For the past year, we’ve written occasionally about how many in the Tea Party movement are inspired by racism, fear and hate. When we have, we’ve gotten angry e-mails and blog comments telling us that just isn’t so. Like clockwork, Teabaggers then go and say something to prove our point.
Well, they have again. And this time it’s a doozie.
As media outlets are beginning to report today, the opening speaker at the first national Tea Party Convention in Nashville said he wants to revive the use of a “literacy test” to determine who gets the right to vote.
The speaker, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), said President Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."
At one point, Tancredo said Obama was elected by "people who could not even spell the word 'vote'..."
As any student of U.S. history can recall, so-called literacy tests were regularly used in the South for nearly 100 years to deny the vote to African-American people, until Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Typical questions included obscure items in history and just plain odd inquires like, “How many bubbles are inside a bar of soap?”
It’s important to note that white Southerners weren’t subjected to such “tests.”
In his speech Thursday night, Tancredo criticized "the cult of multiculturalism" that he believes has gripped the nation. Obama’s election has energized conservatives, he added. “This is our country. Let's take it back,” Tancredo said.
ABC News reports that Tancredo's speech “received enthusiastic applause at times.”
At most political conventions, the opening speaker is selected based on someone who represents the party's views and who is expected to help set the tone and theme of the event.
Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington chapter, said Tancredo should apologize.
Shelton called Tancredo’s remarks "outrageous" and "insidious" in an interview with Raw Story, a progressive Web site. "This is the politics of denigration."
About 600 people have paid $549 to attend the convention, which ends Saturday with a speech by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Tancredo should be wary of getting what he wishes. As we’ve seen at several Tea Party rallies and health care reform protests, attendees have brandished signs stating, “Stop government-run health care, keep your hands off my Medicaid.”
Let’s see how local Tea Party leaders spin this speaker's ugliness.