Friday, April 16, 2010

Walking a Mile

The so-called "Tea Party" movement has been met with little respect by the Democratic party. It is, to be frank, easy to criticize. The movement has come to be associated with Fox News and the Republican machine, and as the result the protesters come off as pawns at best and racists at worst.

Let's be straight: I love to bash the Tea Party movement as much as the next liberal. But on April 15th, I actually attended a Tea Party rally in Bloomington, Indiana. My account of the event is meant not to serve as a defense of the protesters, but as a reminder of the dangers of generalization.

Some of the people at the rally were, to be sure, trumpeting a Republican message. I saw signs reading, among other things, "Glenn Beck for President" and "Thanks Fox News".

But I think it's unfair to write off all of these protesters as nothing more than cogs in the Republican machine. What struck me about the event was, in fact, the extent to which it did not feel Republican. Yes, there was a large amount of anger directed towards Obama and Congress, but it seemed to be only insomuch as they represent the current Establishment. The overriding message was not anti-Democrat, but anti-government. In fact, there was a pronounced anger at members of the GOP for trying to co-opt the movement.
I met at the event an 80-year-old veteran. He told me that he had never been to a rally before the Tea Party movement started. He was there not to burn Obama in effigy, but to protest the current tax code and support the Flat Tax. Say what you will about the man's economics, I think his heart is in the right place.
As I said before, my intent here is not to defend the movement. I would not challenge the assertion that these people's beliefs stem from misinformation spread by the GOP, or even that the movement was first incited by the GOP. But regardless, these people came out to support a cause they are passionate about. It is easy to write these rallies off as AstroTurf, but I do not think that that is fair to the protesters.

I'm not entirely sure what my message is here. This rally just made me reconsider my view on the Tea Party, and I felt compelled to share my thoughts. I guess what I want you to take from what I have written is this: the men and women at Tea Party rallies are people, just like you and me. They are regular Americans who simply happen to disagree with us as to the best way to run this country. Regardless of how "wrong" we may find their views, I believe that a lot of these people are operating from a fundamentally good place. As tempting as it is to call them idiots or racists or rednecks, it is not the right thing to do. It just cheapens the political discourse. Meet these people with ideas, not epithets.

(All photos ©2010 Rabi Abonour)


Henry Vasquez said...

Glad to see another perspective on the protesters. One thing I'm curious about, because I think this is what weakens respect for the movement, is the fragmentation of messages and goals within the movement. If the tea partiers were more about a particular issue or piece of legislation, and didn't blindly bash individuals so much, it would be much easier to share in some kind of discourse

Alexa said...

This is absolutely excellent. I just don't understand AT ALL the signs such as "Obama Stinks" and so forth. I am having a hard time understanding the Tea Party, as a matter of fact. It is far from what it started out as, and is not really related to taxes so much anymore. I don't mind all the coverage on it, because it is going to end up making the Republican Party worse. I am surprised at the amount of people that showed up yesterday, but then again, I just think it has become somewhat of a fad. Great blog post though.

Rabi Abonour said...

I don't know if I can buy the fad argument. A lot of these people have never really demonstrated political interest; I can't see them picking this up just because it is a fad.
It seems like, for of people, it still is about taxes. More so, it seems to be about spending. Yes, the GOP is trying to turn it into a general protest arm of the party, but as I said, people are mad about that.

I don't want to defend the Tea Party. I really, really don't. I just think there should be a distinction drawn between the people at the rallies and the Fox News/GOP leaders who are trying to make the movement theirs.

Rabi Abonour said...

I conceded in the post that these people were drummed up by the establishment. Maybe I am being optimistic, but I believe that after the movement started it began to attract principled people. There was a student speaking who spoke out against, among other things, interventionism. I doubt he supported the invasion of Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Being a self-identified Tea Partier, I am bothered by the fact that the left believes we are an anti-Obama movement. Believe me, we hate the GOP as well, after 8 years of Bush and leaders like Mitch McConell, who defend the greedy bastards on Wall Street. Thanks for giving us some credit, Rabi.

ShamRockNRoll said...

I appreciate this post, but I think you're giving them too much credit. Frankly, when I see people just now getting upset about the deficit when there's a Democrat in power, and when I see so many blatantly racist signs at tea party rallies, or when I hear people complain about their taxes that are actually lower this year than they were under Bush, I think the words idiot and racist can be applied accurately. And I can't say I have much respect for "anti-government" protesters anyway, even if it's not directed directly at Obama or the Democrats, an argument they may make, but again, I see no evidence for since they've been silent for the last decade.

ShamRockNRoll said...

I know there are some tea partiers like the anonymous commenter above who may be reasonable, but I really do think they're in the minority.

And again... it took them eight years to get upset at the GOP, even though they don't direct their anger towards them? Um... I'm just not buying the honesty of that argument.

Rabi Abonour said...

For the record, I don't remember seeing any racist signs at the rally I attended.

Some of these people are scum, without a doubt. But a lot don't seem that way. I think that they came out now and not before because people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck popularized the movement, but I don't think that necessarily invalidates their feelings. A lot of people with no prior interest in politics were engaged by Obama's campaign. Was that movement just a "fad" too?

ShamRockNRoll said...

I'm talking about the national movement as a whole. That's a good thing if you didn't happen to notice any racist signs, but that's not a usual occurrence if you sample the wider coverage.

I also think it's off base to compare the tea party to a presidential campaign with a clearly defined leader and an actual agenda and platform. The tea party is a mangled mess of people with all sorts of different ideas, many of them based in ignorance. This is proved by anyone claiming that their taxes went up, blaming Obama for the deficit, or any number of ridiculous claims about the healthcare bill. It's not only anti-government sentiment that pervades this movement, but anti-intellectualism, and I don't respect it. Not to mention that this never would have become as large a national movement as it has, had it not been for a major cable "news" network sponsoring and promoting them from the outset. I've never seen anything so successfully astroturfed.

Bill said...

I would argue that a large chunk of the Tea Partiers are confused and senile. They don't really know what they're angry about.

"If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle."

Rabi Abonour said...

Oh, don't think I respect the movement. I'm no fan of anti-intellectualism either.

My point of this post really was not to defend the movement as a whole. It just bothers me when every single protester is written off as a racist redneck.

Bill said...

I recognize the tea party as a big tent party. There's plenty of room for anti-government libertarian types, along with racists, rednecks, the incredibly senile, conspiracy theorists, and opportunistic Republicans.