Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not Your Mother's Tea Party

Hard as it may be to believe, I have never before participated in an organized protest.
So this afternoon proved a watershed event for me, as I mingled with thousands of fellow citizens in the brisk ( but dry!) Dayton weather. Because this was such a seminal moment for me, I'd like to share some of my thoughts and observations about my experience, while avoiding some of the more obvious politics [ed: rotsa ruck with that].
As I mentioned, I've never been to a protest before, so I really didn't know what to expect or even the appropriate time to arrive. The event was planned to officially kick off at 6:00, and I was concerned about parking (a perennial problem in our fair city). So I got downtown about 4:00, and turned into the first parking garage I saw; this was about three blocks from Courthouse Square.
As predicted, the walk didn't kill me.
When I arrived at the designated site, I found about a dozen or so other folks milling about. Several of us introduced ourselves, noting that this was our first protest (this later turned out to be a common theme). Gradually, the crowd grew, until about 5:30, when I looked around again - really looked around - and realized that there were many hundreds of people around me. I have no idea how many folks attended; the rumor was three thousand, perhaps more. Regardless, it was a lot of people.
Something else I noticed: there was a good mix of ages, with a lot of grandparents (or, at least, folks old enough to be grandparents). I found this intriguing. And it was a well-behaved crowd: folks helped each other up and down steps, that kind of thing. I was pleased that the event began with both the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.
And the signs!
I saw literally hundreds of home made signs, and a mere sprinkling of professionally manufactured ones. Make of that what you will, but I was heartened by this.
This was billed as a non-partisan event, and for the most part, it was. That is, it was not a matter of Democrat vs Republican, but it was not a non-ideological event, in that it appealed more to conservative than liberal values. Unfortunately, a lot of folks (judging by their signs) mistook Obama's recent efforts as the sole cause of our current situation. He is not: Republicans, including former President Bush, were complicit in much of what we now face.
One common chant was "Fire Them All," meaning all members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation. While I understand the sentiment, it is - let me find the right word - oh yes: stupid. Notwithstanding the legal and constitutional issues of such an idea, it fails to recognize that there are folks in both Houses, and on both sides of the aisle, who have fought against wasteful spending.
Another common sign was "Read The Bill!" Indeed, several of the speakers chastised members of congress for passing Spendulus without even reading it. This is also stupid: does anyone really think that if they'd read it, they wouldn't have passed it? Wishful thinking.
And of course, there were signs and speakers using the event to tout the Fair Tax. I have no particular disagreement with the concept of the Fair Tax, but the way it's being promoted is, you guessed it: stupid. The problem is that most people don't have a clear understanding of just how much they currently pay in taxes ("hey, I got a refund!"), and so have no particular reason to get all excited about doing away with the current code. The Fair Tax is certainly a reasonable ends, but as a means, it's, well, you know.
So, Henry, what's your solution if you think the Fair Tax "isn't all that?"
It's simple really, and would require only one bill and would cost virtually nothing to implement: merely outlaw all tax withholding. Business owners and entrepreneurs know all about quarterly filing; the average employee is clueless. If there's no withholding, everyone gets 100% of their paycheck, every week (or whatever).
That's the good news.
The bad news is that everyone would then be required to file quarterly taxes. That means writing a potentially sizeable check, every three months. I suspect that after exactly two of those checks go out, we'd see the end of the tax code as it currently exists. Then the Fair Tax may become a viable option.
Okay, back to the Tea Party. With one exception, all of the speakers were "regular folks:" homemakers, business owners, a gentleman who grew up in East Germany who spoke eloquently about this land of opportunity and freedom. The last speaker was a state representative who did a passable job of staying non-partisan. By then, the crowd had started to thin, as folks looked at their watches and headed home for (one supposes) dinner. None of these were professional speakers (save for, obviously, the pol), but they were excited and exciting, and obviously "true believers" in the cause.
As for me, I was there for a much simpler reason: my daughters and their (eventual) children, and their children. It frightens me to think that we're purposefully burdening them with even more debt; a long term, perhaps permanent "solution" to an obviously short term problem.
Will these events make a difference? I really don't know. But for me, it seems necessary that we at least try because if we don't, the alternative is frightful to contemplate.
ADDENDUM: I neglected to mention something else that bothered me about today's rally. The signs and speakers focused primarily on the massive debt and increased taxes, but very little was said (or seen) about the bail-outs or (perhaps more importantly) the government takeover of parts of two major industries: automobile manufacturing and financial institutions (including insurers).
I think that one of the wonderful aspects of this "movement" (for lack of a better term) is its lack of centralized planning or sponsorship; on the other hand, one of the challenges of this movement is its lack of centralized planning. Because it is essentially a grassroots effort, it lacks a coherent and cohesive message. Perhaps that will change as it matures and coalesces, but I think the speakers (at least at the Dayton event) missed an opportunity to spotlight the increased government control of major sectors of our economy, and the dangers that such control represent.
I certainly hope that this is corrected at future such events.
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