I have waited nearly a week for the dust to settle before sitting down to write something about the “Tea Party” ruckus which Fox News brewed up for April 15. But the dust doesn’t have a chance to settle. Just today Robert Behre had another story about the local teabaggers across the top of the State & Local section of the Post and
Courier. And to look at some of the many blogs touting the Tea Party and it chaotic agenda, it doesn’t look like any dust may be settling soon. So I will write with dust in the air.

I was at the US Custom House on East Bay Street last Wednesday, and saw the whole thing for myself — though hearing it was a challenge, due to a sound system inadequate for the Great Outdoors and a TV news helicopter circling overhead for what seemed like hours. The P&C said there were 2,500 teabaggers on hand and I don’t doubt it. What I do doubt is their judgment and their integrity.

The scene was a veritable rain forest of signs protesting federal debt and professing to speak for the children who would inherit that debt. You would have thought President Barack Obama invented deficit spending.

I would like to have asked those chanting, sign-carrying patriots where they were when George W. Bush was doubling the national debt to give tax breaks to America’s wealthiest people. When Bush stole the White House eight years ago, we were running budget surpluses. Those surpluses turned to deficits in Bush’s first year in office and only grew larger over his eight years of misrule and mismanagement.

I would like to ask these patriots where they were when the Bush Administration was driving the economy into the ground. Were they hiding under their beds every time Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld said “Boo!” and curtailed their civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism? Whatever they were doing, they certainly were not playing the role of diligent and well-informed citizen, keeping a watchful eye on our government and our leaders.

So President Obama inherited from Bush the worst economic crisis in 70 years. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Yes, Obama is running huge federal deficits, but he is doing so to salvage our economy and put the country back on track, not to enrich the rich. Do these flag-waving, fist-pumping patriots not understand that? If not, they are the best argument I have seen for fully funding public education in this state.

And that brings me to another point. Gov. Mark Sanford was there on the Custom House steps and briefly addressed the raucous crowd. Of course, this is the same Mark Sanford who has famously refused to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money aimed primarily at public education. This is the politician with White House ambitions who wants to defund the state’s public education system to subsidize the private educations of middle and upper middle class children.

Looking across the crowd of angry teabaggers, I saw many who clearly could have used more education, but were disadvantaged to live in South Carolina and suffer our “minimally adequate education.” I saw many who would likely profit directly and immediately from the federal stimulus money that will come to this state to build roads and other infrastructure. Who were these working class stiffs kidding? Mark Sanford does not give a damn about them, any more than George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan did, but they will whip these working class stooges into a populist frenzy and march them down to the polls on Election Day, then send them back to their Wal-Mart jobs and their K-Mart dreams.

Which brings up another thought: Can the Republican Party really keep this level of anger and frenzy going until the next election cycle on a diet of deficit spending and taxes? In the past 28 years the GOP has used the red meat issues of gay rights and abortion to keep the working class in the corporate tent. But that strategy seems to have run out of gas in 2008. Polls show that as many people were repelled by the GOP’s religious rhetoric in the last election as were attracted to it. The Republican Party is casting about for a new image and a new direction. You could see them market testing in the Tea Party rallies around the country. There was little talk of god and no talk of gays or abortion. It looks like they are trying to run on purely economic issues and that is a non-starter. Economically, the Republican Party does not represent more than about 20 percent of the country. They can try to puff this up with a lot of Revolutionary War rhetoric and Give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death speeches, but at the end of the day, will this keep working class Americans from voting Democratic? I doubt it.

Another thing. In 2,500 people, I counted six black people — and one of those was a journalist. Yes, despite all protests to the contrary, this was definitely a Republican rally, about as grassroots as the audience who witnessed John McCain’s concession speech last November.

All in all, there was something sad, almost tragic about the protesters at the Custom House last week. Their signs and the speeches called for an end to globalization and immigration, to taxes and deficit spending. They were a throw-back to the Know-Nothings of the 19th century and the America First movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Those old movements wanted to keep America out of world affairs and keep the world out of America. But, of course, the world was changing in ways that those people could never comprehend and no amount of wishing and hoping and protesting could bring back the past. And by their obstructionist actions, they made America’s future more difficult and more dangerous. I think some day we will say the same about these teabag nuts.

Fox News and the National Republican Party deserve credit for pulling off this dog and pony show, but it is a long time until the next election and I doubt that last week’s little temper tantrum will carry them until then.

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