Several months ago I went by to check out a “tea party” on the State House steps, and I ran into Boyd Summers in the crowd. He said he was there because he had looked out of his office window and said to himself “I wonder what all those white people are doing down there.” And this was what they were doing — milling about with “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and harrumphing. (You know, whenever I saw those in history books, I’d wonder: Who’d choose to identify his political movement as a snake? Our Founders were smart guys, but they could have used a good branding consultant…)
On that same theme… as the rally was breaking up, I was chatting with a friend who is a videographer for a competing medium, and he asked me in all innocence (he’s still kind of new to politics), How did all these people hear about this event? Rather than say Duh, they’ve been promoting it to death via the blogosphere and social media, I let my inner wiseacre out for a romp and said, “They blow a special whistle that only cranky white people can hear.” It just seemed to fit was I was seeing around me.
So there’s a sort of theme here. There’s something about these tea parties that’s lacking, shall we say, soul, or an “urban” component. I’m not saying I was hearing Mantovani in the background, but you get my drift.
Today, I read John O’Connor’s piece in The State that posed the question, Whither the tea party movement?, and read it because I hoped it would answer a question I have, which is, What do the tea partiers think they’re about? What’s the point for them? I get it that they’re against stuff, which reminds me of my favorite Groucho Marx song, but what else are they about? What causes them to interrupt their lives to turn out and demonstrate?
I’m not sure I got an answer from the story, although I did sort of zero in on this passage:
The movement sprang up in 2009 as a response to President Barack Obama…
Exactly. The rest of the sentence ran, “… and his policies,” but I think you’ve pretty much summed it up if you stop at “President Barack Obama.” It rose up essentially as a response to the fact that this guy Barack Obama was president. He hadn’t really done anything yet, but, to go back to the Groucho song, whatever it was he was going to be selling, they were against it. That was the one clear message I picked up on.
Which brings me to the bumper sticker my Dad told me he saw recently in our fair community. It was on a pickup truck driven by middle-aged or older male caucasian, and it said:
“Don’t blame me; I voted for the white guy.”
Sorry to be passing this on second-hand. You know that if I’d seen it myself I’d be posting a picture. (And if you know of where I can find one to photograph, I’d appreciate a heads-up.) But when my Dad says he saw it, I believe him. (Besides, you can find them via Google.)
And just hearing about the existence of such a sticker made a lot of things click for me. For years, I have cited, as a seminal moment in the development of today’s hyperpartisanship, those bumper stickers I saw after the 1992 election but before Bill Clinton had even taken the oath of office, saying, “Don’t blame me; I voted for Bush.”
Well, we’ve all gotten used to the partisans not giving a guy a chance if he’s on the other team. But there has been a little something extra in the air since that fella with the furrin-sounding name got elected. And if I run into the guy who has that bumper sticker on his truck, I might go up to him and thank him for his frankness, and for helping me clarify something that has been unclear…