The estimated 4,000 Tea Party folks who turned out for a “Stand Up for Texas” rally at the state Capitol on Sept. 5 apparently needed a lot of bucking up. That might seem a little strange, considering that they’re part of the small minority that has pushed President Barack Obama and Congress around since the spring, changing the national conversation—especially on health care reform—from “Yes We Can” to, as one of the hundreds of protest signs read, “No You Can’t.”
But there was an unmistakable defensiveness in the air as speaker after speaker—including Joe the Plumber—reassured Tea Partiers that they were not the reactionary racists “the media” have made them out to be.
The most boisterous whoops and applause of the day, accordingly, were reserved for the penultimate speaker, African-American right-winger and author Kevin Jackson of St. Louis. “Greetings all you Astroturf, disruptive, fishy, radical, un-American extremist terrorist Nazi Neanderthal monsters,” he began. “You are my kind of people,” Jackson said as he talked up his new book, The Big Black Lie. It argues that Democrats are the ones who diminish and hold back black people.
“I did leave out an adjective that the left likes to use to describe you all,” Jackson went on. “They like to call you racists. It’s funny because I speak at a lot of these types of events, and I have yet to find any racists at these events.” You’d better believe that got a sustained and enthusiastic reaction.
So did host Steven Crowder, a YouTube comedian and Tea Party circuit rider who entertained the crowd between speeches with the kind of ethnic humor that went out of style with Vaudeville. Crowder imitated the accents and made fun of Zambians, Koreans, Germans and, of course, Muslims. “You ever noticed [that] when they talk about the racist homophobic hatemongers that Islam always gets a pass?” he asked. “It’s like, ‘Islam is a religion of peace; it’s the Christians you have to worry about.’ They’re not going to disagree with them,” he said, sliding into mock dialect: “Yes, we’re a religion of peace, OK. If you don’t agree, I’ll keeeeel you!”
Daniel Bradford, introduced to cheers as a concealed-carry handgun instructor, said, “We’ve been called an angry mob, we’ve been called Nazis, we’ve been called un-American, we’ve been called Astroturf. From where I stand right here today, I see Americans. I see Texans. And I see American people doing the most American thing that they can do: They’re standing up for their rights. They’re questioning their leaders.”
One leader above all. For all its bugaboos—economic stimulus, bailouts, “government-run health care,” taxation, socialism, welfare, safety-belt regulations, MSNBC—the main Tea Party target has been Obama.
“We’ve got a guy in Washington who’s got a God complex,” said Brad Lewis, a Tea Party organizer from Southeast Texas and the day’s first speaker. “He wants to have access to your checking account, he wants to know what you’re doing, he wants to tell you what a family is …”.
According to Lewis, Obama is plotting a permanent takeover. “Most of you people say, ‘We’re gonna change that back when the next election comes.’ But you’re thinking normal,” Lewis said. “You’re thinking there is gonna be another election. The way this thing is moving, and it’s moving fast, this guy doesn’t plan on there being another election.”
As the speakers went on and on in that vein, I couldn’t help noticing a young woman in the crowd, merrily waving a sign that read: “Obama Loves America Like OJ loved Nicole.”
Nope: no “isms” here.