On Angst, Or, We Meet A Tea Party Protester

So if you’re like me, you have been wondering just exactly what all this “tea party” stuff is about. There’s going to be some sort of protest, that we know; but beyond that the whole thing seems a little...vague.

Alternatively, it’s possible that you were unaware that “tea party” has recently become a word reborn in conservative political circles.

Well, whether you knew it or not, April 15th was indeed a day of protest, with citizens gathering for what were reported to be a series of grassroots events across the nation that was intended to invoke the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.

In an effort to find out exactly what is motivating these folks, and to find out what they are trying to accomplish, I took my handy recorder and captured a conversation with a “tea bag” protester.

We will review that conversation, and we will follow it up with a few thoughts about how this group of voters might impact electoral politics going forward.

Let’s begin by setting the stage: the city of Issaquah, Washington (population about 17,000) is more or less 15 miles east of downtown Seattle, in eastern King County. It’s a bedroom community, for the most part, with some light industrial and stores like Home Depot. The Costco corporate headquarters is located over where the old skydiving airport used to be, and I-90 bisects the city.

Seattle’s eastern suburbs have been a good source of reliable Republican voters, and the Representative from the District (WA-08) is former Sheriff Dave Reichert (R-Ineffectual), who defeated Darcy Burner in one of the more closely watched Congressional races of both the ’06 and ’08 cycles.

It was a lovely not raining afternoon (this time of the year, that’s a real treat), and the steps of the Issaquah City Hall create a nice backdrop for a gathering. At noon on a Wednesday about 120 people are gathered, holding signs, and reacting to the honks of passing traffic. A “patriot”, in blue coat and tricorner hat, was present.

After a period of standing out in front of City Hall, most of the group left to march up and down the street; and it was at this point that I approached a woman who had chosen to remain behind to see if I might ask her a few questions about the event.

Where you see quotations, they are exact transcripts from the recording.
Her comments are in boldface.
Ellipses (...) are used only to indicate pauses in the conversation, not to indicate “trimming” of the quotes.

One of the first things we addressed was her concern that her rights to gather and speak freely might be threatened:

“...You bet they are” she answered, “Obama is about, he’s more like, a, a he wants to be a leader himself, he’s the leader, OK, but he doesn’t speak for America...and he is not really, really, the President of the United States.”

I asked her how she had reached that conclusion:

“He hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he’s a liar...he, he, says one thing and he does another all the time...so, you know...he is not a patriot. I was born and raised in America, even people I grew up, with, that became Americans, love America. People come to America to be free. You know what I feel he’s taking away from us? Our freedom.”

I asked her what laws are being proposed that would make her feel that way, to which she replied:

“Taking all that money and doing with it as he pleases, without confer--, letting people take a vote on it on the right to do this that’s the Constitution, the 9th and the...”

“So Congress didn’t vote on any of that...”

“He is getting them to do what he wants, people are doing what he wants, because, he has people like Farrakhan, he has a lot of people behind him that are not for America. OK, and he’s a Muslim, let’s just remember that, OK, he’s not an American patriot, he’s a Muslim—“

“He’s a Muslim?”

“Yes, he claims to be a Muslim—“

“So you’re not worried about that Reverend Wright thing, then?”

“Oh, no no no no, Reverend Wright is a radical in his own way, too...”

“But he doesn’t have any influence on Obama, apparently, because...he’s a Muslim—“

“Well, he does, you know all about it, don’t you...”

At this point she began to ask a series of questions designed to determine my organizational affiliation, to which I had to again explain that I am but a humble blogger, and not really affiliated with any organization, and that my purpose in coming was to try to gather an idea as to what was going on so that I could explain it to others.

To which she offered this reply:

“Mr. Obama’s a liar...But we’re here today...just as Americans to say we want, we don’t wanna pay for what he wants us to pay for with taking all that money away from America.”

She reports that she went to Washington, DC, “and even called the President” to express her displeasure about the growing deficits during the Bush Administration; and we found a point of agreement when she noted that not voting can be a political statement, just as voting is.

She then went on to say:

“...the people, according to our Constitution and what I’ve always known is the Government was for the people, by the people, and of the people. We the people have the right to make those decisions at State levels, each State...”

At this point I asked her if that wasn’t the function of Congress, who are our elected Representatives, and that if that was true then how is that taxation without representation? (And no, I did not mention the whole Gettysburg Address “thing”. Sometimes you just have to let someone say what they want to say, and not get in the way...)

“...well, we have voted in a lot of people who are liars; that get in there for the wrong reasons. We have to start paying attention...and learn about these politicians...”

(A point with which I wholeheartedly agree—but to be honest, I don’t think she has a desire to learn that Mr. Obama is actually a real live, no-kidding, American citizen.)

I then asked her about the 2007 Federal Budget.

My understanding of that budget is that about $2.4 trillion was spent, and more or less $2.1 trillion of that was spent on Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense, leaving roughly $300 billion for all other spending.

