Was President Obama speaking derogatively when he referred to the Tea Party as "tea baggers"? That's the topic of some debate after a review of Jonathan Alter's book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, revealed that Obama used the term in November 2009. The grassroots movement didn't always consider "tea bagger" a slur: Early Tea Partiers innocently embraced the term until they discovered its vulgar connotations (see also the 1998 John Waters movie Pecker). In a twist, some conservatives have recently advocated that the word be reclaimed. Here's a look at the evolution of the insult:
Feb. 27, 2009
At the first anti-stimulus "New American Tea Party" rally in Washington D.C., a protestor carries a sign reading "Tea Bag the Liberal Dems before they Tea Bag You!!" The Washington Independent's David Weigel calls it "the best sign I saw."
Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax group, is one of the first Tea Party organizations to advocate sending tea bags to elected officials to protest the stimulus package. Several other lobby groups follow suit.
Several Tea Party protest sites encourage readers to "Tea bag the fools in DC." Jay Nordlinger at National Review Online later admits: "Conservatives started [using the term]... but others ran and ran with it."
Rachel Maddow is the first to mock the Tea Party's use of the phrase on her left-leaning MSNBC show. "Even Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina is getting in on the hot tea-bagging action," she says, stifling laughter. (Watch Rachel Maddow joke about the "tea baggers")
David Shuster, filling in for liberal commentator Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, also makes fun of the phrase. "While the parties are officially toothless, the tea-baggers are full-throated about their goals," he says. Jeff Poor at the Business and Media Insitute says that the MSNBC comments are "lost in juvenile criticism and ignoring the reason there is discontent from the conservative base"
Anderson Cooper, on his avowedly non-partisan CNN show, makes a similar crack, but later back-pedals, calling his remark a "stupid, silly, one-line aside" that was not meant to "disparage legitimate protests."
Badges with the message "Proud to be a Tea Bagger" are still on sale at Tea Party events, according to an article written later in the year.
A report in The New York Times claims the President called Tea Partiers "the teabag, anti-government people" prompting the blog Redstate to respond: "Sexual innuendo is inappropriate in political discourse. The Left and their media tools need a soap bar sandwich to clean up their act."
In an article for National Review Online, Jay Nordlinger notes that the word is being used so regularly, it is beginning to lose its pejorative association. "'Tory' and 'Whig' were put-downs when they originated," he notes, and "'Yankee Doodle' was none too nice." However, he suggests conservatives should continue to oppose the "lowdown term."
April 14, 2010
Prominent conservative Andrew Breitbart posts a video on the site Big Government in an attempt to reclaim the term. "I'm Proud to be a Tea Bagger" currently has over 90,000 views.
In his book, Alter quotes Obama saying that GOP opposition to the stimulus package "helped to create the tea-baggers." Grover Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform group, compares it to the pejorative use of the N-word.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- This judge is the reason we're still fighting over net neutrality
- Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 is the perfect way to make millennials hate politics even more
- The latent sexism of the male marriage proposal
- 10 things you need to know today: November 28, 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- How to adopt the perfect rescue dog
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- Why the poor can't catch a break on Thanksgiving
Subscribe to the Week