Thursday was a gorgeous day for a political rally, so I attended the tea party rally outside the Spokane Convention Center. The sun shone so brightly that an artist was able to create political signs with nothing more than a magnifying glass and pieces of wood. “Time’s Up” said one, featuring the coiled snake of “Don’t Tread On Me” fame.
It’s an apt symbol for so many in attendance who feel they are being stepped on by the government. Big time.
Featured speaker Butch Otter played on the theme beautifully. The Idaho governor is a Republican, but he was introduced as a libertarian to spirited applause. That, too, was apt, because he immediately began channeling the Founding Fathers. He ticked off the importance of the Bill of Rights, noting the many freedoms they embody. Clearly, if he could renumber the amendments, he would put the 10th first.
His embrace of states’ rights quickly transitioned into the bashing of the recently adopted health reform law. He deftly incorporated the myth that 17,000 Internal Revenue Service agents will be hired as enforcers and likened this to King George’s writs of assistance. When U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, told Fox News of this supposed threat, he noted that the agents would be armed. All of this has been thoroughly debunked at Factcheck.org, and the item is worth reading because it demonstrates how political pros can transform innocuous bill language into the specter of federal thugs busting down doors.
Maybe Otter knows this. Maybe he doesn’t. But it perfectly exploits the sense of fear that many attendees appear to harbor.
Teflon George. As I listened to the speeches and processed the political signs, I became confused about what this was all about. A CBS News/New York Times Poll released last week noted that the paramount concern of self-described tea partiers is smaller government. Yet, 57 percent of supporters held a favorable opinion of President George W. Bush (as opposed to 27 percent for all respondents). What did he do to shrink government? Medicare Part D, the No Child Left Behind Act and the dreaded TARP – Troubled Asset Relief Program – were all unfurled on his watch.
Maybe they appreciate the military interventions and other actions Bush took under the war-on-terror banner. But speakers at the Spokane rally were applauded for bashing the Patriot Act and his warrantless wiretaps. Maybe they’re just happy he isn’t a Democrat, but neither is U.S. Sen. John McCain, and he only netted a 35 percent positive rating.
Maybe Bush worked diligently to uphold the 10th Amendment, but his administration worked against state laws on medical marijuana, assisted suicide and lower automobile emissions. Bush also supported Congress’ failed attempt to launch a constitutional amendment that would’ve nullified any state law on gay marriage.
It’s becoming clearer that cloaked in the evocations of liberty and states’ rights is just another set of citizens who aren’t getting their way. And if they succeed in “taking back America,” it will create a different group wanting to yank it back. This is precisely the system the Constitution calls for.
Dazed and confused. The CBS News/New York Times Poll helped me understand a difference between conservative Republicans and tea partiers. The former are generally dissatisfied, while the latter are angry. This anger, I suspect, derives from certitude.
Tea party respondents believe their views reflect those of 84 percent of Americans, but that figure plunges to 25 percent when respondents from across the political spectrum weigh in. This perception among tea partiers that they are on a righteous, popular path while the country moves in the opposite direction must be infuriating. I realize that many tea partiers feel misunderstood, but it appears the confusion runs both ways.