Since the deficit for that year was above $300 billion, my question to her was which of the three choices above was she ready to start cutting?

“They’re not gonna go anywhere, they’re never gonna be used for those things, hardly...”

I explained to her that this is not a matter of conjecture, but that this was how the money was actually spent that year:

“Obama does what he wants with it—“

“Well, what I’m saying is that—“

“That’s the way it looks—“

“That’s how the money was spent—“

“Don’t you know about...how—“

“In 2007, that’s how the money was spent—“

“Are you a Republican?”

“No”

“Are you a Democrat?”

“Not really...”

“Are you a libertarian?”

“I don’t think the idea of having no government works very well, no ma’am--”

“So you don’t vote at all?”

“I do vote, and I don’t vote based on any party...”

“You don’t?”

“No ma’am, I don’t think Democrats or Republicans have a monopoly on ideas.”

Eventually, as I tried to get an answer from her about the Budget, it came to this:

“That’s not the true issue. The true issue is we don’t want our taxes going up because they’ve taken so much money and bankrupted America...we don’t wanna pay for that, we want him to leave that money alone, not bail out AIG, and let America resolve its issues...amongst the people.

They think everybody’s stupid. They think everyone’s stupid except them.
What’s your opinion?”

At this point I tried to explain that stimulus seems to make sense, and that the Great Depression offered an historical example of why.

“You don’t mind if I spend your money then, can I take all your money and spend it the way I want to?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to let you take all my money—“

“But that’s what Obama did. I don’t mind paying some taxes—“

“So you don’t have any money at this point?”

“Ye-, of course I have money—“

“So he didn’t take all your money?”

“I work, OK, I, he, he, if he has taken that money because he has stolen a lot of money from the United States of America—“

“How did he steal it?”

“You know exactly how.”

“Well, I’m confused...”

“Well, if you’re confused go watch him, OK. You’re for Obama, right? Isn’t that who you believe in?”

“Well, I did vote for Obama, but I wouldn’t say I believe in him...”

“Well, good-bye. Yeah, you do believe in him, and if you’re a person who doesn’t vote, and you say you vote, I’m confused, I know who you are—“

“Who am I?”

“You’re trying to deceive, that’s why you’re here. You’re not American, you’re one of these radicals the other way. I believe that this President is not the true President, OK, I believe that he is not an American citizen, he’s a liar, he’s a liar and he’s a thief. He got homes through...all kinds of discrepancies...he has never admitted to anything, he wasn’t a good politician, all he is, is a Socialist, he’s a Socialist, don’t wanna work, just do your own thing, take what you want, do what you want, live off welfare...”

At which point the interview concluded.

So what have we learned here today?

Well, let’s start by presuming that this sort of voter is not a likely “get” for any future Democratic candidate...and with that in mind, let’s have a look at what her impact might be on a Republican candidate seeking office.

Republicans should be aware that there exists a significant community of voters who are clearly upset with Mr. Obama. These voters are upset about issues they can’t (or won’t) exactly articulate, and they are not exactly sure how to fix “what ails them”...but they are genuinely upset, and they seem to feel that they no longer have a sense of control over, or attachment to, their Government.

You might see good news for Republicans when looking at this woman, since she represents, as far as I could tell, a group seeking a leader; but I see instead a substantial group of individuals who have the potential to vote for candidates of third parties—in other words, voters who feel alienated from both major parties, which would not be good news for Republicans.

To “recover” these voters, I suspect, will require Republican candidates to go quite far to the right—and I suspect that if the woman I met today becomes the Republican “target market” Republicans will have even more problems attracting centrist voters than they have now.

If the world does not come to an end, economically or otherwise, by 2010, and there are no huge tax increases, it will be even tougher to make the arguments we heard today, suggesting the woman I interviewed will become a more isolated part of the electorate than she might be today.

If the economy actually improves, it suggests that finding a voter outside of the 15-30% of the electorate these voters might represent who will vote Republican--particularly in statewide and Federal elections--will be tougher and tougher.

What does all that mean?

It means, absent a major economic collapse, that the Republican future, at least for a few cycles to come, might be as a Congressional minority, with several States still available where they can maintain control of Gubernatorial and Legislative positions...but with a declining number of those States over time, and a decreasing chance of electing a President because of the inherent problems they face retaining centrist voters.

Of course, there is also the possibility that these voters will cleave off to support a Bob Barr or a Ron Paul or a Mike Huckabee, who might seek a third party candidacy, which, ironically, could help Republicans gain centrist voters, even as they lose this group of voters. In all probability, this would also cost the Republicans the chance to elect a President until a “centrist/rightist reconciliation” of some sort can occur.

It puts Republicans in a tough spot, and as a political geek I can’t wait to see how they approach working it all out.

Comments

some of you may recall...

...that i was posting these stories on the pat buchanan site during the '08 cycle, and much of the conversation from yesterday reminds me of conversations at that site during the past election.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Well, we've truly reached the

Well, we've truly reached the post-rational era of opposition, haven't we?

