Back in February, CNBC's Rick Santelli infamously called for a "Chicago tea party" to protest Barack Obama’s housing plan. Two months later, conservatives who share Santelli's anger at our new president gathered in cities and towns across the country for so...
Back in February, CNBC's Rick Santelli infamously called for a "Chicago tea party" to protest Barack Obama’s housing plan. Two months later, conservatives who share Santelli's anger at our new president gathered in cities and towns across the country for so-called "tea party" protests. "I think that this tea party phenomenon is steeped in American culture and steeped in American notion to get involved with what’s going on with our government," Santelli said on the air this morning. "I have to tell you, I’m pretty proud of this."
To be clear, Santelli is excited by the idea of common people organizing autonomously to protest the decisions of their elected representatives. Unfortunately, these tea parties don't fit the bill.
As plenty of writers and bloggers have pointed out, the coordinated rallies were organized primarily by two lobbyist-run think tanks -- Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works -- each of which provided media kits, coordination, website assistance, and other logistical help to get these protests of the ground. In fact, at the Chicago protest I attended this afternoon, Americans for Prosperity Illinois state director Joe Calomino was one of the featured speakers. Meanwhile, FOX News relentlessly and aggressively promoted the protests in recent weeks. An organic, grassroots uprising this was not.
And what exactly were the throngs assembled outside the Federal Building protesting? Today is the tax filing deadline, so there was a fair share of frightening income tax and debt statistics bandied about (without relevant context, of course). For instance, Calomino made sure to point out that Obama's 2010 budget calls for a $1.3 billion net tax increase, forgetting to mention that 95 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut under the Obama plan.
But specifics weren't so important. As Andrew Sullivan described it, the tea parties represented an "amorphous, generalized rage on the part of those who were used to running the country and now don't feel part of the culture at all." In Chicago, the rage was exhibited in unsettling ways. Signs everywhere compared Obama's approach to governance with communism and our nation's tax system with slavery. While FOX News commentator Jonathan Hoenig was a bit more diplomatic, he still defined the philosophy behind the Obama's budget as "collectivism" where "the individual has no rights."
And nobody embodied that resentful spirit better than shock-jock Mancow Mueller. Aside from bemoaning gun control, immigration, and the "liberal media," Mancow used his time on stage to complain that Americans had elected as president a "race-baiting community organizer" in the mold of "Jesse Jackson." He joked that of the millions who traveled to Washington, D.C. for Obama's inauguration, "only 13 had jobs." He went on to call the community organization ACORN "morally bankrupt," which earned him the biggest cheer of the day.
Describing Mancow's remarks as poorly-veiled racism would be an understatement. And they had virtually nothing to do with taxes.
That tone has pervaded the rallies in other cities as well. Think Progress caught up with one protester in DC who explained his problems with government spending this way: "My problem with people who don’t have health care — If you can’t afford it, ok, I’m with it. But don’t tell me you can’t afford it when you’re driving a new car with rims, you’ve got a cell phone, and every electronic gadget under the sun." As the American Prospect's Adam Serwer notes, "Rims huh? I wonder who this guy could possibly be talking about."