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Why 'tea party' defenders won't let N-word claims rest

Black congressmen's charges that they faced 15 N-word slings from 'tea partyers' in the run-up to the health-care vote tarred the movement. Will tea party insistence that the lawmakers present evidence help US move to a 'post-shame' era?

By Staff writer / April 28, 2010

Tea party demonstrators protest outside the House chamber on Capitol Hill on March 20, the day several congressmen allege they were called the n-word as they passed protesters.

Harry Hamburg/AP



Unwilling to let charges of racism stand, "tea party" groups continue to challenge claims by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) that protesters hurled the N-word at them 15 times at a "Code Red" protest in the run-up to the health-care reform vote on March 20.

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Without hard evidence for either side, the conventional wisdom might be for tea partyers to let the incident slide and to blame the movement's more radical elements. Instead, a group called the Tea Party Federation sent a letter to the CBC on April 26 demanding video or audio corroboration of the accusations.

Already concerned about agents provocateur infiltrating rallies, tea party members say they either want help to ferret out the guilty party – or an apology from congressmen it if turns out they made up the incident to discredit the tea party movement.

IN PICTURES: Tea Parties

Amid at least one poll showing that the public perceives the tea party movement to be at least partially racially biased, the forceful letter – added to a $100,000 bounty already out for hard evidence – is a new twist on an old tactic: calling a bluff on the race card. It also adds to an effort by conservatives, given President Obama's election, to move into a "post-shame" age in which the politics of race are dialed back to allow America to move forward.

"Ironically, the fact that a black man is president has made conservatives think that, 'Well, we elected a black guy president and that shows America is not a racist country and we should put this stuff behind us,' " says Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University. "Other politicians, including Hillary and Bill Clinton, have gotten burned by saying that black people will use the race card in their defense even if nothing is going on. But what does work is saying that liberals or Democrats are talking about race in order to hide their true intentions, which [resonates] among independent voters."