The tea party's call for lower taxes and greater freedoms didn't ring as loudly in Augusta as in years past.
Only a few hundred party faithfuls attended the group's annual tax day protest Friday at Jessye Norman Amphitheater. That lagged last year's event, estimated at 1,200 to 1,500.
The atmosphere was more university lecture than protest movement, with the spectators listening to a lineup of 15 speakers. A few sported flags on hats, T-shirts and patches. One or two held signs with messages such as"Is it 2012 yet?"
Talk-radio host Tony Powers, who organized the event, directed attention to the upcoming national debate over raising the debt limit. The national debt stands at $14.3 trillion, he said.
"Now this is a hard thing to wrap your head around," he said. "One trillion dollars is a million times a million dollars. This is 14 times that. And they want to raise the debt limit."
South Carolina Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, who a few weeks ago introduced "fair tax" legislation to the state House, said he hoped his would be the first state in the nation to pass such a law. Sixty-five other representatives -- a majority of the House -- already support the bill, he said.
A single tax on purchases would simplify tax collections, reduce cheating, and spread the burden farther and more fairly, Taylor said.
"Oliver Wendell Holmes said, 'Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.' ... But, I identify more with Will Rogers who said, 'Income tax has made more liars out of people than golf has,' " Taylor said.
Evans businessman Russell Wilder said he went to the rally because he supports a fair tax.
He said that budget cuts passed by Congress this week were a step in the right direction but that he was tired of the "class war" that the tax debate has devolved into; a fair tax would simplify everything.
"I want everybody to pay the same tax rate whether you earn $1 an hour or $1,000 an hour," he said.
Speakers called for school choice, respect for states' rights and the Second Amendment. Visitors seemed stressed by the country's economic woes, and some said they believed too much government is the cause.
"I believe we shouldn't be taxed to death to the point where we can't afford to feed ourselves," Evans resident Kathleen Bryan said. "I'm upset about food prices and gas prices, and I'll fight that till the day I die."
North Augusta resident Ted Wasserlein said he was upset by the recent Wisconsin teachers' union debate.
"The unions are practically buying the government. They're buying votes and buying seats," he said. "Government employees are involved in unions. That's not what unions were designed for to begin with."
Aiken County residents Karen Craft and Anthony Olick said the economy is what bothers them.
"Prices are going up. Gas is up. But wages are not going up, and jobs are not being created," Craft said.
Olick, who is a tile setter, said it has been hard to find work. He said smaller government and less global commerce are needed.
"America needs to start depending on itself," he said.
Reach Carole Hawkins at (706) 823-3341, or firstname.lastname@example.org.