Thomas Ritter is a teacher in Irving, Texas. Before the passage of Obamacare, Ritter wrote to the President expressing his dismay over the partisan tone in Washington. The President responded, denying he had targeted “tea baggers.”
“I watched you make fun of tea baggers and your press secretary make funof Ms. [Sarah] Palin which was especially beneath the dignity of theWhite House,” Ritter wrote. He said the tone was so bad that he hesitated to write “for fear of some kind of retribution.” The President sent Ritter a letter in which he claimed he had done no such thing and suggesting that he was actually the victim of unfair political criticism.
I received your letter, and appreciate your concern about the toxicpolitical environmentright now. I do have to challenge you, though, on the notion that anycitizen that disagrees with me has been “targeted and ridiculed” or thatI have “made fun” of tea baggers. I think a fair reading is that I havegone out of my way to listen to legitimate criticism, and defendstrongly the rights of everyone to speak their mind–including those whoroutinely call me “socialist” or worse.”
It’s not clear when the letters were written, but it may have been in early 2009. On the President’s 100th day in office, he did mock protesters during a speech as people who were “waving tea bags around.” The term “teabagger,” which both Ritter and Obama use, was initially (if briefly) a neutral term. It quickly took on a sexual overtone and became a term of mocking condescension used by progressives toward the Tea Party. It’s not clear if Ritter’s letter and Obama’s response came before or after the term became widely used as a slur.
In any case, according to progressive author Jonathan Alter, Obama was using the term “teabagger” in interviews in November 2009, months after it had become a slur. Since 2011, the President and his spokesman have repeatedly referred to Tea Party congressman as hostage takers.
The President also did not have any reply for Ritter’s comments about his Press Secretary mocking former Gov. Sarah Palin. It’s possible that Obama’s reference to being called a “socialist” was a reference to Palin, who connected Obama’s “spread the wealth around” comment to socialism during the 2008 campaign.