9/12 Tea Parties Galvanized by Health Care Reform
But by May momentum seemed to stall. At one point I argued, amid the plethora of banners decrying "socialism," often featuring images of "Comrade Obama" next to Fidel Castro and Chairman Mao, "that movement organizers need to realize that angry protesters denouncing the Democrats in Washington as 'socialist' isn't enough." Activists needed to move away from abstractions. They needed a more focused message and a practical political program to bring about political change.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to September 12: Conservatives found their issue. In June, tea partiers shifted attention to Barack Obama's gargantuan health care reform agenda. Nothing so far has galvanized activists as much as the not-so-abstract possibility that American health care was heading the way of Britain's NHS health-rationing or the vermin-infested wards of socialist Cuba. Folks took to the streets in 2009's "long hot summer" of anti-Democratic town hall rallies. The events put the Obama administration on the defensive. By August, the White House had tempered their push for "comprehensive reform" (and muted discussion of the "public option") and instead focused the nightly-news talking points on a more generic "health insurance reform." By the August 22 "Nationwide Recess Rallies," some on the right were predicting a Democratic Waterloo!
At both the Wilshire protest and nationwide, many activists were talking about a ballot-box revolt. Protest signs routinely pledge to "turn the bums out" next year, and there's a new right-wing political action committee called "Flip This House in 2010." In Los Angeles, during what I thought was the keynote address on Saturday, Bill Whittle rallied the crowd to keep the momentum going. Grassroots citizens "need to run for office themselves," was Whittle's exhortation. He said that the only way Americans will preserve liberty is by taking it back themselves. Go to Washington and do your "tour of duty as a citizen legislator," Whittle exclaimed! Then "come back home to your families and communities" to let other patriots steer the ship of state for a time.
It was a dramatic and powerful message. My sense is that Whittle captured the real nature of what we've seen in the protests this year. Whittle noted that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are brief documents, but members of Congress apparently hadn't read them. And if they had, they failed to understand the simple call to freedom found therein -- manifestos of liberty, painstakingly outlined by our nation's Founders. In contrast, legislators can parrot by rote the nationalizing principles embodied in House Bill 3200, with its 1,018 pages of proposed bureaucratic tyranny.
So, yes, while only a few thousand were on hand in Los Angeles on Saturday, it's clear that by now activists are heartened by a triumph of democratic significance. That is, people are making a real difference. After months of being smeared as "racist teabaggers" and "right-wing political terrorists," the movement is now an unmistakable force with which to be reckoned.
Rosslyn Smith, commenting on the Washington protest at the American Thinker, suggested that "we are witnessing a very rare phenomenon, the genuine, broad based spontaneous political movement with no visible charismatic leaders." But Ms. Smith's only partially right. The "visible charismatic leaders" are the real people, drawn from all walks of life, who have rallied to the cause of freedom this year in record numbers. Many have told me personally that they'd never attended a protest or a town hall event in their lives. It's hard to find a better testament to the enduring Americans values of freedom and individualism than that.
Congratulations to marchers nationwide who are revitalizing the American democracy.