What Howard Dean said about the tea party and race

Columnist George Will writes that former DNC Chair Howard Dean is guilty of 'McCarthyism on the left' for comments made at a Monitor breakfast. But further quotes provide context for Dean's assertion that the tea party is the 'the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity.'

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean speaks at a Monitor breakfast Jan. 5.

In his latest column for The Washington Post, George Will has taken on former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for comments that Mr. Dean made at a recent Monitor breakfast.

The column has created some controversy here in Washington, with Will accusing Dean of “McCarthyism of the left.” In particular, Will takes issue with Dean’s assertion that the tea party movement is “the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity.”

Will writes: “Rising to the challenge of lowering his reputation and the tone of public discourse, Dean smeared Tea Partyers as racist: They oppose Obama’s agenda, Obama is African American, ergo….”

He continued: “Let us hope that Dean is the last gasp of the generation of liberals whose default position in any argument is to indict opponents as racists. This is McCarthyism of the left – devoid of intellectual content, unsupported by data….”

Though the breakfast took place before the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., Will cites Dean’s comments as an example of the sort of “half baked explanations, often serving political opportunism” that has characterized the aftermath of the attacks.

But in additional comments at the breakfast, Dean took pains to emphasize that he did not think members of the “real tea party” were racist.

In comments not in the Monitor article on the event but included in other accounts, Dean said: “I don’t believe these people are racist. Of course there are the people you have on television. There are racists in the tea party. But I don’t believe this is a racist thing. Some would call it racist. You could make the case for that if you wanted to. I don’t see it that way. I see it as an evolutionary thing, of getting used to something that is new and different and unsettling that the country has changed. It is like the gay-rights revolution.”

Other comments included in the Monitor article also sought to provide important nuance to observations about race and the tea party movement.

Suggesting that there are actually three “tea parties,” Dean said: “There is the racist fringe…. There is the Dick Armey corporate tea party, which doesn’t have anything much more to do with the real tea party than the racist fringe. [Mr. Armey is a Republican former House majority leader now active in the tea party movement.] And then there is the real tea party … which is the vast majority – which are pretty socially conservative even though they try to mask that.”

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