Politics & Media
Apr 17, 2009, 06:06AM

Baltimore: A Mob of Coincidences on Tax Day

The soggy Tea Party downtown was just as paranoid and angry as expected.

The following video was included in this article:

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was about as rainy as I’ve ever seen it on April 15, so my first reaction to the Tax Day Tea Party being hosted there was surprise; there were a lot of people, particularly considering the weather, and many had handwritten signs to accompany their umbrellas and ponchos. Some were angrier than others, and a few just seemed excited for the photo op with friends, but numbers are numbers, and the Baltimore metro area’s Republicans deserve some credit for sheer mobilization.

All modern-day protests suffer the same nagging sense of inconsequentiality as Baltimore’s Tax Day Tea party, and most also devolve into a theater of progressively wide-ranging anger like this one, but even by those standards this faux-populist uprising was a chaotic display. When I say that there were plenty of people there, I mean there were somewhere between 60 and 100, which is an impressive number for a midweek, mid-afternoon protest set outdoors during a torrential rain. But the protesters-to-reasons-for-protesting ratio bested those of even the most fringe elements of the 2003 antiwar rallies. One parent held a sign saying, “Where’s My Bailout?” while her preteen son’s sign asked why the government kept stealing his family’s money. So are we angry about not receiving government aid, or are we upset for having to pay taxes? You can’t have both. (Although, to be fair, maybe the boy and his mother are at odds about the role of government in society.)

It was momentarily heartening to hear the day’s first speaker—an earnest, megaphone-wielding young man who had helped organize the rally—express his pride in the supposedly diverse crowd. He mentioned that there were “Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Ron Paul-ites” and more in attendance, and each demographic was greeted with modest hurrahs. He explained that we were just one of hundreds of similar groups making our voices heard simultaneously throughout the country, employing the same Up With People rhetoric used by Glenn Harlan Reynolds in his predictably fawning Wall Street Journal op-ed. What a glorious grassroots movement this is! And how lucky these righteously angry community organizers have been to coincidentally receive such lavish coverage and star appearances from “followers” (Reynolds’ term) like the Fox News Channel! This of course is the same network that spent months trying to delegitimize Barack Obama’s experience with street-level activism and earlier expressed the notion that antiwar protests in 2003 were the result of widespread “ignorance.”

Nevertheless, an olive branch seemed visible at the Tea Party’s outset, and my appreciation for the organizers’ earnestness and peaceful assembly remained. No one alive would argue that, in a well-functioning economy, the Obama administration’s deficit-expanding spending plan would be the way to go; the issue is whether or not the current crisis requires such measures, and civil public discussion about that issue should be welcome by all sides.

But protests aren’t good venues for discussion, and by the midpoint of the second speaker’s address, things had devolved into a gumbo of rote right-wing talking points. Addressing the crowd from a raised platform in the Inner Harbor amphitheater, the president of nearby Loyola College’s College Republicans started by saying that debt is bad, and that it’s an unfair practice for one generation to pass it along to the next. So far so good; who’s in favor of greater debt? Then, apropos of nothing (and following an unprompted outburst from one crowd member that “We’re not pacifists anymore!”), the young man switched gears and bemoaned the fact that our Navy was unable to defeat the Somali pirates during Easter weekend, information that must have surprised those news-reading protesters among us.

“Our sailors are left defenseless,” the speaker continued, “because they’re not allowed to arm themselves,” an odd statement to make before acknowledging, as he did subsequently, that our Navy has over 280 ships—more than three times that of the second biggest Navy in the world. But, the speaker reminded us, that’s down from “the almost 600 that we had under Ronald Reagan,” which occasioned light kudos from the crowd. We were then treated to yet another iteration of the incorrect Right-fueled meme that Obama is cutting Defense spending. “It’s going to cut jobs and make us less safe,” the speaker said, prompting widespread clapping.

And then, just in case we weren’t getting enough red meat right off the Hannity assembly line, the young man repeated the sage bits of wisdom that “Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, and Democrats believe every day is April 15,” and so this will be the day that “we declare our new Declaration of Independence.” So much for the unification promised by the opening speaker.

I get it; people are angry about the economy, about the special treatment that Wall Street’s been getting in the form of TARP funds, et al. Maybe they’re upset about their own financial and employment instability, and maybe, like most people, they don’t enjoy paying taxes every year. And since our political process often leaves people feeling like they have no clear outlet for their anger—no one to feel their pain—it can be empowering to gather with other superficially like-minded citizens and emote publically for a few hours. There’s no shame in that. But when you gussy up this kind of impotent yelling with comparisons to Thomas Paine, the Boston Tea Party, Howard Beale, or whatever other agreed-upon symbol of general social anxiety that the Fox anchors start referencing, you give undue credit to anger as a legitimate political position—the foundation for a “movement,” as Baltimore’s gathering was referred to more than once.

If you’re angry about the economy, then by all means protest the various factors that led to its collapse—greed on Wall Street and in Washington, a culture of unearned loans and insupportable credit, the inordinate rise (begun under Reagan) of high finance as a means of earning billions and accruing political influence. But it’s all too coincidental that such widespread “anti-tax,” “anti-spending” fervor gets drummed up right as a new liberal president implements a tax cut on 95 percent of society, and after a Republican president presided over across-the-board spending increases, the initiation of two as-yet-unfinished wars, and unprecedented government encroachment into citizens’ private lives. The involvement and excitement of Fox News with these tea parties disproves any possible “centrist” or “common sense” value therein. This is the same old Bush- turned Palin-era red-meat Republicanism where defense is the only legitimate spending, taxes are akin to slavery (another sign in the Baltimore crowd), and the value of certain civic activities, like community organizing and presidential protest, is dependent on who’s doing them. March against increased federal spending with a few dozen other tax-hating Cold War aficionados and you resemble the Founding Fathers; march with hundreds of thousands of others against a voluntary, preemptive war, and you’re dangerous and insane.

And with all this anger, this resentment and mistrust and Job-like misery in Baltimore-area Republicans’ hearts, they were last week dealt what I’m sure was a crushing blow given the circumstances: Glenn Beck’s summer comedy tour isn’t even stopping within 100 miles of their city.

  • Did you see the video of the CNN reporter openly mocking the Tea Party protesters in Chicago? It was disgusting. I can't get over the fact that everyone makes a big stink about Fox News' conservative bias (which I agree does exist), but everyone ignores CNN's liberal bias. It's just as bad!

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  • Why was it disgusting? The guy being interviewed had nothing to say and fell apart when he was called on it. Maybe people who go to the Tea Parties and similar protests just deserve to be made fun of. They're certainly the same nincompoops who keep pseudo-news alive wherever it comes from.

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  • Here are my two questions. 1) Has an accurate tally been produced of how many people attended this year so we can compare to years past? 2)where do these protesters work and if they are so hard up, why aren't they working?

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