Oregon Magazine

Tea Party Beginnings and Endings

It was the best of times, it was the….
Stop.  Reset.

Feb. 19, 2009:  A relatively obscure Rick Santelli, a reporter from an even more obscure CNBC cable channel was on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade near the end of his report of the business day when the proverbial sh_t hit the fan.  The Obama administration had just announced a wonderful financial plan to lower mortgage payments for the multitudes behind in their house payments.  Santelli’s recorded reaction was to go viral on YouTube, and then the mainstream media.  This is when and how the new American Tea Party idea was born:

 The Tea Party  (OrMag: our design for a logo representing people who dislike being invaded by Europeans)   >>>>>        
Santelli:   “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise your hand. [floor traders heard booing] President Obama, are you listening?”

The (television) studio then asks Santelli, “So Rick, are they [the floor traders crowding around Santelli] opposed to the housing thing, to the stimulus package, to everything out there?

Santelli: “You know, they're pretty much of the notion that you can't buy your way into prosperity, and if the multiplier that all of these Washington economists are selling us is [right]... then we never have to worry about the economy again. The government should spend a trillion dollars an hour because we'll get 1.5 trillion back!”

Then, (he went on), “We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm gonna start organizing.

Finally, he ends his report with the following:  “I'll tell you what, if you read our founding fathers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson,... what we're doing in this country now is making them roll over in their graves.”

Recycling Dead Ideas

I had heard the Santelli rant; it was hard not to if you followed news at all, especially on the internet.  The quotes above don’t do his words justice, because he was shouting at the top of his lungs.  The emotion he exuded was sincere as well as contagious, or probably it was contagious BECAUSE it was sincere.  Sincerity (plus unscripted emotion) is virtually absent in broadcast media, and so this spontaneous, rare display was enough to attract the attention of a conservative, previously quiet country very ready for shouting out loud.  It didn’t matter that he described mortgages as having extra bathrooms; we all knew what he meant:  our government--OUR government--was out of control.  

In late February, there we were, wife and I, sitting at our little table, in our little house, in a little town in NW Oregon, wondering what to do other than scream (like Santelli) at each other over the financial and political events that were swirling around us in the early days of 2009.  A large sailboat taking us to places unknown was sounding ever more plausible and desirable.  Newly-sworn President Obama had signed Stimulus I (3/4 of a $trillion!).  TARP (another 3/4 $trillion) had been passed hastily the previous October (with candidate Obama’s messianic blessing) following the September ’09 financial meltdown--such as it was described--all of which, and lots more, resulted in a combined deficit spending the likes of which no one living could remember.  That’s because those old enough to recall the similar-sized deficit spending of WWII didn’t want to remember the war, and if they could have remembered the war’s spending, they wouldn’t have wanted to remember that either.  Except, they probably would recall it was for a pretty good reason back then, defeating the Nazi-Huns, Fascist-Pigs, and the Japs. (Unbridled emotion brought out the unbridled labels).  This new administration was reviving an ancient, gut-wrenching, human penchant for outrage too, as if being cornered by a wild animal while noticing a shotgun within grasp.  Metaphorically, of course.  No animals were hurt, abused or killed while thinking of this analogy.     

Which brings us to…

The worst of times, early March, 2009

The continued financial meltdown, the slowing economy, the high unemployment, the stock market crash - in general, the everything’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket scenario -- was taking its toll on ordinary, what shall we do today (take a ride in the car or go out to dinner?), Americans.

She (wife) said, "Let’s organize a local Tea Party rally."  

We wondered how could it be done.  We’ve never done such a thing, we’ve never even attended a rally in our lives among other trite thoughts (the last phrase quickly became a cliche, for no one connected with Tea Party events ever admitted to having attended a rally before, and who knows, they might have been truthful.)  What we didn’t know was that these questions and these musings were being asked in humble settings everywhere in the nation.  We weren’t unique, but we didn’t know that then, and refuse to accept that rap now.

I think it was the sudden use by the government of the word “trillion” in place of “billion” that unconsciously triggered national conservative neurons to implode. A “billion” in itself was a measure of money no one has ever grasped, other than that it was huge and had replaced “million” some time in the 80s.  Liberals apparently had no difficulty with these terms, having had the advantage of never bothering to notice the difference among them.  They remembered with certainty Everett Dirkson saying trillions way back in the 60s in between their puffs of rolled marijuana joints, so to them (the progressives) it was yesterday’s news (except his 1969 famous quote was “...a billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”).   I recall in my youth being fascinated by the comic book image of Scrooge McDuck moving his piles of money around with a caterpillar tractor, but that was at a time when all I could think of was, wouldn’t that be great to be doing?  I clearly had not yet been educated about the advantages of class envy, nor was there ever any reference to how much McDuck had.  It was a lot of money, but billions and trillions hadn’t been invented yet.

Fast Forward ...

For conservatives today, “trillion” is equivalent to limitless, infinite, immeasurable, unending.  And the thought of an Obama, Reid, Pelosi-led government with the power to write overdrawn checks for that amount was tantamount to WWIII.  We were individually and collectively saying “Stop! Listen up!” to perfect strangers and relatives alike (you never talk to relatives about anything serious), as if an asteroid had just obliterated Kansas City.  

