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Tea Party: Distorting American history

Jonathan P Hicks | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

It is a good thing that the leaders within the Tea Party aren't in charge of running the nation's observances of Black History Month. Recently, one of the movement's most high profile officials, Michele Bachmann, the ultra conservative congresswoman from Minnesota, offered a total, well, whitewash, of the story of slavery in America.

The congresswoman, who has emerged as the Tea Party's poster child for its ideal of America's leaders of the future, shockingly, told a conservative political group in Iowa that the United States was founded by leaders with a tolerance for ethnic diversity and that the country's founders were responsible for abolishing slavery.

Of the framers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, she said, "The very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States...men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country."

Bachman said that early Europeans settlers accepted all immigrants and that the color of their skin, language or economic status had no role in keeping them from finding fulfillment in the United States. "Once you got here, we were all the same," she said. "Isn't that remarkable? It is absolutely remarkable."

Remarkable is exactly what it is. The congresswoman has conveniently forgotten - or deliberately distorted - American history, omitting the fact that African-American men and women were deemed to be counted as three-fifths of other Americans by the framers of the Constitution. She also did not mention the fact that most of the Founding Fathers were longtime slave owners. And she neglected to mention that none of the nation's Founding Fathers were alive by the time slavery was officially abolished after the Civil War had begun (she also failed to point out that John Quincy Adams was not A Founding Father, but the son of one).

So why should we care about Bachman's revisionist recitation of American history? In the early days of the Obama administration, the Tea Party was widely perceived as merely a fringe, nuisance movement. They were seen as a relatively harmless annoyance. But there was always an undertone--and a thinly veiled one at that--of racism within the Tea Party's rank-and-file membership, characterized by breathtakingly racist placards at their rallies.

Of course, local Tea Party leaders insist that they are unfairly characterized as condoning racism in their ranks and contend that they work diligently to get rid of any members who wear their prejudices on their sleeves.

But Benjamin T. Jealous, the president of the NAACP, said it best when he stated, "We have watched as they have sent protesters to the halls of Congress who have called civil rights heroes like John Lewis the N-word and Barney Frank the F-word. We have watched as groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens, a lineal descendant of the White Citizens' Council... celebrate the involvement of their members in the Tea Party."

Furthermore, Jealous said, "We don't oppose the continued existence of the Tea Party...We simply object to their continued tolerance of racists...and white supremacists within their organization."