I just came back from the local Tea Party protest. Let me say at the outset that there's almost nothing that makes me feel better about this country than just regular folks out protesting their government. I get a democratic rush that lasts for days. And let me say as well that there was likely no one at this protest with whom I have more than passing agreement on just about anything, at least when it comes to the details that back up generalities like "I'm in favor of freedom."
All of that said, what I saw was not a corporate-sponsored, AstroTurf event. Whoever payed for the tent and the microphone -- and my bet is it was some Republican group or another, because there was nothing non-partisan about the protest -- the people who showed up for it were genuine pissed-off Americans. They were older and whiter than the population of Louisville as a whole, but they stood in the cold holding hand-lettered signs and appeared absolutely sincere in their belief that things have gone wildly wrong.
I'm bad at counting crowds, but there were far more people than I was expecting, between 500 and 1,000. If critics of the Tea Parties thought the organizers to be unfocused in just exactly what it was they were protesting, the protesters themselves weren't. This was a pure, anti-big government eruption of anger, powered by people who are angry that their hard-earned money is being given to other people. Much of their anger is, in my opinion, misplaced. The economic disaster happened on President Bush's watch, not President Obama's. But the anger was real and much as I support the various bailouts, they're right to be pissed. We should all be pissed.
There's been a fair amount of smugness on the left about this. The Kieth Olbermann's of the world are having lots of fun making teabagging jokes and are dismissive of the protests as little more than a Fox News promotion. Republicans, in general, are more comfortable with a top-down management style than are Democrats. But what I saw out there was not paid corporate shills. It was real people -- many with their children in tow -- expressing very real disgust.
If Democrats are going to retain power, they're going to have to engage with these people and indicate at least respect for their concerns. I also think the Obama Administration needs to show a real path, once the crisis is passed, to balancing the budget.