April 15 materialized out of thin air as the target rally date, and it became a national one within days of the first comment online.  It’s the one day that still means something to anyone.  Anyone, that is, other than the fifty percent who pay no taxes, or the 23% who live happily in the underground, tax-free society--those lucky bastards who deal exclusively in cash--and have for decades.  That leaves the rest of us who carry the burden of responsibility or stupidity, and look upon April 15 as a day of reckoning.  If the Tea Party is indeed made up “only” of angry white men (and women), as the major media loves to assert, it’s because they are the only ones paying taxes for which April 15 is still relevant. 

(Entre'act: the second part of Part One)

When the scattered Tax Day Tea Party events occurred nationally, the media coverage was sparse if at all.  Although the number of events nationwide were clearly in the thousands, and the turnout was more than almost all the event planners expected (the Astoria Tea Party hoped for 25 and got over 300), the media ignored these rather newsworthy rallies of conservatives who clearly were new to crowding around public streets with hand-made signs.  The local Astoria paper overtly ignored the event despite being notified in advance.  However, two of its reporters just happened to be returning to their office when they came upon the huge (for Astoria) crowd in front of the downtown Post Office.  They covered the event, and the editors of the paper were almost forced to print their intrepid reporters’ spontaneously found story since it was clearly more important than their assigned story about the number of salmon making their way up a nearby stream (although their coverage since would prove otherwise).  

Nationally, the legacy media began what they apparently agreed to coordinate: at first ignore these events, to be followed by describing them as kooky, and finally as racist.  The absence of reasonable coverage, was pretty common, but the result was to motivate the Tea Partiers to ignore being ignored.  More well-coordinated events started to take place, with what at first seemed like an attempt to organize the movement into something akin to a political party.  But the Tea Partiers were actually more independent than anyone--least of all the media--expected.  The media dreamed about helping to create an organized, centralized Tea Party, because that would mean it would be easier to cover, and more importantly, to kill off.

The Republican Party was almost as flummoxed as the media because they at first thought that the issues of Tea Party concern were theirs as well.  However, if there was a thread of agreement by Tea Partiers below the obvious ones of gross federal spending, it was that Republicans couldn’t be relied upon to carry out what was going to be necessary to rid the disease brought about by the current Congress and Administration.  The Republicans had not done a stellar job themselves when they had their time at bat.  Individuals at the Tea Party events were more conservative than liberal, to be sure, but many claimed to be either independent or libertarian, perhaps more than they really were.  Essentially, most were trying to figure out how to summarize all their frustrations with government, and weren’t exactly motivated to tie themselves to a Republican Party that contained lots of false fiscal conservatives and a history replete with too many liberal compromises.  Politics as usual was completely out the window, and hated almost as much as the thought of a Nancy Pelosi marching in triumph down Pennsylvania Avenue declaring a new, permanent liberal era.

We're talking "these" United States

Individual Tea Partiers were galvanized by disgust with Congress, and a universal opinion of Barack Hussein Obama as one of the most inexperienced, unvetted presidents ever elected.  Obama’s race was never mentioned or even discussed in any event or sideline conversation I was witness to, because it wasn’t an issue.  When later in the movement the media had decided that Tea Partiers were racists in disguise, jokes were made that included the retort that we equally hated the white half of Obama as much as the other half.  In fact, Obama was universally disliked because of his policies and capitalistic ignorance, and for Americans to ignore these obvious deficiencies would be a disgrace.  A Black president was not going to be given a free pass; all other presidents weren’t, so to think about doing so would be discriminatory on its face.

Speaking of discrimination, there was a definite hesitancy on the cartoon side of the mass media to draw a caricature of Obama; in fact, at first, so few cartoons were made with Obama pictured, it became a question that perhaps it could be related to the recent reluctance by the U.S. media to display a likeness of Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him), which had gotten the daring Danish media in trouble with their cartoons of the prophet.  That world-wide event had presented a fascinating dilemma to the U.S. media: how to cover a controversial cartoon series without ever depicting the actual cartoons themselves.  It was like covering the explosion of Mt. St. Helens without showing pictures of the mountain.  The Obama (Peace be upon him) cartoon blackout didn’t last long, for eventually, the Dumbo ears, toothpick thinness and obvious youth of this president found its way into wonderfully distorted caricatures, just like any other president.  But Obama’s color had played the defining part in the initial hesitation of cartoonists everywhere, which proves my point.  The media was blatantly discriminatory. 

A Big Ball Starting to Roll Downhill

But the Tea Partiers, although not cartoon revolutionaries, had committed the sin of not hesitating to criticize our Black President Obama from the get-go, and for this they were condemned as racist, once the media began to actually cover Tea Partiers at all, that is.  The legacy media’s perception of Tea Partiers was and remains a white-dominated group of angry retirees who claimed to criticize government spending and Congressional excess, but deep down, their objections to this remarkable, young Black president was racist to the core.  Tea Partiers were closet racists, the worst kind.

It is a measure of the law that the truth shall rise to the top, that the Tea Party movement has not only not petered out, but has grown to be the disorganized, uncentralized, successful glob of national fiscal responsibility that it is today.  Try as it might, the media has not succeeded in blowing out the candles (or torches) of Tea Partiers, probably because there are just too many scattered about that it’s futile to try any more.  They’ve morphed their attitude of Tea Parties as unworthy to cover, to an influential movement that is going to kill the Republican Party through civil war among conservatives.  It remains a fact that the media still has no clue as to what a true grass roots movement is, for their only past experience with such crusades was the anti-war protests of the 60s.

                                                                                                                     -- Art Hyland


© 2010 Art Hyland