Exhibit A that today’s Tea Parties are a success before they begin: They have drawn the adolescent derision of hateful critics, who, through envy or political bigotry, have chosen to bash them. So for Tea Party supporters, skeptics and detractors alike, a handy guide to today’s phenomenon:
Q: What is this thing? Where did all of this Tea Party talk come from in the first place?
A: On Feb. 19, CNBC’s Rick Santelli was broadcasting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, asking nearby traders if they wanted their tax dollars to pay other people’s mortgages, as required by the so-called Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan. Amid a chorus of discontent, Santelli rhetorically asked President Barack Obama, “Are you listening?” and invoked the notion of a “Chicago Tea Party” and the imagery of the Boston tea tax protests of 1773.
Q: How did that grow into the nationwide outpouring that will happen today?
A: You never know when such a perfect storm will arise. The sheer audacity (pun totally intended) of the Obama agenda delivered a shock to the sensibilities of conservatives and some independents whose long-simmering annoyance with the ballooning size, cost and intrusiveness of government finally reached a breaking point. Throw in the imbalance of one-party rule and the inclination of those out of power to try to get it back, and presto – Tea Party crowds.
Q: Will the Tea Parties focus on issues other than taxes and spending?
A: Unavoidably. With the number of Tea Parties approaching 100 in Texas alone, surely speakers will utter occasional references to other conservative concerns, from immigration to abortion to environmental extremism.
Q: Is that a good idea?
A: Not so much. Occasional allusions to core values likely shared by a Tea Party crowd are fine, but these events need to have a laser-beam focus on taxes, spending and government overreach. It would be a shame if the goodwill and harmony likely to surround every Tea Party were diluted by the inclusion of admittedly worthy but problematic issues that could spark some bad blood, even among a largely conservative crowd.
Q: So should a Democrat even show up at one of these things?
A: By all means. The currently staggering scope of authoritarianism and profligate spending has shocked even some lifelong Democrats, especially in Texas and the South. Here’s sentence that will make instant friends at any Tea Party: “I’m a Democrat, and I probably disagree with most of the people here on most issues. But I never dreamed that we would see these insane bailouts and reckless stimulus packages, and sometimes people need to get together for a common cause.”
Q: Will there be counter-demonstrations?
A: A few, but it’s hard to imagine them amounting to much. Protests are usually sparked by indignation – witness the huge throng at Dallas City Hall two years ago, a show of resistance against actually obeying our immigration laws. How much genuine angst can there be among liberals these days, as their fondest dreams of expansionist, collectivist government are taking shape before their very eyes?
Q: Will the energy of the Tea Parties ultimately amount to a hill of beans?
A: That depends, intriguingly enough, on the people in America’s ideological midsection. There is a good chance conservatives will take this as an opportunity to offer reminders and even primary-season punishment to Republicans insufficiently devoted to fighting a socialist-leaning future. If they are joined by some Democrats and independents repelled by the scope of debt and government control that seem to lie ahead, we may look back on this day as a moment of real change.
Mark Davis is heard weekdays from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on WBAP-AM, News/Talk 820. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.