Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo made controversial statements about President Obama, voting procedures and immigration in his kickoff speech at the National Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 4.
Among his statements, Tancredo called for the return of a poll tax, which those wishing to vote must pay. Tancredo also said potential voters should be required to take literacy tests in order to vote.
“People who could not spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House,” Tancredo said in his speech. “We do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.”
Tancredo, a former representative from Colorado, also claimed that there was a “cult of multiculturalism” at work in the country.
He told CBS News that “there is a devotion to a multiculturalist agenda” which he believed could “divide America up into these subgroups.”
Judson Phillips, the Tennessee lawyer who formed Tea Party Nation, agreed with Tancredo’s statements, including his assessment of Obama as a socialist.
“The word ‘socialist’ is a word you don’t want to be labeled with in the American political system. It’s got a lot of negative connotations, but it also has a very specific political meaning. It refers to a specific political ideology,” Phillips told CNN. “I think it is very clear that that is the political ideology of Barack Obama.”
His comments have already drawn the ire of liberals and conservatives alike.
“He’s calling for things that, thank God, were banned and were part of Jim Crow life,” Heidi Beirich, research director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Denver Post. “To me, it’s an incredible thing to say. We’ve been down this road before. It’s not a good history for us to follow.”
Mark Skoda, founder of the Memphis Tea Party, told CNN that Tancredo’s comments don’t “further the dialogue.”
Such disagreement is typical for the movement, which is stymied by divergent opinions on its character—grassroots or more organized—and identity—whether it should be tied to the Republican Party or independent.
“The current form of this movement is fresh and young and fragile,” said 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin in a keynote address at the convention, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Let us not get bogged down in small squabbles. Let us get caught up in the big ideas.”
The prospective 2012 Republican presidential candidate addressed more than 1,000 Tea Party attendees on the night of Feb. 6, calling their movement, “the future of American politics.”
Palin is viewed as a rising voice in the movement, typified by her speech Saturday and her public endorsement of the conservative campaign. However, in her 40-minute-long speech, Palin played down any presidential aspirations, despite the crowd chanting, “Run, Sarah, run,” according to the Politico.
Palin also lashed out at congressional Democrats and President Obama, harshly criticizing their management of the economy and what she called a lax stance on terrorism.