Good work on this, FC.

----
There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. - Robert F. Kennedy

we need to be careful here.

to continue to advance a progressive agenda we must continue to listen to folks that seem irrational to us.

even if we don't agree, we need to understand the people who oppose us--and understand them well.

beyond that, progressives are competing for centrist voters. to the extent that we reach out to the folks like this woman, we advantage ourselves with those voters...and to the extent the outreached hand is slapped away, progressives are also advantaged with the same voters.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

the literal words make no sense at all...

...but there is a ton of subtext here, and that is where today's bit of education is found, that's for sure.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

You are so much better than I am.

I find myself drop-jawed speechless when I am around somebody like your lady.

Lovex7

I'm actually

working on that.

Lovex7

trust, me, i'm not any better...

...but i did have a tech support job in a prior life, and that's the sort of experience that...prepares you...for this sort of response.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Well done, Fake.

I agree that we need to listen, but I draw a distinction between listening "to" and listening "for." There is nothing but noise to listen "to" in this sort of dialogue. But when we listen "for," we can get at the concerns behind the blather.

From all I can hear, the concerns are fear wrapped in racism, backed by a deeper panic of becoming irrelevant in a post-white world. It's sad when people stake their identity on the color of their skin.

i think you might throw some economic fear in there as well...

...and i think it presents itself as "why should i share what's mine with you?" syndrome.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

being john boehner...

...might be one of the worst jobs ever: you fought for years to reach the "top of the pyramid", and you now find yourself irrelevant.

oops.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Network

This kind of dialogue puts me in mind first and foremost of the classic 1976 satire Network. This woman is simply "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore". The fourth TV network advising her to howl is today's Fox, and instead of shouting out her window, she's shouting (figuratively) at the more easy-to-cover teabag gatherings.

Why is she mad as hell? It seems to be a general howling about her perceived loss of power--"her" loss in the sense of disempowerment of the people who "represent" her in her own mind. In her mind, instead of culturally conservative white Christians, control of society has been stolen by liberal black Muslims. And they must be liars and thieves, of course, because in her mind that type of people inherently can't possibly achieve power via honest means.

During any social sea change of the magnitude we seem to be undergoing now, you'd expect to see a significant minority of people with opinions like hers. The more interesting question in relation to this week's tea bag events is more what the sponsoring groups think they're likely to achieve by stirring and displaying the resentments of folks like this woman.

Fox gets audience share and bumps its ad revenues, and the looney right wingers get a chance to howl for an audience. Is there any broader or longer-term benefit for the Republican Party as a whole? I can't see it. Just street theater, sound and fury signifying nothing, and achieving nothing.

Dan Besse

i made a comment...

...at kos that echoes your thinking about "loss of power"...and while she didn't exactly use the words, "secret muslim" does seem to be code for "openly black".

but...is it really racism, or is racism simply today's "offense du jour"?

consider that mr. clinton, and john kerry, and al gore, at various times, have all been treated roughly the same, by roughly the same people.

the good news on the progressive side is that these folks are driving the centrist voters away--and the challenge is to continue to explain why these recent changes make more sense than the past eight years.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

racism

The talking heads delight in vilifying Clinton, Gore, and Kerry, but I think they've tapped a broader base of nutjobs with their anti-Obama venom because of the racial aspect. With the first three, the attacks usually focused on specific items of their personal history (real or imagined). With Obama, it's more generally attacks on his (imagined) identity, which is created more from whole cloth of fantasy.

Clinton actually did have an infidelity problem, which was a recurrent point of focus. Gore is a strong environmentalist, which was the point of attack focus on him. Kerry had a real war record, which they attacked. Admittedly, the Kerry attacks were most outrageous in the way they twisted reality so completely, but there was something in his actions (genuine war service history)that started the parody.

But Obama? He's black with an African name and an international childhood. That's about it in terms of the attacks' grounding in reality, such as it is, and none of it relates to his actions, just his identity.

I differentiate the whole "socialism" thing, which is an add-on, and just a variation on the eternal Republican theme. The frothing attacks on Obama have always started with his identity.

But your basic point is still sound, that this strategy drives away centrist voters from the Republicans, now and in the longer run. They're losing ground so long as they keep this up.

Dan Besse

Racism

Regarding race, the counterbalancing weight in favor of sanity is Obama's clear competence. "Hey, Marge. The black guy's doing pretty good."

Which way will the scale tilt? Are there more people being radicalized to the right than those being brought to tolerance?

Seems like we'd need a three to one ratio of tolerance converts. Extremism is always amplified by the media.

an additional question...

...whaere are they being radicalized?

if larger percentages in fewer states became upset ("the south gets angrier and angrier" syndrome) the news of lots of new supporters would still be very bad for congressional rs...and since we have an electoral college and not direct election for president, that would also be very, very bad news for the rs.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

i think the entire key here...

...is "sky no fall down, black guy ok"--and as you note, the longet the sky does not fall down, the worse for the rs.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965