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April 26, 2009
823,076 reasons to be skeptical
As we approach the 100th day of the Obama reign the media is full of stories about how popular he is with American voters. Often these stories are supported by polling results commissioned by these media organization especially for the celebration.
It is hard for me to reconcile polls showing wide based approval for Obama's actions with the information reported at Pajamas Media, which currently calculates the attendance at the various tea parties at 823,076 . That number is based on the media reports, videos and still photos forwarded to them by citizen correspondents across the country. I urge readers to visit their site and check out their coverage.
What particularly interests me is that many of these demonstrations were held in locations your average reporter for a national media outlet probably couldn't place within 200 miles of its actual coordinates without significant help from Google Earth. For example, 500 people showed up at the Tax Day tea party protest in Abingdon, Virginia, population 7800. Then there were the 100 who showed up in Alpine, Texas, population 5,800. The names of Boone, North Carolina and Branson, Missouri conjure up images of vacation condos, not protest marches, but each resort town had a respectable turnout on April 15.
It is hard for me to imagine 250 sign carrying protestors in either of the sleepy towns of Dixon, Illinois, the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, or Fairmont, Minnesota, a southwestern Minnesota town where my father went to hunt pheasant on a friend's farm each fall. It is equally difficult to picture 300 protestors in Florence in northwestern, Alabama or, Oshkosh b'gosh, a whopping 1,000 protestors assembling at Fond Du Lac in central, Wisconsin. Add in 250 in Gillette, Wyoming. 500 assembled in Greeneville, the seat of Greene County Tennessee with another 400 marching in Newport, the seat of adjacent Cocke County, Tennessee. Then there are the 300 demonstrators in Harrison, Arkansas, 2,000 in the heart of Cajun country in Lafayette, Louisiana, 400 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 1,000 in Loveland, Colorado, 150 in Owensboro, Kentucky, 1,500 In Rapid City, South Dakota, 650 in Traverse City, Michigan. 700 in Tupelo, Mississippi and 521 in Valparasio, Indiana.
I selected the above towns and small cities among the hundreds of communities that held tea parties because at one time or another I have visited each of them.
While professional colleagues jetted off to Europe or the far East on vacation, I preferred to discover America. I've revisited US Highway 61, trekked down Arkansas Highway 7, driven the Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville Tennessee to Natchez Mississippi and explored many other parts of small town, rural and even wild America. I'll never forget taking a wrong turn near Teapot Dome north of Cheyenne, Wyoming and finding myself not on the state maintained gravel road the map promised but rather a rutted dirt track through the Thunder Basin National Grassland. I must have startling several herds of pronghorn with the most unlikely vehicle imaginable on such a road, an electric blue 1971 Opel GT.
Without exception, the people I meet over the years in these small communities have been so nice that I have come to think of the Tea Party movement as The Pleasants are Revolting! Based on my travel experiences, I suspect the crowds in these communities were much like the people at the Tea Party I attended in Asheville: an upbeat and friendly crowd moved by love for our country, fear for the future and a very deep sense of frustration, not any compulsion become part of a news story or to see their own face on TV.
For people to turn out in mass in such small communities suggests a level of frustration with the political process that the nation's self proclaimed elite mock at their own peril. Those who do nothing all day but manipulate abstract concepts may one day learn that they need the practical skills of small town America much more than small town America needs yet more TV shows, marketing campaigns, financial derivatives and another round of seminars.
Yes, there are a few crackpots among the tea party crowd, such as the Ron Paul supporters who are trying to claim credit for the idea. Every worthwhile movement is going to attract some of that ilk. For those who contract the vapors at the prospect of dealing with the political equivalent of the crazy uncle at Christmas dinner, I recommend the words of Saul Alinsky that politics is "concerned with the slaves and the Caesars, not the vestal virgins."
Certainly some other tea party organizers are looking for a panacea like the Fair Tax to solve what they see as all the nation's problems. I am skeptical of political cure-alls for good reason. Ask any Californian how that great political cure all of the 1980's, term limits, has reduced state spending and ended political corruption in that state. California may have enacted the strictest term limits in the nation in 1990, but they could not revoke the law of unintended consequences. One of which turned out to be that six years in the legislature is not enough time to develop and pass on the knowledge needed for a legislative body to effectively oversee a massive state bureaucracy. Instead of breaking the power of the lobbies, term limits made the lobbyists vastly more knowledgeable and experienced than the term-limited legislative chairs they work with.
For all their shortcomings, taken as a whole the Tea Parties represent the first large infusion of fresh blood into the conservative movement since Ronald Reagan brought former Democrats into the fold in 1980. Even more important in my opinion is how many of the people I have talked to are continuing to read and develop their conservative ideas on a regular basis. Works like the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and other documents relating to the founding of this nation, that they were not exposed to in school, are high on their lists. They are using that reading as a basis for asking some very good questions about national sovereignty, federalism and the powers properly reserved to the states, questions that more than one Supreme Court Justice and a former instructor of Constitutional Law at an elite law school seem to have forgotten along the way.