Kevin Boyle reviewed two new books on the Ku Klux Klan for the Sunday Times Book Review under the heading “The Not-So-Invisible Empire.” Boyle, an Ohio State University history professor and frequent contributor to the Times Book Review, compared the Tea Party to the Ku Klux Klan. Boyle's review started and ended offensively:
Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it.
No, not that movement. The one from the 1920s, with the sheets and the flaming crosses and the ludicrous name meant to evoke a heroic past. The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they called it. And for a few years it burned across the nation, a fearsome thing to -behold.
At the end of the book, though, [author Kelly] Baker steps back from her texts. Suddenly her analysis becomes more pointed. Yes, the Klan had a very short life. But it has to be understood, she contends, as of a piece with other moments of fevered religious nationalism, from the anti-Catholic riots of the antebellum era to modern anti--Islam bigots. Indeed, earlier this year, Herman Cain declared that he wouldn’t be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet. It’s tempting to see those moments as Pegram does the Klan: desperate, even pitiful attempts to stop the inevitable broadening of American society. But Baker seems closer to the mark when she says that there’s a dark strain of bigotry and exclusion running through the national experience. Sometimes it seems to weaken. And sometimes it spreads, as anyone who reads today’s papers knows, fed by our fears and our hatreds.
Speaking of “fears and...hatreds,” Boyle didn’t mention the anti-Semitic signs from Occupy Wall Street. Then again, those kind of images tend not to make the newspapers.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the editor of the Times Book Review is Sam Tanenhaus, who used the lefty vulgarism “teabaggers” to describe Tea Party supporters in a discussion on Slate in October 2009:
Even today the right insists it is driven by ideas, even if the leading thinkers are now Limbaugh and Beck, and the shock troops are tea-baggers and anti-tax demonstrators.
Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online marvels at how Boyle managed to avoid ever using the words “Democrat,” “Wilson,” or “Progressive," and said of Boyle's last paragraph on Cain's comments on Muslims:
I think Cain’s statements on Muslims have often been indefensible or indecipherable, but is it really tempting to see Herman Cain as an inheritor of the Klan tradition? Really? That’s an interesting argument! Tell me more! No, wait, he takes it back. That the Times lets him do this in a throw-away sentence is astounding, even when grading on the usual curve.
It's far from the first offensive comparison a media outlet has raised against the Tea Party. In October 2010, actor/director/writer Rob Reiner contended on Bill Maher's HBO show Real Time that all the Tea Party needed to match Adolph Hitler was a charismatic leader.