‘TEABAGGERS’ DISCOVER POLITICAL CORRECTNESS…. Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, a Washington Monthly alum, has a book coming out on President Obama’s first year in office. He chatted with the president in late November, and Obama noted his belief that GOP opposition to economic recovery efforts “helped create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

That seems like a pretty fair assessment. But nearly two months after New York wrote about Alter’s book and published the quote, it’s suddenly a topic of conversation in some circles. Why? Because Obama used the “T” word.

[T]oday Americans for Tax Reform pounced on the excerpt with a news release and a quote from its president Grover Norquist. Jake Tapper of ABC News — armed with a news hook about the president calling for “civility” in politics — pounced. And now the story lives on. […]

“When he was interviewed for the book, I assume he thought this was a moment and not a movement,” said Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks. “Now he realizes that we are here to stay. If he is sincere in what he said about civility in political discourse, he should apologize for his mean-spirited and derogatory comments directed a concerned group of citizens who simply believe the government has grown too large and spends too much.”

Let’s put aside the question of whether the government’s scope and spending habits are really of great concern to the Tea Party crowd. The fact remains that the right really is throwing a fit over this today.

They do pick the strangest things to get excited about.

There are two angles to keep in mind here. First, though the far-right would prefer that we forget, the “movement” originally embraced the “Teabagger” label. Activists put it on their clothing, pins, and their placards all the time, completely unaware of the slang/sexual connotation. It was common for much of the year for observers — protestors, journalists, politicians, etc. — to use the word “Teabagger,” not in a malicious or mocking way, but because the groups themselves were using the same word. For reporters and right-wing groups to suggest that the president has done something outrageous by using, in passing, the same word the activists use to describe themselves, seems a little silly. If Obama were really trying to offend this crowd, he’d likely come up with a more direct way of insulting them.

Second, I find it fascinating to see a group of confused, right-wing activists suddenly discover that political correctness has real merit — just so long as they’re being called by their preferred labels.

For about a generation now, a variety of constituencies and contingents have insisted that people should have the right to decide how others should describe them as a group. It seems the same folks who worry about “Teabagger” now were likely to disagree, but the shoe is apparently on the other foot now.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.