Thursday, April 29, 2010

Inside the D.C. Tea Party

Click to listen to the audio By Baynard Woods Giant screens projected the face of Christopher Monkton, 3rd Viscount Monkton of Brenchley, across the National Mall. It was the big Tax Day Tea Party Rally put on by the Freedom Works Foundation, which calls the British Monkton “Lord.”  It was supposed to be a populist affair. “Global Warming?” the Lord asked. “False!” the crowd cried. A little mob was forming near where I stood. I walked over. A couple stood silently with a sign that read “Defend Obama: Outlaw White Supremacy.” They would not give their names or answer questions. They were surrounded by Tea Partiers. “We’re surrounding them,” a woman explained. “Is there a reason for that?” I asked. “Because that’s offensive.” “What is offensive about it?” I wondered “They don’t belong here.” A blond woman named Cozette Westerberger approached me. “I can’t find a white supremacist, can you? Let’s go find one,” she said and grabbed my arm. “Come on, come on, let’s go.” “Hold on, hold on,” I said. “Let go of me please.”  I was trying to be polite, but my voice sounds embarrassingly high-pitched on tape. People jostled around us. I pulled my arm out of her grasp. “Let’s go find a white supremacist,” she said. “Hold on,” I said. “Hold on. Come here.” “Let’s go find one. Do you know one? Do you know one?” I asked if you had to know a crack smoker to outlaw crack. “Do you smoke it?” she asked. “Have you been drinking? You’ve been drinking,” she announced, delighted. “You’ve been drinking. How much did you have before you came down here?” People chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A!” But, the flags they had bought that afternoon were laying all over the ground. “You been drinking haven’t you buddy?” Perhaps that was my mission that day, to ensure that the Tea Partiers were right about at least one thing: I had been drinking. There were five hours between the afternoon rally at Freedom Plaza and the evening rally on the Mall. I went with a buddy to the circular bar in the Willard hotel—where, rumor has it, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis shared Mint Juleps prepared according to Henry Clay’s recipe back before the War. We had a couple and thought about how the rich guys still get away with pretending to be populists. Then we went to eat oysters and drink beer up the road. People were yelling at me. “Did you beat your wife before you came here today?” one guy asked. Others were pointing arrow shaped signs that read “Infiltrator!” at the couple with the “Outlaw White Supremacy” banner and yelling at them. Westerberger was focused on me. “Let me show you a picture of my grandchild,” she repeated now, over and over again as she dug into her purse. “Look!” She pulled out a picture. “He is cute,” I said—though I hate looking at baby pictures. “He’s black!” she cried. “Isn’t he cute? He’s black. Isn’t that great? My grandson is black.” “And that means what?” I asked. “That means I’m not a white supremacist.” It’s not that they’re white supremacists. It’s that Obama is a black supremacist. That’s the logic. Earlier that day, I had talked to a man named John Lucas from Pennsylvania. He told me that he was ready for the next Revolution. “I firmly believe that the guy in the White House is a Muslim. He hates America, I think he hates whitey. He’s a self-loathing piece of shit.” When I asked Lucas what his post-revolution world would look like, he said, “It would look like me.” He was a white guy with white tennis shoes, a baseball cap and a gold chain. According to a CBS/New York Times Poll eighty-nine percent of Tea Partiers are white. But almost as striking, seventy-five percent are over forty-five.  At the rally, this made perfect sense. At the Tea Party, everybody wanted to cut taxes, almost nobody wanted to cut Social Security or Medicare. They were all boomers. The Baby Boomer generation has been the center of attention all of their lives. They even managed to make the 2004 election about the Sixties. In 2008, for the first time in their lives, the boomers were not the center of attention. Now they are throwing a nationwide tantrum. The over-inflation of boomer importance explains the disproportionate news coverage the Tea Party has gotten. The events were miniscule in comparison with the inauguration and the anti-war protests in 2003. At the afternoon tax rally, it seemed like there were nearly as many reporters as protesters. The evening rally seemed to have about the same number of people as an outdoor showing of “Super Man” at the same spot on the Mall a couple years ago. Like Super Man, it was all dress-up. The original Tea Partiers pretended to be Indians: these pretend to be Patriots. It was all about the costume. One of the speakers that night said that the Tea Party was going to insure that the Baby Boomers were not the only generation in American history to leave the country worse than it found it. They think that in November, they can finally have their Revolution. As I walked around listening to them, I felt a kinship with my grandparents, shaking my head at the crazy antics and utopian dreams of one whacked out generation.

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