It’s self-evident that a movement that calls the president a lying, socialist, Nazi eugenicist with a fake birth certificate is about something more than deficit spending. People don’t brandish automatic weapons and pray for the president’s death because they want to keep their employer-sponsored health plans. But to name the stalking beast is more than we can bear.
Not, thankfully, for Carter. He knows the tea-baggers aren’t new, that their fear of “big government” is but the latest version of states’ rights, which was itself a pseudonym for white supremacy. And he wants us to recall this history: In the months following the 1954 Brown ruling, a Mississippi college football star and plantation manager named Robert Patterson launched a crusade to protect school children from “being taught the Communist theme of all races and mongrelization.” Patterson was angry, and proud of it. “You say this is not the time for hotheads and flag-waving,” he wrote in a public letter quoted in Gene Roberts’ and Hank Klibanoff’s must-read history of civil rights journalism. “We need those hotheads, just as we always have when our liberty has been threatened.”
Patterson channeled his anger into a lasting innovation for the white supremacy movement—give it a respectable face, strip it of explicitly racist rhetoric and use it as an invisible hand to guide mob violence. He created the Citizens’ Council, which would spawn a regional network by year’s end. Each council’s membership boasted the area’s finest white leaders in business, government and, yes, media. They directed their public anger less at integration itself than at federal incursions on local rule, but the resulting violence was no less extreme.
At the time, Carter was a Plains, Ga., peanut farmer and board of education member. He recalls in his campaign memoir, Turning Point (Random House, 1993), how the Plains Council pressured him to join. When he refused, the council sent 20 of his best customers to demand compliance. Carter again refused, this time adding, “and besides, there are a few politicians in Atlanta who are taking the dues from all over the state and putting the money in their pockets, just because folks are worried about the race issue.”
Tea-bagging elites like Fox News, Sarah Palin and Joe Wilson are the political descendants of Patterson’s councils. They’re still using coded language to orchestrate rowdy, racist mobs and they’re still pocketing the money the frenzy generates.
In the tea-bagging universe, “big government”—or, really, the social programs both Beck and Rush Limbaugh conspicuously dub “reparations”—is a stand-in villain for integration. Not the literal act of blacks and whites going to school together. Rather, bashing big government swats at the same anxiety Patterson had: a concern over who gets to make the rules. That question has haunted Dixie ever since black slaves outnumbered the South’s white residents. And it still haunts the GOP’s Southern, white base today.
“Congrats to the tea-partiers for the impressive crowds in DC today. One wonders where these people were when Bush was massively increasing debt, spending like LBJ, detaining citizens without charges and torturing them, and nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan? I guess limited government is an elastic notion. But any serious grass-roots movement against constantly expanding government is fine by me. But then you see the images and pictures and hysterical rhetoric … and you see that this extremism and demonization of the president is as damaging to their cause as ANSWER was to the anti-war movement. Here’s a test: when you see as many posters lambasting Bush and Cheney and the GOP for getting us into this crisis in the first place, I will take these people seriously as genuine small government non-partisan conservatives and independents. In so far as they can pressure the Congress and president into taking the debt seriously in the future, good for them. In so far as they are proposing no practical solutions, and echo truly disturbing hatred of a president barely eight months in office, facing huge crises on all fronts, they are doing their own cause far more harm than good.”—Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish (via retropolitics:apsies:bringmethathorizon) (via vruz) (via danielholter) (via ericmortensen) (via mikehudack)