweeted that it’s an “NAACP smear-fest against the Tea Party.” And this from John Hinderaker at Powerline: “It is a sad day for a once-respected organization; truthfully, though, it has been a long time since anyone has taken the NCAAP seriously.”
A St. Louis tea party group called on the IRS to revoke the NAACP’s tax-exempt status, claiming that the resolution proves the group is nothing but a political arm of the tea party’s opponents.
Tea party leaders quoted by mainstream media outlets basically all offered the same response to the resolution: We already don’t tolerate racism, and we condemn it when we see it. In April, after the health care vote and its accompanying violent rhetoric from some reform opponents, several tea partier leaders I spoke to said they were making a concerted effort to rein in some of their fringier members.
But Jealous told me those efforts are not apparent at the national leadership level of the tea party.
“Do you see the press releases on their website? I don’t,” Jealous said. “What you do behind the scenes is important but it’s not enough if you don’t make it public.”
The final language of the resolution won’t be released until the NAACP board of directors votes on it in October. But Jealous said the NAACP has already been monitoring the tea party for racist rhetoric and said the resolution is largely just a formalized version of the organization’s existing views.
“We hope it will wake up the country and wake up the leadership of the movement to come out and condemn the racism that has occurred,” he said. “We need the anti-racists in the tea party movement to stand up and be clear that this will not be tolerated.”
Jealous took direct aim at former House Republican leader Dick Armey, who as chair of FreedomWorks is often seen as the voice of the tea party movement. Jealous said Armey and other tea party leaders “tolerate bigotry and racism within the ranks,” and allow racist groups to piggyback on the tea party into political legitimacy.
Nearly everyone on the right who mentioned the resolution Tuesday called it hypocritical because the NAACP wasn’t taking similar action to condemn the conservative cause celebre, the antics of the New Black Panther Party.
I asked Jealous what he would say to the leadership of the NBPP — which critics on both sides of the aisle have alleged is an outwardly racist group — about self-policing bigotry.
“Our message to them is the same thing,” Jealous said. “They should not tolerate racism and bigotry in their ranks. Move those people out of your organization.”
But he said that all the talk of the party is being used by conservatives to essentially change the subject from the issue of the outward signs of racism in many conservative demonstrations these days.
“The Black Panther party is a flea compared to the tea party dog,” Jealous said.