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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?

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Some in the mainstream press have conceded tea partyers may have a point. Washington Post reporter David Weigel has said the March 20 incident is a "paradigm shift" that shows conservatives how the media accept attacks on the right without doing due diligence. Politico's Ben Smith, who keeps a close eye on the tea party movement, Tweeted a response to Breitbart about the lack of takers on the bounty: "I think you've pretty much won this one, no?"

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And CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, in an April 14 television appearance, said the incident "was an important moment … a searing moment during the health-care debate.... Many of us took it as sort of like, that's what happened. Now, if it didn't happen, I think it's important to know that."

To the Congressional Black Caucus, meanwhile, the Tea Party Federation's push to keep the incident alive seems illogical, because it holds the spotlight on the ugliness of what one congressional staffer called "two days of terror." The CBC is unlikely to reply to the letter, sources say.

With the March 20 incident in mind, at least one political scientist suggests that America is not ready for "post-shame" politics.

"There are some things that society has rightly come to dissociate with shame, but shame serves an important function in moral thinking," writes Clyde Wilcox, a political scientist at Georgetown University, in an e-mail. "Some of our political arguments today are shameful, and we move to a 'post-shame' era at our peril."


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