Kudos to the crowd on this one. No surprise that Frances Fox Piven would repeat the typical, brain-dead, rooted-in-unreality accusation that the Tea Party is racist — but rather a surprise that a little push-back inspired her to stop clutching her talking points quite so tightly.

Early in her lecture on American democracy at the private Christian college in Pennsylvania earlier this week, Piven spouts the usual drivel, suggesting Tea Partiers aren’t comfortable with Barack Obama as president because he’s black. The comment drew displeased expressions and a few boos. Piven looks at the audience with an intrigued expression and asks, “Are you all Tea Partiers?” Undeterred, she continues. One Tea Partier in the crowd spoke up further. “As long as he follows the Constitution, we don’t care what color he is,” the protester says audibly. His rebuttal draws cheers from the crowd.

But later, she tries again: The Tea Party, she says, convinces itself it’s less racist than it is by propping up a candidate like Herman Cain. The students aren’t convinced. Eventually, it’s Piven who’s forced to concede: She clarifies that she doesn’t think the entire Tea Party is motivated by racism or that racism is the only motivation. The Tea Party, she says, is an “authentic” movement. My, how gracious!

Seriously, how did we arrive at this point? Piven’s backtracking wasn’t particularly open-minded, her amended quotes not particularly accurate. Whatever she said appears to have come as much from genuine surprise at encountering any kind of an opposing view as from a true reconsideration of her assumptions. Yet, this has to be considered some kind of crowd victory because the unfounded insults levied at a group of ordinary men and women concerned about the growth of government have only escalated since the first cries of racism surfaced. What will it take to reclaim the image of the Tea Party from the mischaracterizations of the left? Simple statements like that made by the man in this crowd are a start, but Tea Partiers will have to be as relentless in the rebuttals as opponents are in their attacks.

Below, the relevant portions of Piven’s speech (h/t Media Research Center):

Tags: Tea Party