Via TPM. Has America collectively decided yet in the wake of the Zimmerman trial whether “cracker” is an outre insult or not? Usually I’d say it’s pointless to ask because virtually no one likely to use it is apt to pay a social or political price for doing so, whether people find it distasteful or not. But when you’ve got a thousand-term congressional incumbent tossing it around, it’s worth half-heartedly floating the question.

Alternate headline: “‘Hardball’ bookers scramble to check Charlie Rangel’s availability.”

House Republicans? Have done more damage to American competitiveness than al Qaeda ever could. “What is happening is sabotage. Terrorists couldn’t do a better job than the Republicans are doing.”

The Tea Party? Defeat them the same way segregation was beaten. “It is the same group we faced in the South with those white crackers and the dogs and the police. They didn’t care about how they looked. It was just fierce indifference to human life that caused America to say enough is enough. ‘I don’t want to see it and I am not a part of it.’ What the hell! If you have to bomb little kids and send dogs out against human beings, give me a break.”

Surely there are some good Republicans though, right?

“Chris Christie, who is a big Northeasterner, and people only go for Christie because he is reasonable. He says something nice about the president helping out Jersey and now he is on the hit list by Republicans,” Rangel said. “And now my friend Peter King is on their hit list. Peter King, a Republican, is considered a goddamn communist.”

You don’t hear this as much as you used to circa, say, 2010. Matthews will still drop the T-bomb on tea partiers occasionally, but even David Axelrod feels obliged for strategic reasons to gently distance himself when it happens. It was easier to smear TPers as some sort of insurrectionist movement back when they first emerged politically, before the public realized that they wanted to win elections, not go on sporadic rampages like the Occupy goons out in Oakland. In fact, although I can’t quantify it, it seems to me like the left is more cautious now than they used to be about instantly blaming the tea party whenever a bomb goes off or a group of people are shot by some lunatic. You still see it — remember Brian Ross wondering aloud if the Aurora shooter was a tea partier? — but not as much. I think.

Anyway. Even a lefty outfit like TPM considers it newsworthy when a wizened lefty crank in Congress like Rangel starts squirting out nasty rhetorical wet farts like this. He’ll pay no political price, though, partly because he’s old and headed for retirement (oldies of all political stripes get a wider berth on their excesses), partly because he’s a Democrat, and partly because, having grown up black in a segregated America, he has a moral license from the political establishment unto eternity to accuse his opponents of racism without fear of serious rebuke. After supporting racial persecution for centuries, it’s the least they can do now to make amends. McCain got some attention this week when he said he’s never forgiven John Lewis, one of the leaders of the civil-rights movement, for putting out a press release in 2008 accusing his campaign of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” in the course of referencing the Birmingham church bombing. You can understand Maverick’s frustration; he famously imposed a gag order on his staff vis-a-vis Reverend Wright in order to keep the election as free as possible of racial inflammations and this is how Lewis, who has the same moral license to smear that Rangel does, repaid him. What got less attention this week is the fact that Lewis was one of three people whom McCain named at the Saddleback Church forum during the 2008 campaign when asked whose wise counsel he’d seek as president. That came as a surprise to Lewis, who claimed he had no real relationship with McCain in Congress. Apparently, Maverick tried to exploit Lewis’s moral license for his own ends by name-checking him and then it boomeranged on him. Oh well.

Consider this a sneak preview, in any event, of the 2016 election cycle. Especially if Rand Paul’s the nominee.