Thousands of anti-tax "tea party" protesters took to the streets Wednesday in some of the nation's biggest cities voicing their opposition to high taxes and big government spending.
— Fox News
These poor suckers are being played like puppets on a string by people like Richard Armey and others who are using them to push forward the interests of the super-rich.
— Thom Hartmann, national radio host
I have an eye on Fox's website and an ear on Thom's talkshow as I write these words on Tax Day, April 15. And I'm remembering columns I wrote after Obama's election, open letters to Joe the Plumber and other conservatives (pretending momentarily that the label has clear meaning anymore), urging them to think independently about the state of the world and what matters to them before joining crusades to bring down a president who hasn't even taken office. Take a deep breath, I said. Listen carefully. Don't reflexively oppose everything the guy proposes just because you don't like him. You can think better than that.
Today reminds me that knee-jerk "thinking" shows up across the political spectrum. MEMO TO OBAMA SUPPORTERS who are reflexively snickering at folks waving teabags today: You can think better than this.
I hear two main themes in the snickers. Thom Hartmann's comment above captures one. There's no question that agents of wealth from Dick Armey to shouters from Ruppert Murdoch's empire have been pumping up Tea Party energy, and their media power probably multiplies the number of people in the streets today. And to the extent that tea partiers are protesting Obama proposals to reverse Bush's staggering tax-code generosity to the wealthy, Thom and others are right. But that doesn't explain those who are in the streets because they can't imagine what their grandkids are supposed to do with a national debt that seems to grow by a trillion dollars with the unveiling of every new "recovery" plan.
The second theme goes something like this: Where the hell were you guys when Bush/Cheney and a Republican Congress (for most of those eight years) were spending us into oblivion? Where were your teabags when they spooned up multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts to Halliburton and friends, slipped huge subsidies to oil companies already rolling in record profits, fought measures to close Cayman Island-style tax loopholes or allow federal agencies to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices? Well, some were probably throwing things at their TVs, with no public event like a Tea Party to collect their anger. Some were still suffering 9/11 PTSD, something like, "As long as he keeps us strong and protects us against the terrorists, don't bother me with the details." Some were hunkering down reactively to our steady criticism of Bush policies, unwilling in the midst of political battle to listen to what we were saying any better than we're listening to them now. In the end, it doesn't matter; what they did or didn't do a year ago is a feeble reason for ignoring them today.
If you clear those two hurdles, tax protestors become more than just stooges duped into attacking their own interests. What I want to say to them is "Look, you and I have different takes on Obama's intentions and the proper role of government. Fine. But both of us are furious at some of the places our tax dollars are going. I want to find out if there's anywhere we can team up. What's on your list?" Then I'd listen for where it intersects with mine. What's mine?
- A $375 billion TARP payment (back when that was big money), supported by Senator Obama and signed by President Bush, that handed banks mountains of cash that went to buy-outs of smaller banks and lavish executive bonuses instead of freeing up credit, its advertised purpose.
- A second TARP payment in Obama's first presidential weeks: similar size, similar absence of guarantees that credit will flow in a big way.
- Close to $200 billion shoveled to AIG, now too famous to need explaining.
- The tardy 2008-09 Budget Omnibus Bill, which was laced with some 6,000 "earmarks" (except in my Congressional district, where they were needed expenditures) approved not on their merits, but because they were shoved into legislation that supposedly couldn't wait any longer. President Obama wags his finger at earmarkers as he signs: I'll overlook this one, but don't try pulling this funny business again.
- A proposed 2009-10 budget with a trillion dollar deficit that Democrats are supposed to champion without reading, aka faith-based budgeting,
- The slipping of promised deadlines for ending the $2 billion/week Iraq war, and the military escalation in Afghanistan, for purposes that sound no more compelling or achievable than when Bush described them.
Can anyone who genuinely cares for our kids and grandkids, whether a Fox News or Air America fan, blow all this off?
Someone hand me a teabag.
Jeff Golden is the author of "Forest Blood," "As If We Were Grownups" and the novel "Unafraid," with excerpts available at www.unafraidthebook.com.