April 15, 2009


There was a teabag protest in town today. I needed to walk by, both because I had to get home and let the dogs out, and because, well, I needed to see this.

There were about 250 or so gathered in the small square in front of the courthouse. Many more than I expected (they were large enough to have a 3-man counter-protest going even), especially considering the rain. The demographics trended towards old and white; that wasn't much of surprise. I'm always unhappy to see young kids (6 to 8 years old) carrying protest signs around; I figure they'd rather be playing in mud or even in school than standing around a rainy protest carrying signs (I don't remember the exact quote, but something about "Don't spend my money too" - a reference to the intergenerational effects of massive debt, but likely not a political debate a 7 year old has much depth in). The rain caused most of the crowd to huddle together under umbrellas, and cut down on the signage. So the overall effect wasn't very impressive.

It was boring. I wish I could make up stories about how wacky and wingnutty the speakers were, but I could barely hear them. The most entertaining part was that they had set the PA and mike up under a standing tent that was bright gold and blue, with "WVU Mountaineers" all over it. If you were dumb enough, you might think that there was some form of University sponsorship. I suspect laziness instead. The speakers droned on; they didn't get many cheers. From what I could tell, most people were anti-government, not anti-Obama or anti-Democrat. They just didn't like big government, and a big federal budget must mean big government, or something. It was unclear to me.

The signs weren't much to look at either. "No Bailouts." "No Taxation Without Representation." (I thought about pointing out this was incorrect, but figured it wasn't worth it.) "Fair Tax Today." Some of the signs were long and complicated, and didn't write them down. None made me laugh out loud, so you didn't miss much. There weren't any overtly racist signs, or anything that smacked of Rush Limbaugh (or Glenn Beck) inspired craziness. Which was too bad.

I ran into a former student of mine (I also saw, but did not speak to, the wife of one of my colleagues at the University; she was attending, not gawking like me. Hmmmmm....). He and I chatted for a while, and I realized he was a bit crazier than I remembered. He had a sign; something about "Keep the Government out of Capitalism and Everything will Be Fine." Or something along those lines. I pointed out that the government had been interfering in the markets for 350 years or so, and that unregulated markets tend to have their own share of problems. I suggested he read Polanyi; that didn't excite him either. The conversation sort of petered out at that point.

Overall, it was much less crazy and less scary than I hoped or feared. It looked like a bunch of old people standing around. Nobody threatened revolution or sedition. No cops were present; I think I saw one TV camera setting up as I was walking away. No one tried to convert me, and there didn't seem to be any heated arguments going on anywhere (well, the three counter-protester had attracted a small crowed, but they didn't seem to be getting anywhere: when I walked by there were trying to agree on the costs of the Iraq war, and seemed to be several hundred billion dollars apart).

Democracy in America.

Posted by baltar at April 15, 2009 08:14 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Crunchy Nutbars | Culture | Free Speech | General Stupidity | Politics


It's the incoherence of this that kind of gets me. I mean sure, Fox rails on the point, so you are going to get people to show up (though I'm amazed that it was that many, especially on a rainy day). But what are they showing up for exactly. They don't like taxes. Okay. Shocking that. But beyond that ... what's the point? Government out of the market? Mmmm, have they read Adam Smith? Do they want to drive all the defense contractors out of business? I guess they just want some sort of cathartic activity - mindless or not.

And of course doing this in this location is kind of hilarious. Apparently they want to put out of work everyone who walked by them to go to work in the courthouse.

Posted by: Armand at April 15, 2009 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

They don't seem all that different from the ridiculous ANSWER protests of a few years back... the right doesn't have a monopoly on cathartic incoherence, alas.

Posted by: jacflash at April 16, 2009 08:16 AM | PERMALINK

Certainly the right has no monopoly on stupidity; the left is guilty of that as well. That being said, this protest was, as armand notes, really lacking a central point. The ANSWER people, wrong as they were, had an argument and a policy. I don't see what the policy is here. I don't think they did either. Many of them were just generally protesting the idea of "government" without really thinking (or knowing) what that meant.

Posted by: baltar at April 16, 2009 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno, I wandered around one of the ANSWER protests for a bit, and they had everything from Free Tibet to the workers' party folks to GLBT causes to slavery reparations to PETA going on there.

Posted by: jacflash at April 16, 2009 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

And of course they hated government less when their folks were running it, and that's another distinction: the left, in my experience, isn't absolute on that point. Yes, I'd like government to stay out of my bedroom and my personal life, and I'd like education to stick to relatively generic presentations of history and science and various scalable skills (math, critical analysis), but even when I pretty much hate the government in place, I don't flatter my own preferences to the point of an incoherent anti-government stance, and neither do the leftists I know. We agree that the government needs to be checked by public criticism, but we do that regardless of who's in charge. It's a much less rational position that government's just fine when it's mine, but it's a horrible, anti-liberty menace that's trying to rob me blind and oppress me under it's jackboot when a majority of my countrymen select a different set of officers. And the teabag nonsense is simply the latest example among many since November (the ascent of Glenn Beck from the street corner he ought to be raving on to darling of Faux News is another) that this really is the heart of the GOP base's ideas about the status quo in America. It's sad that our understanding of the function and nature of representative democracy and productive criticism and debate has faltered so profoundly.

And of course, the above is not true of many conservatives. Unfortunately, the ones of whom it is not try either don't care to push their more temperate views into public or are being denied the opportunity to do so.

We hated Bush as much as any political group could have hated a president, but we still mostly made our cases in print and online and through our selected commentariat, precisely as the Framers imagined, and we never flattered ourself that government was so bad when it wasn't ours that the only position was utter nihilism w/r/t government. You can't talk to or compromise with someone like that, you just can't.

Posted by: moon at April 16, 2009 02:09 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?