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The Accidental Truth-Teller: Glenn Beck, the Tea Party and Race

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This is really weird -- but Glenn Beck and I are upset about the same thing this week. Less surprisingly, we got to the same place by very different routes, and in the case of the deposed former king of all right-wing media, Beck conveniently overlooks his own critical role in creating the situation he is now bemoaning. Nevertheless, he wants an answer to this question, and so do I:

Why is everyone overlooking the role that race -- some would call it racism, but I would describe more broadly and more typically as racial anxiety and fear -- played in the rise of the Tea Party Movement, and thus in the current state of the Republican Party, the big dog that's been wagged for nearly three years by its right-pointing, tea-laden tail?

You may have heard by now that Beck -- in an appearance on the Fox Business channel, sister to the Fox News Channel that he left so ingloriously this summer, speaking with the like-conspiracy-minded Andrew Napolitano -- lashed out on Friday at Newt Gingrich, whom he sees as a big-government promoter in the vein of the Beck-hated GOP progressive Teddy Roosevelt. He added:

"So if you've got a big government progressive or a big government progressive in Obama, one in Newt Gingrich, one in Obama, ask yourself this Tea Party: Is it about Obama's race? Because that's what it appears to be to me. If you're against him but you're for this guy, it must be about race. It's the policies that matter."

Completely by accident, Beck stumbled onto a greater truth. In recent months, a myth has been allowed to fester and take root about how the Tea Party Movement came about, and what it stands for. In particular, it is the falsehood that the Tea Party came about because of anger against the 2008-09 bailout of big banks and Wall Street. It was disturbing to see this lie repeated so often -- usually in the context of trying to make forced and ultimately confused comparisons between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street -- and not just in the usual conservative media sources, either.

I lost count of how many times I've read assertions like this one put out there by Charles Gasparino in the New York Post on Oct. 27, 2011:

The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements were both born out of the despair following the 2008 financial crisis, and both have tapped into the public's anger over the unfairness of bank bailouts and huge bonuses for the risk takers while the rest of the country has struggled with unemployment, falling home prices and anemic economic growth.

Here's a similar claim by Fox Business:

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At their core, both groups formed in response to populist anger in the wake of the U.S. government's decision in 2008 to bail out the nation's largest banks. In an effort to stave off what policy makers at the time felt was the impending collapse of the global economy.

No. No. No. No. No. No.

The rise of the Tea Party had nothing to do with bank bailouts.

Remember, the federal government and the Bush administration (remember them?) started bailing out Wall Street and the banking industry in the fall of 2008, six months before the first Tea Party rally, or anything remotely like it. There was no great outpouring of anger from the rank-and-file of the American right. The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was signed into law by Bush on Oct. 3, 2008. It was supported by Bush's successor, then-Sen. Barack Obama, but it was also supported by Sen. John McCain, his running mate and future Tea Party queen Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and even by none other than Glenn Beck. Simply put, there was no Tea Party movement, and no public protests by conservatives (or liberals for that matter) in 2008.

Instead, the Tea Party formed within days of Jan. 20, 2009, the date that Barack Obama became America's 44th president. Th e famous "Tea Party rant" by Rick Santelli credited with helping to launch the protests wasn't about bailing out banks or Wall Street but the idea that Washington would provide relief for middle-class homeowners who were under water. Another seminal moment came less than a month into Obama's presidency when a young Seattle conservative activist named Keli Carender organized a public protest. Against the bank bailouts and TARP? No. It was against the first major action of the new president, the $787 billion stimulus proposal that included infrastructure projects, saving blue-collar government jobs, and tax cuts (yes, tax cuts) for the middle class.

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To convince myself I wasn't crazy after reading so much false revisionist history in recent weeks, I just went back and read the New York Times round-up article after the first day of nationwide Tea Party rallies, on April 15, 2009. The story notes:

"The events were meant to protest government spending, particularly the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package and its $3.5 trillion budget."

Later on, it adds:

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Will Bunch is author of the new "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future", published by Free Press, which examines the calculated effort by the modern right wing to canonize the 40th president, and (more...)
 

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