Here is something just as bad.
It's the use of the lewd expression "tea bagger" to sum up a great, big gob of America as dangerous, morally suspect ignoramuses. Commentators such as blathering Keith Olbermann of MSNBC were engaging in this verbally violent, degrading, classist, hateful talk long before the recent incidents, and now it's getting worse. The left is pointing to a few protesters as representative of every Tea Party member out there.
Take any really large group of millions of people you want - white, black, Hispanic, Chinese, Irish, leftists, rightists, moderates, blondes, brunettes, rich, poor, short, tall, fat, skinny, managers, workers, professionals - and you will find among them thieves, cheats, murderers, rapists, child abusers and practically every manner of evil known in the human experience.
The heart of prejudice - the very meaning of the word - is to point to some of these people and generalize to the whole, to say that because that guy over there is a crook and also happens to be of a certain ethnic group, everyone in that ethnic group is a crook, that what we have in this sample is demonstration of an overriding thesis.
But wait, say some of the commentators: They have heard Tea Party activists interviewed and have spotted gross misunderstandings among virtually all of them, and sure, again, there have been a few saying indefensible things. I myself have been far more astonished by the TV reporters doing the questioning and - for that matter - by the incessantly demonstrated misinformation of even nationally known TV personalities.
I really admire Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour. I find him fair and alert over and over again. But the other night in interviewing a senator on the health care package, he talked of how Republicans had often opposed such things as "even civil rights legislation," when in fact, it was southern Democrats who were long the roadblock. More Republicans voted for it in Congress than Democrats. Pretty bad mistake. To his credit, he backed up when challenged.
Here's something more incredible. Leslie Stahl of "60 Minutes" said in an interview she could not tell whether "there is or isn't a tax increase" in the health legislation that, as a matter of indisputable fact, contains an absolutely astonishing tax increase, and that the issue to her boiled down to whether Americans are still willing to pay for what they get.
I have seen nothing from the Tea Party activists that strikes me as worse than that, or than what we are now getting from a great many liberals about how the health bill is just a centrist, humane communal sharing when in fact it is a massively intrusive, unsustainable overreach achieving nothing that could not been accomplished more effectively through prudent, liberty-appreciating, relatively inexpensive steps.
The chief theme of the Tea Party is that the bill takes us further down the road to a welfare-state economy that cannot stand the burden without a mighty crash, and while any number of liberals may giggle at such stuff, those who don't include many different kinds of scholars of national repute, including winners of Nobel prizes in economics.
Discredit the message by discrediting the messenger. That's what a lot of this anti-Tea Party rhetoric is about, and the resort to it is understandable when the monstrosity being defended was brought to us through endless exaggerations and an ideology at war with America's having a decent future.
But I think there is something else at play besides defending a position, and it is a leftist conviction that those who do not see the world the way the left sees it are lacking in compassion or intelligence and are inferior for other reasons, to boot.
The name for this is bigotry.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers, is a columnist living in Colorado.