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Tea Party followers would be right at home with George Wallace

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By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 10, 2010

"Fair warning is fair play," as we used to say in the neighborhood. So I wish to thank the reader who refers to himself as "DEEEfense" for alerting me to the action he took in response to my recent column concerning the Tea Party ["Faces we've seen before; The deeper roots of Tea Party rage," March 27 ].

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"Hey jerk Colbert," DEEEfense wrote, "I emailed your stupid article to hundreds of folks. Expect some folks to expose you for the bigot YOU really are. You are vicious liar [he dropped an "a"] and the tea party folks are not racists. You are the hate promoter."

DEEEfense also provided a copy of the e-mail he sent, which read, in part: "POST REPORTER CALLS TEA PARTIES RACIST. Here it is folks. Washington Post LEFTIST reporter Colbert King, who is outspoken BLACK RACIST. [What is it with DEEEfense and indefinite articles?] Email this jerk and let him know you know HE, not the tea party folks, is a racist."

They did. More than a thousand wrote to The Post's Web site and to my own e-mail address. Now DEEEfense doesn't deserve all the credit; many who wrote in the Tea Party's defense probably did so without any prompting by him. But clearly, DEEEfense got some folks' juices going. Here's a sample:

-- From: Keyboardmilitia. Subject: What a tool you are. "A tool for Marxism."

-- From: Publisher. Subject: I pity you. "I'm willing to plunk down a few dollars to get you educated. You make me rethink affirmative action."

-- From: Dangraham. Subject: Colbert King=Malcolm X+frontal lobotomy. "Colbert: When the good Lord passed out the brains, you were standing behind the door. You are just plain stupid."

-- From: Jberger. Subject: Your article today was a disgrace. "It is a shame that liberal bigots like yourself continue to educate African-Americans as being victims and that the only way to improve themselves is to be like drug addicts addicted to the drug dealers such as Nancy Pelosi's big government spending. It just shows that being a writer for the Washington Post does not take much."

The angriest e-mails focused uniformly on my suggestion that Tea Party members are legacies of the late Alabama governor George Wallace in that they, like his followers, are smoldering with anger out of fear that they are being driven from their rightful place in America.

I said that Tea Party members, as did the people who flocked to Wallace, view "Washington, D.C." as the Great Satan -- the birthplace of the much-feared "Big Government" that shoves unwanted laws down their throats.

I'm not surprised that Tea Party members dislike being linked to Wallacites of the 1960s. But the association is unavoidable. They sing from the same George Wallace hymnal.

By 1968, Wallace had learned to make his case against change in the nation without resorting to the red-hot racial rhetoric that propelled him to the Alabama governor's mansion. He, instead, launched his '68 presidential campaign under the banner of the American Independent Party and pursued his anti-Washington goals through proxies. Consider that party's 1968 declaration of principles:

"A new party is urgently needed today because the leaders of the two existing parties, Democrat and Republican, have deserted the principles and traditions of our nation's founding fathers. Both of the existing parties have become the proponents of big government, crushing taxation, dictatorial federal power, waste and fiscal irresponsibility, unwholesome and disastrous internationalism, compromise with our nation's enemies, and authoritarian regimentation of the citizens of this Republic. Control of the government, under the domination of these two existing parties, has left the hands of the people our government was created to serve."

Now that's pretty much the same list of complaints, along with an outsized fear of a tyrannical federal government, that drives today's Tea Party movement.

It so happens George Wallace and his crowd of angry followers got there first. Not to worry. Enlistees in today's Tea Party, full of resentment, burdened by fears and wallowing in self-pity, are worthy successors.

kingc@washpost.com


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