Thursday, May 28, 2009

What's Coming Up For Future 'Tea Party' Protests?

From the LA

Last month's "tea party" protests have come and gone but are not forgotten. New protests are already brewing, some maybe this holiday weekend, others probably for July 4, with text messages and tweets flying back and forth.

The phenomenon in many ways is familiar in American political history -- a kind of eruption, an incoherent lashing out by people angry over taxes and spending and big government and bigger spending. And the uncertainty of their current lives.

Contrary to some cable news channels, we found "tea party" protesters often to be just as angry at Republicans in general and George W. Bush in particular as at the awe-inspiring size of the Obama Democratic administration's spending plans.

Historically, these protests have fizzled without some political personality to coalesce around -- a Gene McCarthy, a John Anderson, a George Wallace. A Ron Paul even.

Our Times colleague Richard Fausset spent a good deal of time recently with "tea party" participants. And we asked him to go through his notes and thoughts and share the experiences with us. Here's what he told us:

The people I talked with had a variety of targets. This doesn’t mean they went easy on Obama, however. One fake campaign sign showed a picture of the president and a certain hirsute German philosopher: It said: “Obama Marx ’08 – BFF.”

Another sign featured a picture of Obama in a Soviet officers’ uniform and the words: “JUST SAY NYET.”

“Hey, is that available as a T-shirt?” a guy asked the sign holder. “It will be soon,” came the reply.

It was somewhat surprising to hear from numerous folks that their beef wasn’t just with Obama’s economic policies. Time and again, people said they'd been just as upset with what they saw as profligate spending under Bush.

Tim Lee was typical. A councilman from suburban Atlanta's Cobb County. “The Republicans,” he said, “were doing just as bad for eight years.”

Lee’s home county, like many municipalities around the country, has been facing its own economic crisis, forced to cut millions from budgets to match anemic tax revenue. As for the national economy, he said the federal government should have “let it crash” instead of offering bailouts to troubled industries and a big stimulus package.

We would have picked ourselves up and moved on,” Lee added. “The pain would have been short-term. Now we’re taking the long- term pain of having to pay all that money back.”

John Pettit, a 48-year-old contractor, hoisted a sign that read “Chains – we can count on.” Pettit said the nation was “headed for bondage” with its reliance on government borrowing. Pettit’s concerns about government policy didn’t start with Obama or the current Congress, he said.

It went all the way back to the New Deal. Although he said the new guys were part of that long, sorry history by spending money that they simply didn’t have. “Hey," Pettit said, "good habits are learned in bad times. And bad habits are learned in good times. Right now, Congress isn’t learning.”

The rallies typically have a temporary stage, a parade of local officials speaking, radio DJs and minor celebrities rallying the crowd.

What emerges in thought later is the lack of a unifying figure around whom the "tea party" folks can rally.

It will be interesting to see if someone emerges as organizers roll out plans for the next round of protests. If it is to be effective in the long term, it seems the movement will need a decider: not just a public figurehead, but someone who can focus and modulate the multifarious blob of themes and emotions that seem to drive this fascinating middle-class revolt.

Someone, in short, who can tap both the thoughtfulness and anger behind the movement, the patriotism and Americans’ natural skepticism of government power … plus the anti-Obamaism, the call for a fair tax, the fear of new controls on carbon emissions. All that and more.

Blog Archive