Yesterday thousands of people rallied in hundreds of "tea party" protests across the country, expressing anger about the economy, politics, and taxes.
It is easy to make fun of the tea-baggers, to find idiotic quotes, and share pictures of wing-nut signs. It’s easy to dismiss the participants as foolish followers of well-paid demagogues. But I’m not going to join the collective progressive dunking of the tea-bagging events. Whenever thousands of people choose to break their usual nonpolitical routine and publicly protest, we should pay attention. We should try to understand, and—for those of who believe that massive structural change of our financial system is in order—we should probably reach out.
These are my preliminary thoughts about the tea parties:
First, I support public expression of political ideas. I am generally more impressed, than distressed, by peaceful, public, political civic action, even where I disagree with the policy goals.
Second, I am troubled that many of the views held by people at the rallies were factually wrong. Global warming is not a socialist scam.
Third, tea parties represent a genuine, authentic civic anger. While the right wing noise machine funded them and hyped them up, they did not pay people to draw posters and show up in Lansing, Michigan, or organize dozens of events in Arizona. Republican Party operatives mobilized for them, funders supported them, and Fox News shilled for them…that still doesn’t mean those were fake citizens at the rallies. Funding alone does not turn something into Astroturf.
Fourth, I am not willing to dismiss all rally attendees because of racist views held by some, comicly off-base views held by some, or ugly banners waved by others. I reject the habit of guilt-by-association in public affairs. If each of us had to endorse each banner held by each person at our rallies, we would not ever be on the sidewalk or at a public event.
Fifth, I do not think the rallies represented any coherent political view. The coherent, albeit very dangerous, policy proposals supported by Fox News and Michelle Malkin, cannot be attributed to the citizens protesting.
Sixth, I think the public anger is warranted. We are spending billions of dollars on bank bailouts that will not serve us. People are profoundly, and rightly, insecure about their jobs, where they live, their health care, and the economy. They are concerned, rightly, that the government’s response seems to be driven by the financial industry. They are concerned, rightly, about the cost of the programs and the degree of deficit spending.