Saturday, April 17, 2010

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Tea Party 'revolt' looks like a pity party to me

April 17, 2010
BY NEIL STEINBERG Sun-Times Columnist

'Chicago Tax Day Tea Party," read the colorful card handed to me as I emerged from Union Station into the soft, summery day Thursday.

"Liberty" it continued, in spidery, colonial-era script. "Constitutional Principles. Fiscal Responsibility." Then, in bright-red type -- the blood of patriots, no doubt -- "Repeal it! Replace Congress." And finally: "Chicago. Daley Plaza. 12:00 Noon."

I entered Daley Center Plaza. Elvis' "It's Now or Never" burbled muddily from loudspeakers. There seemed about . . . and this is sensitive, so I'll tread carefully . . . 500 protesters, though the Tribune estimated 1,000 and the Sun-Times called it "thousands. . . "

Radio host Cisco Cotto led singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Or tried to. The response was a murmur, and I turned to look around -- most mouths were set in a grim line. One speaker said this was a happy movement, but they sure didn't look happy.

"Keep it respectful" read a yellow sign a lady carried, and there was obvious effort to rein in the excesses of previous Tea Party rallies across the country, despite the taunts of counter-protesters.

"Keep the rich rich!" chanted some young men. "Take my freedom!"

A round man in a straw hat carried a sign: "We Gave Peace a Chance and We Got 9/11" with "Peace" crossed out and replaced with "Hope" and "9/11" replaced by "Ft. Hood."

"So you don't think the Fort Hood massacre was the isolated act of a lone disturbed individual?" I asked, by way of starting conversation.

"No, I do not!" he said, fleeing. A common reaction. They want media attention, so long as it is not on themselves personally. I drifted over to a counter-protester, a young man in an aluminum foil hat.

"I've used tinfoil hats as metaphor," I said. "But I've never seen anyone actually wearing one . . . "

"Why don't you talk to the actual Tea Party members!" demanded another man, swooping in.

"OK," I said, trying to disarm him with my boyish smile. "Why don't I talk to you? What would you like to say?"

He turned and fled, at a trot.

Onstage, less tax, less tax, less tax. Clear enough. Though sometimes it seemed the Partiers hadn't actually thought about what they were saying. Someone began reading an analysis of the Pledge of Allegiance that has circulated on the Internet for years.

"I," he read. "Me; an individual; a committee of one . . ."

"We want our country back," they said. But who has taken it? There were taxes and debt before. What is different is Barack Obama, and his central difference. . . .

"I don't give a damn that Obama is black," read a sign held by a man in a Soviet greatcoat. "It scares the hell out of me that he is red."

What to make of all this? Of the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags and tri-cornered hats? I could probably work up indignation at the co-opting of revolutionary icons. Our founding fathers were risking their lives, signing their names boldly across acts of treason, and these guys can't even put their names behind their vague complaints.

But, to be honest, I found the whole thing harmless. Just because they've adopted the self-inflating rhetoric of revolt that so inflames every Saturday afternoon Young Communist League pep rally doesn't make them a genuine threat to anybody.

My feeling was, heck, if staging public gripe fests gives these people something to do, then great. It's outside. It involves handicrafts, the making of signs and costumes. It's like Scouting for irked middle-aged white people.

As to whether this is an actual grass-roots moment, or a sham orchestrated by larger interests, well, after the rally I pulled out that large card I had been handed when I got off the train. Stiff cardboard stock. Four-color. Glossy. Expensive, like something J.B. Pritzker printed up when he was running for Congress. A real grass-roots movement would use colored copier paper from Kinkos.

Despite all the talk of the American Revolution, the era of history they really evoke, at least to me, is the America First, the isolationist organization started in Chicago in 1940.

Like the Tea Party, the America First was also conservative, nativist, at odds with both parties, since Democrats and Republicans wanted to help the English stand up to Mr. Hitler, which America First found a waste of our beloved money.

Like the Tea Party, the America First gloried in huge rallies, featuring its own populist star, Charles Lindbergh, and mistook these displays for actual significance. America Firstism vanished on Dec. 7, 1941, and was promptly forgotten.

And while I would never be so bold as to predict the same fate for the Tea Party, it wouldn't surprise me either.



Tom Degan said...

If a tree falls in the forest….

….does it make a sound if Mitch McConnell is not there to deny that a sound was made?

Tom Degan

Unknown said...

Mitch the Bitch? He is hard to take seriously, isn't he?