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Liberals should end their lethargy, fight against spread of bigotry

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There is a great deal of hatred and bigotry in this country, but it does not define the country. The daily experience of most Americans is not a bitter experience and for all of our problems we are in a much better place on these matters than we were a half century ago. But I worry about the potential for violence that grows out of unrestrained, hostile bombast.

--Bob Herbert, New York Times

Need evidence of Herbert's point? Pick your poison, or is a better word venom?

Across the country, Americans of both parties, from John McCain to Harry Reid, are railing against a proposed "Ground Zero Mosque," that is neither a mosque nor at ground zero. The only people who don't seem to mind are the immediate neighbors of the proposed Park51 development, perhaps because they've figured out the facts and know fully well that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the proposed center, is a most moderate man.

Meanwhile, a Pew Center pol l in May showed widespread national support of a new Arizona immigration poll, which, had a judge not stopped key provisions from taking effect Aug. 1 pending further review, would have required local and state police to demand the papers of anyone who they might reasonably suspect was in this country illegally. Nearly three-fourths of those polled said it was reasonable to require people to have to produce documents verifying their legal status (drivers licenses don't count). Never mind that those "people" would overwhelming have hispanic surnames or accents.

That brings us to today's Tea Party rally in Washington on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Had a Dream Speech." So how did members of the Tea Party celebrate the anniversary -- by "coincidence," according to washingtonpost.com?By parading Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin to the same site (the steps of the Lincoln Memorial) on the same date.

Writes The Post: "Beck's rally has been billed as a peaceful and non-political 're-dedication' of the traditional honor and values of the nation. The event is taking place on the same stage where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech 47 years ago to the day, a coincidence that has caused controversy."

Yes, and I can sell you some oceanfront property in Arizona. There is no coincidencewhen a small, bigoted bomb-thrower like Glenn Beck picks the place and time of King's most memorable speech to "rededicate" American honor (read white man's privilege). It is an act of distain -- and any news organization accepting Beck's explanation is, in mind, simply perpetuating his fraud.

The New York Time s, for its part, noted that the Tea Party's sense of persecution has become a "galvanizing force," like that of Civil Rights marchers, in a sense perpetuating the utterly specious parallelism Beck is trying to sell. Its article quoted Beck as saying of the Tea Party, "We are the inheritors and protectors of the Civil Rights movement." I didn't see a quote from anyone in the article saying just what an utter load of excrement his assertion is.

Certainly some in the media have spoken out. But two things struck me as I opened today'sNew York Times. One was the lack of critical comment and analysis in its news article about the rally (its readers deserve better). The other was the fact that both columnists writing eloquently and forcefully against the event on the opinion page were black males.

Perhaps the reason so few whites seem incensed by this event can be found in a poll accompanying theTimescolumn of Charles Blow, headlined "I had a nightmare." It noted that 51 percent of Americans polled believe that the country already has fulfilled King's dream of racial equalit y ("I have a dream," King said that day, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.")

If, as a majority of those polled believe, racial equality has been achieved in America, then surely nothing the Tea Party stands for has anything to do with bigotry, right?

Surely Beck intends no racial slur when he compares Obama's America to "Planet of the Apes," as Blow notes he has. Surely Palin intends no call to violence when she defends radio's Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) for using the N-word on a caller, by telling Schlessinger "don't retreat -- reload," as Herbert notes.

Surely, too, the national campaigns against Muslim mosques and immigrants have nothing to do with the color of these people's skin? Absolutely not in our post-racial America. Right?

If you, like I, consider this nonsense, it is past time to speak out -- at protests and counter-protests, in written and spoken commentary. In my mind, there is no greater cause or issue worth fighting for in America today then to stop the resurgence of divisiveness and racism being fomented in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by the Tea Party and its supporters -- even if many of these people are being duped and divided by America's super rich.

Our economy is not in shambles not because of the country's multiculturalism or its illegal immigrants, but because rich, and overwhelming white males in banking and Wall Street have played 99 percent of the American people for suckers, eroding the value of our homes and betting against various financial instruments we invested in. Ironically, it is often those same rich white men who are now siphoning money into Republican candidates coffers by the millions in the hope that the fear, loathing and divide-and-conquer tactics that served Republicans through the last decade will fuel their victories in the decades ahead.

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Jerry Lanson teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He's been a newspaper reporter, columnist, writing coach and editor. His latest book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in January by Rowman & Littlefield.

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Liberals should end their lethargy, fight against spread of bigotry