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Turning 'teabagger' into a slur

On March 19, New York's Gabriel Sherman took an early look at Jonathan Alter's book on the Obama presidency and highlighted one of Alter's more freewheeling interviews with the commander in chief.

In an interview with Alter on November 30, Obama offered that Republican opposition to the stimulus "helped create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans."

Sherman's excerpt didn't get a lot of attention, even though tea partyers consider the word Obama used a grotesque sexual slur. (They're right, and I don't use that term.) But today Americans for Tax Reform pounced on the excerpt with a news release and a quote from its president Grover Norquist. Jake Tapper of ABC News -- armed with a news hook about the president calling for "civility" in politics -- pounced. And now the story lives on.

Slow the process down and you can see the tea party movement doing what Tom Cruise did in the recent "South Park" two-parter that has so worried Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). Namely, it's defining as a slur, or as hate speech, a term that snarky TV hosts turned into popular parlance -- it sounds less clumsy than "tea partyers." In responding, tea partyers strike a pose not altogether different from civil rights groups criticizing politicians or media figures for stumbling over racial slurs.

"When he was interviewed for the book, I assume he thought this was a moment and not a movement," said Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks. "Now he realizes that we are here to stay. If he is sincere in what he said about civility in political discourse, he should apologize for his mean-spirited and derogatory comments directed a concerned group of citizens who simply believe the government has grown too large and spends too much. But I guess this is step up from being called domestic terrorists by the president's Organizing for America and President Clinton, and Astroturf by Speaker Pelosi."

The only wrinkle here is that some tea partyers have indulged the joke and printed up "Proud to be a Teabagger" buttons.

By David Weigel  |  May 4, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Tea Party  
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