I’m a little late getting to this, but with yesterday’s launch of a petition drive to block health care reform in Michigan – by a group of right-wing backed Tea Partiers and extreme conservatives like state Representative Tom McMillin – it’s pretty pertinent.

First, let’s not forget that the Michigan Citizens for Healthcare Freedom launched their drive Monday in Howell, a city that has a rather unfortunate and notorious association with white supremacist groups. Let’s also note that Wendy Day, the leader of the Michigan’s most active Tea Party faction, is heavily involved in the drive to, um, free us all from the oppression of, um, affordable and quality health care.

That’s right. After failing to pass a resolution to force Michigan to opt out of reform – failing to pass it, that is, through a very sympathetic state Senate – the Partiers have decided to take their hatred of health care to the ballot.

This is the same Tea Party that mocked an Ohio man with Parkinson’s disease by tossing dollar bills at him. The same Tea Party that published the address of a Congressman’s brother, mistakenly thinking it was their health-care-supporting lawmaker; the man’s property was vandalized in a way that could have led to a fiery, tragic death. It’s also the same Tea Party that hurled racial epithets at lawmakers and cashed out policy positions in exchange for the politics of hate, anger and violence.

Which, as Ta-Nehisi Coates, an editor and blogger over at The Atlantic sagely points out, is the big problem:

I hear GOP folks and Tea Partiers bemoaning the fact that media and Democrats are using the extremes of their movement for ratings and to score points. This is like Drew Brees complaining that Dwight Freeney keeps trying to sack him.

…[M]y point is that the whining reflects a basic misunderstanding of the rules of protest. When you lead a protest you lead it, you own it, and your opponents, and the media, will hold you responsible for whatever happens in the course of that protest. This isn’t left-wing bias, it’s the nature of the threat.

There is of course a deeper question about the limits of strategy. It’s possible that if the Tea Partiers cleaned up their ranks–purged the birthers, publicly rebuked people like (the man who carried an assault rifle to a protest), banned Hitler signs, loudly rejected any instances of racism–that they simply wouldn’t have much of a movement left.

So while these folks are fanning out into our neighborhoods, scaring seniors with tales of death panels and inciting violence with more talk of government takeovers, we’re going to counter them. Because we have to, right?

It’s time to start asking the Tea Partiers what they stand FOR. We know what they stand against – which is essentially everything. And we know where their brand of political violence leads.

What we need is to be vigilant in countering their hate speech and violence with accountability, facts, and a consistent insistence that they take responsibility for the hateful actions they inspire.

And we’re going to have to refuse to be scared by them or bullied into silence. Because if the party that stands for nothing gets their way, where does that leave us?