I missed our local Tea Party yesterday. It conflicted with dinnertime, and anyway, I'm now more content to conduct my political activism from the comfort of my laptop. But word among people at choir practice yesterday evening was that it was well-attended.
Ross Douthat, who defends the demonstrators against some pretty absurd criticism, also had this to say:
But they do have all of the weaknesses of the anti-war marches: Their message is intertwined with a sense of disenfranchisement and all kinds of inchoate cultural resentments, they've brought various wacky extremists out of the woodwork (you know, like Glenn Beck), and just as George W. Bush benefited from having opposition to his policies identified with peacenik marchers in Berkeley and Ann Arbor, so Barack Obama probably benefits from having the opposition (such as it is) associated with a bunch of Fox News fans marching through the streets on Tax Day, parroting talk radio tropes and shouting about socialism.
Trumwill has said something similiar about opponents of the death penalty: they conduct their protests in such a way as to make their opposition of a piece with a broader crticism of (take your pick) American foreign policy, race relations, capitalism, or what-have-you. This alienates potential allies who do not accept their seamless garment of left-wing ideology. (Trumwill: I searched for your post on this point without success; it may have disappeared down the Bobvis memory hole.)
But Ross's link above goes to a collection of photos of the protest in the Washington Independent. Take a look for yourselves, for I will comment on them one by one:
A poster thanking Fox News. I don't watch news on TV, but from what I have seen, I haven't found anything to support the liberal syllogism, "if it was on Fox, then it must be either wrong or more wrong than if it was on CNN."
A poster supporting the idea that America is a Christian nation. This can be interpreted in several ways, some of which make the statement indisputably true. But it's not really on topic in a protest about the doubling of the national debt in the first year of the Obama administration.
A joke about the teleprompter. This is only interesting in the context of the media's fawning coverage of Obama's speaking ability and misleading comparisons to Bush's unscripted verbal stumblings. But also not relevant to the issue at hand.
The birth certificate. Look, the only actual evidence for the proposition that Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii is the fact that he hasn't produced it! But then, such evidence can be wrong: people often hide their innocence for their own dark reasons. Saddam Hussein hid WMD that he didn't really have from U.N. weapons inspectors, for instance; Bill Clinton obstructed every request by Ken Starr for information regardless of its incriminatory content. Either way, questions about Obama's citizenship amount to "Trutherism", and mainstream conservatism should keep it at arm's length. Not really relevant to the issue at hand.
A poster urging border security. Depending on the presentation, an issue directly relevant to our fiscal health. And in fact, a more popular position even than opposing the runaway spending.
Another sign criticising the runaway debt passed on to unborn children. Again, directly relevant. Although, I suppose that a liberal could read into it a position on abortion, and it otherwise highlights America's fertility patterns in ways that give liberals hives. But the protest is aiming at the swing voters, not the far left.
A slew of conservative media personalities. So what? I mean, even if I was in the center, you would still have to explain to me what it is that makes any of these people so disreputable that they undermine that protestors' argument.
Obama bin-lyin. A bad move. Exactly the kind of thing that amuses the true believers at the expense of alienating the majority of the country. But, yeah, mainstream conservatives do believe in free markets, not free terrorists.
A reference to National Socialism. The Independent has it right: this is Godwin's law in action.
Support for Pat Toomey. Completely appropriate considering Specter's voting record on the issue at hand.
Keynes was wrong. Pretty nerdy. And hardly comprehensive. And yet, the consensus view is that the stagflation of the 70s had undermined Keynes' simplistic models of government spending. The fact that simplistic monetarist models are now also undermined doesn't make Keynes suddenly right again.
Illegal immigrants are a fiscal burden. Exactly.
Some Kenyan. In my darker moments, I think this too. But the public isn't ready.
Ayn Rand references. Pretty nerdy. But here again, the only people who do know who John Galt is tend to be fans. So I don't see how this hurts.
These are what grass-roots protests look like. Some people will have trouble staying on message; others' creativity will be over the top. I don't know if these are representative of what the Tea Parties offered, but even if they are, I don't see anything here that throws me off my lunch. As Brandon Berg points out in the comments, these protests were a model of middle-class orderliness.
But then, perhaps I, too, live in the echo chamber. I'd like to know how these protests are really perceived by the swing voters. In the mean time, here is the picture that should be plastered across every t-shirt, banner, and protest sign going forward:
One more thing:
Still, here we are in the sixth year of the Iraq War, and all those anti-war protests, their excesses and stupidities notwithstanding, look a lot more prescient in hindsight than they did (to me, at least) when they were going on.
No, they don't. Virtually none of the protests to which Ross refers were offered because of their predictions about what actually happened, but for other reasons. What we saw at the anti-war rallies was third-world solidarity: in our post-Vietnam cultural moment, any tin-pot dictator that defies an American -- and especially a Republican -- president enjoys automatic support from a significant fraction of North American and European residents. That's very different from pointing out that the occupation will flunk the cost-benefit ratios.