Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Party’s Over

Well, everybody had their fun at their tea parties yesterday, drawing in, to be charitable, an eclectic mix of demonstrators, mostly from the fringey side of the right wing who seemed confused about some of the terms they were throwing around. Is President Obama a fascist like Hitler or a socialist like Chairman “Maobama”? Since the two isms are basically polar opposites, it seemed that most people either didn’t know or didn’t care what they called him, as long as they called him something. It’s not exactly productive or even intelligent, but it got them out into the fresh air — and the rain — and as long as it was a ratings boost for Fox News, what difference did it make? Mike Madden notes at Salon.com that the festivities brought out some of the more unsavory elements:

To find extreme sentiments in Lafayette Park, it wasn’t necessary to look for the people with the most eccentric tea-bag-themed costumes. You could just pick a protester at random. “I think Obama’s plan is to create a catastrophic failure in our economic system, because then people will get desperate, and then you have the ability for a totalitarian government to move in,” said J’Neane Theus, 54, who retired from the Navy and now manages investments. She drove about an hour from Clarksville, Md., battling Washington’s horrific rush hour traffic to be an official marshal of the tea party (she had a white hat with “marshal” hand-scrawled in red ink to prove it). Her son, a 19-year-old Marine named Galen, stood next to her in a red, white and blue tie-dyed shirt, holding a sign accusing Barney Frank and other Democrats of treason. “I think that sounds very wacko; Americans don’t want to believe that. But we’ve seen this movie before,” the elder Theus said. I asked her where. “How about, well, fascist Italy, under Mussolini — and look at what happened to him, I would remind Obama of that,” she said. “Hitler. Stalin. Socialism has been proven not to work.”

Another seemingly sedate protester, Brian Smith, a marketer from Greenville, S.C., who was in Washington on business and came by the rally, wandered equally off message. “I love my country and I don’t like what’s going on,” Smith said. “Government — to be honest with you, and this will probably be misquoted, but on 9/11, I think they hit the wrong building. They should have gone into the Capitol building, hit out, knocked out both sides of the aisle, we’d start from scratch, we’d be better off today.” I pointed out that “they” did try to hit the Capitol. “Yeah, I know, they missed,” he said. “The wrong sequence. If someone had to go, it should have been the Capitol building. On that day I felt differently, but today that’s the way I feel.”

To be fair, I doubt that the Republican leadership in the Congress who lent their support to the demonstrations really wanted to have people like Mr. Smith get on television and in print with their colorful (and apparently there were a fair number of signs making reference, directly or not, to Mr. Obama’s race) opinions, but the problem is that when you throw open the doors and invite everybody in like a frat kegger, you never know who’s going to show up. With any luck, the GOP and their leaders will be explaining exactly how many socialists there are in the United States Congress, or how the tax cut that the stimulus package put through represents a tax increase; is it the same math that tells you a 4% increase in the Defense Department budget guts the military?

So now the Republicans basically own these people. They are the face of the GOP for now and through to the mid-term elections in 2010, and their de facto leader is a radio talk show host who now defends pirates against the aggression of the United States Navy. Well, okay, if that’s how they want it. Go nuts. But all the tea parties and funny hats — not to mention the drollery engendered by their intentional or otherwise use of urban slang for testicular manipulation — don’t make up for the need to actually, y’know, do some work. If this is how the Republicans want to spend the next two years — ginning up their little base with these bedraggled and sincerely whacked-out temper tantrums — rather than getting back to work on the problems that we face such as health care reform, education, infrastructure, the economy, then why should we take them seriously?