-By Warner Todd Huston
Tis the season for buying books for your loved ones and as always the The New York Times Sunday Book Review is here to help. And as always the Sunday Book Review is there to help us understand that anything from the right side of the aisle, especially the Tea Party, is to be put in the worst possible light at all times.
So, what is it this time? Book reviewer Kevin Boyle lets us all know that he thinks that the folks of the Tea Party movement are somehow just like the Ku Klux Klan. Nice, huh? That’ll get the holiday season started right.
In his Sunday book review Boyle reviews a pair of books actually on the KKK — meaning that for the first time bringing up the KKK in a New York Times article isn’t wholly gratuitous. So he has that going for him, which is nice.
But what was totally gratuitous was the way Boyle opened his review, slamming by inference the whole of the Tea Party and making of it a the modern day KKK.
Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it.
No, not that movement. The one from the 1920s, with the sheets and the flaming crosses and the ludicrous name meant to evoke a heroic past. The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they called it. And for a few years it burned across the nation, a fearsome thing to behold.
Yeah, cuz today’s era and the Tea Party is so dang similar to the KKK and the era of the 1920s, right? What is a more natural fit, anyway? What left-winger could doubt Boyle’s hatemongering?
But this is obviously absurd. Even if you accepted that some Tea Partiers are racists — and there is not a scintilla of proof of this — comparing the Tea Party to the KKK is as idiotic as comparing the local town grouch to Hitler!
Of course, unlike the KKK, the Tea Party movement has precisely nothing to do with racism. So, there is no comparison at all between the two groups. The Tea Party movement is one based wholly on public policy. Quite unlike the KKK the Tea Party has not tried to cloak itself in racial purity or religion. In fact there isn’t anything in the Tea Party even based on social issues. The Tea Party has almost to a group rejected social issues because their point has been mostly fiscal policy and they feel that adding social issues to their operations would dilute the message and make of it just another vaguely conservative movement with no central focus.
In the end, though, Boyle’s review is made less for the back hand to the Tea Party. It wasn’t necessary and he wasted two paragraphs of precious column space doing it.
His ending wasn’t so hot, either. At the end of his piece he makes another idiotic, childish, and ill-fitting comparison. He compares past eras of social strife to today’s “modern anti-Islam bigots.”
At the end of the book, though, Baker steps back from her texts. Suddenly her analysis becomes more pointed. Yes, the Klan had a very short life. But it has to be understood, she contends, as of a piece with other moments of fevered religious nationalism, from the anti-Catholic riots of the antebellum era to modern anti-Islam bigots. Indeed, earlier this year, Herman Cain declared that he wouldn’t be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet. It’s tempting to see those moments as Pegram does the Klan: desperate, even pitiful attempts to stop the inevitable broadening of American society. But Baker seems closer to the mark when she says that there’s a dark strain of bigotry and exclusion running through the national experience. Sometimes it seems to weaken. And sometimes it spreads, as anyone who reads today’s papers knows, fed by our fears and our hatreds.
This is all little but childish, partisan, facile blather. Once again Boyle and the author he’s reviewing make themselves look foolish. To compare what weak “anti-Islam bigotry” we see today — after Muslims killed thousands of Americans in a religious-based jihad — to the slave era, the Civil War, Jim Crow South, anti-Catholic fervor, or any other past era of bigotry is just plain nonsensical. In those other eras ethnic strife ended up killing people not to mention characterizing whole segments of the population, whether it be Irish, blacks, or Catholics, as the evil “other,” ostracizing them from good jobs and education. But today there is NO perceivable discrimination against Muslims in America and no crimes against them.
Unfortunately, I guess we can’t expect anything more than grubbing around in false stereotypes of their own making at The New York Times, even in book reviews.