The Tea Party as target, &c.

Oswaldo Payá


We used to say, “There’s nothing you can’t say about Clarence Thomas. There’s nothing so low, vile, and defamatory that it cannot be said about Thomas by respected news organizations.” The same may be true of the Tea Party.

This wonderful movement — something new under the sun, calling us back to the Constitution and limited government — has been painted as racist, kooky, and violent. I have heard things said about the Tea Party, by otherwise sensible and nice people, that are absurd and foul. They have never met anyone who belongs to the Tea Party; they just parrot what they hear and read.

It was natural, I think, for ABC News to report that the Colorado massacre last week may have been committed by a Tea Party member. That would be the mindset, I would think, at a “mainstream” news organization: The Tea Party is racist, kooky, and violent. It would make perfect sense, according to this mindset, for the killer to have emerged from the Tea Party.

I believe that history will look kindly on this movement — if fair-minded people write the history (a big “if,” I realize). In the meantime, the Tea Party can find a silver lining in the vicious attacks: These guys, even with their funny 18th-century costumes, must be having an effect.

Oh, one more thing: Think of the criminality in the Occupy movement, and contrast it with the non-criminality in the Tea Party. But which movement enjoys more favorable press attention?

About Oswaldo Payá, I will be brief, for now. If you’d like to read an article in the Miami Herald, go here. It tells you some things about the dead — martyred? — leader.

He was a great man. He was one of the Cuban democracy leaders who most scared the regime. Let’s cut to the chase (probably not the right words, under the circumstances): Did they kill him? Did they kill him in this “mysterious car crash”? Many think so — and they have good reason for thinking so.

While we’re at it, did they kill Laura Pollán, the leader of the Ladies in White? (She died in October.) Again, many think so — and with good reason.

Payá is not the only great dissident to die in a “mysterious car crash.” I think of Andrei Amalrik, the Russian who died in 1980. Natan Sharansky mentioned Amalrik, and his death, to me in an interview some years ago.

Am I talking conspiracy talk, about these deaths? You would think so — until you learn something about totalitarian regimes and their workings. Then such talk is perfectly normal and logical.

On the subject of Russian and Cuban dissidents: Payá won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. I discussed this with the late Elena Bonner, Sakharov’s widow, when I was writing my history of the Nobel Peace Prize. (I am dropping names without shame, I realize.) (Actually, with shame.) The Sakharov prize is available to Cubans: It has been won by Payá, the Ladies in White, and Guillermo Fariñas. The Nobel prize seems stubbornly unavailable.

Václav Havel pushed Payá for the Nobel prize — I mentioned this in a 2005 piece called “Solidarity, Exemplified.” Havel was successful with others: Aung San Suu Kyi (of Burma) and Liu Xiaobo (of China).

There will come a day — won’t there? — when Cuba is free, or at least not under the boot of a totalitarian dictatorship. And when that day comes, there will be monuments to Oswaldo Payá, if only in the hearts of people who know and remember.

A final word: I hope we’ll know the truth about Payá’s death someday. Today, we know only that the regime is happy and that good people are not.

Three weeks ago, I read this curious story: “Congressman Hansen Clarke, D-13th District, was forced into an unusual position Wednesday, responding to allegations that he’s masquerading as black to get votes.”

This story comes out of Detroit — and Detroit’s racial politics have long been bizarre and sickening. Let me dig up something I wrote, years ago. Okay, got it. Here’s the column. And here’s a paragraph:

On the subject of racial politics — intra-black politics — I remember very well a mayoral race in Detroit. It pitted Dennis Archer, who became mayor, against a woman named Sharon McPhail. Now, McPhail was a very, very light-skinned woman — freckles and all. She probably could have passed. And her entire campaign was geared to the idea that Archer — who was infinitely darker than she — wasn’t “black” enough. She talked constantly of Archer’s (alleged) white support (not that such support, even if it had existed, would’ve mattered a lick in Detroit). I thought this was a stunning example of racial politics: that Sharon McPhail should try to out-black Dennis Archer — and get away with it, really.

Yup. I’m tempted to write Plus ça change, but that’s too world-weary, in addition to clichéd.