Tea Party Crasher

When I say that Mario Lopez writes for the Tea Party Review, I don't mean the Mario Lopez who memorably played A.C. Slater on the 1990s sitcom Saved by the Bell. I mean the Mario Lopez who heads the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a Tea Party-affiliated organization, and who says this when asked about liberals: "The only thing they care about is keeping Hispanics poor and dependent so that they're the people who can dole out those benefits and buy those votes."


For those unaware, the Tea Party Review is the recently launched magazine whose mission, according to editor Steve Allen (not the Steve Allen who created The Tonight Show in 1953), is to "provide balance to the conversation" by challenging the "Obamaites" who "try to punish media organizations for doing their jobs." Allen wants to correct what he insists are the distortions in the mainstream media's coverage of the Tea Party. In particular, this means correcting the media's accusations of racism and sexism in Tea Party ranks.

Which brings us back to Mario Lopez, who was one of several featured contributors at the Tea Party Review's "rollout" event for its June 2011 issue. To commemorate the occasion, Allen decided to showcase the magazine's minority voices in a press conference-style event at the National Press Club in D.C. Indeed, with the exception of Frank Gaffney, who heads the Center for Security Policy (an anti-Islam "think tank"), Lopez, and three others, the speakers were entirely women of color.

Unfortunately, despite Allen's intention, neither the event nor the magazine served to dispel stereotypes about the Tea Party. Instead, they reinforced a big one--that when conservatives need to show their diversity, they trot out the craziest brown people they can find.

One of the first speakers was Angela McGlowan, an African American commentator for Fox News, who used her time to denounce liberals for "bamboozling" the black community. And as she proclaimed at the beginning of her speech, "The Tea Party is an anti-bamboozled organization!" Katrina Pierson, a young African American member of the Dallas Tea Party, sounded a similar note, pointing out the African American roots of the Texas Republican Party and challenging the 12-person audience to acknowledge the racial egalitarianism of the Tea Party movement. "To this day," she announced, "there has been no proof that the Tea Party movement is racist."

Catherine Davis, the legislative director for the Network of Politically Active Christians, used her time to denounce Democrats for their participation in Planned Parenthood's apparent genocide against black babies. "If this were any other nation, we would have people crying out to stop this insanity," she said, "but our government is happy to fund this organization which is leading the charge to control the black population." Davis ended her speech with a plea to the audience (which at this point, had dwindled to eight members): "I want to go back to the days of the Negro when it comes to life, and I am imploring Tea Party members whose values are true to stand with me and take us back to the days of Negroes when we valued the sanctity of life."

The remaining speakers were a lot less dramatic, but they compensated with plenty of right-wing boilerplate. Deneen Borelli, a young African American columnist for The Daily Caller, attacked the Obama administration for its attention to climate change and its "war on fossil fuels." She stated, "As we've seen, Obama's loyalties lie with a left-wing ideology and not liberty." Ron Miller, the president of a group called Regular Folks United, singled out African American liberals for condemnation. "Our self-appointed leaders," he complained, "find more solidarity with illegal aliens and unscrupulous employers. ... They support policies that destroy families and incentivise dependency."

After nearly two hours' worth of presenters, the event concluded with a speech from Anna Puig, a Brazilian-born Tea Party organizer from Pennsylvania. She warned the audience--which, at this point, was down to a few interns from the American Enterprise Institute and me--of totalitarianism and how the United States is at risk of becoming another Cuba, with Obama as our health-care-happy Fidel Castro. "Today, I find myself astonished," Puig said, "as I see a direct correlation between what is happening in the United States and what has happened throughout Latin America."

As a reward for attending the event, and sitting through the speakers, I received a complimentary copy of the magazine. The cover story was titled "The Conservative Woman: And Why She Matters," and the remaining features were a variation on the theme: "New Faces, Original Feminism," "The new era of the Feminine Feminist," "The Heart and Soul of a Black Woman Tea Partier," "Meet Jane Woodworth: The Making of a Tea Party Activist." Like a brochure from a diversity-obsessed college, the magazine took every opportunity to feature a brown face, even when it was surrounded by a sea of white ones.

If this event was meant to remind us of the Tea Party's fundamental incoherence, it was a success. Each speaker blamed liberals for every social ill under the sun, while embracing an ideology that privileges the privileged and pays little heed to the actual concerns of minorities, their families, or their communities.

The organizers should try again if they meant to dispel the "myth" of the racially homogenous Tea Party. A handful of minority writers isn't enough to change a core fact about the Tea Party movement: It's overwhelmingly white and soaked through with racial resentment. Far from attacking tokenism, the Tea Party Review was a virtual shrine to it.

Indeed, it's in this way that the Tea Party Review reflects the Republican Party as a whole. In election after election, minority voters decisively reject an overwhelmingly white Republican Party, and after each election, GOP leaders bemoan their inability to connect to blacks, Latinos, and Asians. But instead of doing the hard work of party building within these communities--which might require a little ideological heterodoxy--Republicans recruit tokens, like Florida's Allen West or Texas' Bill Flores, to spread an unaltered message of right-wing conservatism. This is a losing approach, to say the least. Minority voters aren't dumb and won't be fooled by figures who lack credibility in their communities or interest in their concerns. Tokenism has yet to work for conservatives, and at this point, they ought to do something a little more productive with their time--like watching an episode of Saved by the Bell.

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