IRS & stereotyping the Tea Party
This past week the Tea Party ended up in the national news headlines.
It was reported that hundreds of conservative organizations, particularly Tea Party groups, were targets of unconstitutional scrutiny, delays, or denials for tax-exempt status.
Given the media’s past coverage of the Tea Party, I anticipated that this story would die within a couple of days, because I did not think the media would cover the unconstitutional treatment of Tea Party groups, which they often treat with disdain and antipathy.
However, I was pleasantly surprised when the media, members of both parties, and even the President, not only acknowledged the story, but publicly recognized that the IRS’ treatment of a group in a biased way, even one with differing viewpoints than the current administration, is contrary to the character of our country.
But it did not take long for critics of conservative groups, in general, and the Tea Party, in particular, to plant seeds of suspicion concerning the legitimacy of these organizations.
For example, despite the fact that the Director of the IRS’ Tax-Exempt Office, Lois Lerner, admitted that the IRS targeted applicants with “Tea Party” or “Patriots” in their title, I watched several news commentators on CNN and Fox News question the legitimacy of these organizations applying for 501(c)4 status.
These commentators either insinuated or plainly stated that these groups, particularly, the Tea Party, were not educationally based organizations, but a partisan arm of the Republican Party.
To this point, I question whether these individuals had ever been to a Tea Party meeting or even personally knew someone who was in the Tea Party.
As someone who has been a member of the Tea Party for more than two years, I have never been part of a meeting strategizing about getting a politician elected.
Rather, Tea Party meetings I have been involved with have focused on educating the public about key government issues like the national debt, or T-SPLOST, and strategizing about how to get more citizens engaged civically.
While it is undeniable that the majority of Tea Partiers are Republicans, like me, we do not carry the water of the Republican Party.
And, as an organization, the Tea Party has not compromised on its principles of limited, constitutional government, a free market-driven economy, and exercising fiscal responsibility.
I suspect, quite frankly, this is why several national Republican leaders have at times referred to the Tea Party with contempt. Nevertheless, this treatment of the Tea Party does beg the question, why is it that other non-conservative groups, like the NAACP or HRC, for example, are not evaluated with such skepticism?
Another seed of suspicion as to the legitimacy of conservative groups targeted in the current IRS scandal focuses on the re-emergence of the Tea Party — which is supposedly a racist organization. I had grown so accustomed to hearing these allegations in the media, however, when I heard former president of the NAACP, Julian Bond, referring to the Tea Party as not only being racist, but being, “the Taliban of America ... ,” I thought, “Wow, really?!”
I find it ironic how some people who decree the evils of racism can wield the sword of prejudice so easily and not see the obvious contradiction.
Groups should be able to have differing political views without being impugned in such a way. And this was the case at a recent debate on district voting sponsored by both the Fayette County Issues Tea Party and the local NAACP chapter.
This event was well-attended by citizens and members of both organizations and was respectful and cordial — far from being “Taliban-like.”
Additionally, unlike Mr. Bond, I have gotten to know many of the leaders within the Tea Party here in Georgia. I have talked with them, prayed with them, and cried with them. Our families have come to know one another and we have grown together, and I know the vast majority of them are fighting for our country’s future and my children’s future. And anyone who fights for my children is a friend to me.
So, once again, I find myself pushing back against voices that misunderstand, or misrepresent conservatives and Tea Party organizations.
For, I am a voice and an example, which elucidates the fallacies of the critics’ arguments. Rather than being the open-minded and intellectually honest individuals such critics espouse to be, they are choosing to believe the stereotypes and the caricatures of what it means to be a conservative.
Fortunately, we will continue to believe and hope for this country and are willing to endure even the attacks of the IRS in order to fight for it.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]