Has the national anti-tax “tea party” movement had an effect on American politics? More specifically, have the “tea party patriots” slowed down or derailed the aggressive big-government agenda of the Barack Obama administration?
As measured by news coverage in the mainstream media, perhaps the quick answer is “not much.” The mandarin sentiment of the press was captured in a New York Times‘ report on the April 15 tax day protests:
Although organizers insisted they had created a nonpartisan grass-roots movement, others argued that these parties were more of the Astroturf variety.
And who can forget Janeane Garofalo’s attack from last April? Her comments came in an interview with Keith Olbermann:
[L]et’s be very honest about what this is about. It’s not about bashing Democrats, it’s not about taxes, they have no idea what the Boston tea party was about, they don’t know their history at all. This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks. And there is no way around that.
Variants of that meme have been heard repeatedly since Rick Santelli delivered his rant on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade back in February. While some have argued that the grassroots protests were not to be discounted, the more common view was articulated by David Weigel at the Washington Independent: “Tea Party Movement Loses Steam.”
Yet, here’s the thing: Actually, the tea parties have hardly lost steam. Indeed, the country witnessed some of the most substantial anti-Obama rallies at exactly the same time of Weigel’s writing. Tea partiers mounted two separate days of large demonstrations this month. On Independence Day, patriots from around the country took time away from family, friends, and food to attend anti-tax demonstrations. Turnout was substantial. In Tulare, California, 15,000 demonstrators attended a massive tea party rally in the Central Valley heartland. And in Texas, as Michelle Malkin reported, a truly phenomenal 37,000 protesters attended a “ten-gallon tea party” in Dallas.
Protesters mobilized again on July 17th. According to Altlanta’s WXIA-TV, the “‘Tea Party Patriots,’ as they call themselves, staged 254 similar protests across the nation, 37 in Georgia.” Oh sure, none of these events reached “ten-gallon” proportions. But the opposition is increasingly focused. And with good turnout of upwards of 250 protesters at some events, the day’s activities were another big success for the movement.
But the July 17 demonstrations were noteworthy beyond their numbers. Protesters rallied against the Democratic “public option” health care reform that’s been dubbed “ObamaCare.” Event organizers held demonstrations at congressional offices, and thus real constituency pressure was brought to bear (in contrast to the earlier less-targeted attacks on the Obama administration as “socialist”). The response from Democratic officials ranged from unsympathetic to outright hostile. Most notoriously, staffers for Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill reportedly flipped protesters the bird while locking the doors, pulling the blinds, and calling the police. Indeed, demonstrators were ultimately forced off public property while rallying at the office of their representative to the United States Senate!
In Asheville, North Carolina, tea partiers received a chilly reception at the office of Congressman Heath Shuler. According to Silent Majority No More:
Our group called ahead well over a week in advance and requested that someone from Shuler’s office receive our petitions and comments. We were informed that they would not accept our petitions and that Shuler would not be there, but that someone would receive us.