Analysis: What next 'teabaggers'?

Monday, April 20, 2009 11:48 AM
Last updated 1:04 PM
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Authorities said tea bags that protesters tossed over the White House fence last week weren't dangerous.

But whether the anti-tax, anti-spending alliance behind such antics is a hazard to the political establishment remains an open question.

Hundreds of tax deadline "tea parties" revived the memory of dumping British tea in the Boston harbor before the American Revolution. In Savannah, about 1,500 turned out; many more rallied in Atlanta.

There is talk of similar events on July 4 and of grass-roots pressure on members of Congress. But where do the protesters go from there, and will it matter?

Were they a one-day wonder, or will they become major players on the American political scene?

The consensus: It's too early to say.

Some people, among them Atlanta pollster and consultant David Johnson, compare the tea parties to the tax revolt that began in the late 1970s.

California dreamin'

Spawned in California, that movement slashed taxes there and in other states and helped send Ronald Reagan to the White House.

"I think similar frustration is building now," Johnson said.

The target: a system - symbolized by President Obama but not limited to him - that many people think is playing them for chumps.

One sign at a West Virginia rally seemed to say it all: "Taking from the thrifty and giving to the shifty."

Federal megabucks, protesters lament, are raining on executives who ruined their companies and on people who either don't pay taxes or fail to pay their mortgage bills.

And taxpayers who work hard and play by the rules - and their children - are being left to pick up the tab, or so the argument goes.

"By and large, that's what lots of people believe," said state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.

But even Johnson, who usually works with Republicans and conservatives, says the current unrest hasn't reached the boiling point.

Moreover, Johnson and others say, the coalition lacks leadership, focus and an event to galvanize it into action.

"They need something that will ignite the spark," Johnson said. "Maybe a really goofy tax plan from Congress or a super-outrageous statement by Obama. They don't have it yet."

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior policy analyst at the University of Southern California, agreed.

Jeffe noted that the California tax revolt, embodied by the Proposition 13 ballot measure to slash property taxes, had a defining moment.

Catalyst needed

Shortly before the June 1978 vote, Los Angeles County officials said assessed values - and most likely taxes - were going up more than 20 percent.

"That was the catalyst," Jeffe said.

In any case, Johnson said, the protesters had a rallying cry: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."

The leader of the movement - the late Howard Jarvis - borrowed the mantra from a movie, "Network."

It worked; Proposition 13 passed with 65 percent of the vote.

But so far, experts say, the tea party groups don't have anyone of Jarvis' stature.

"I just don't see anybody like that out there," Jeffe said.

A related problem, many say, is a lack of focus.

Speakers at the tea party rallies lashed out at taxes and spending. But they also bemoaned illegal immigration, gay marriage, gun control and the Federal Reserve System.

"You tend to lose your direction when everyone and his mother gets up and speaks," said Savannah political consultant David Simons. "They need some message discipline."

Stephens agreed, saying a cause should be tightly wound around one theme, or at the most, two or three related ones.

"Otherwise, your message gets diluted and your movement is weaker," he said.

Public not set to party

Apparently there is an even more serious challenge: At least so far, most Americans don't agree with the tea party protesters.

"The public seems willing to go along with Obama's programs as long as they don't seem too permanent," Jeffe said.

Indeed, a recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll supported that conclusion.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said the tea parties served mostly to give Republicans something to rally around.

Bullock said they hope news media coverage of such events will amplify GOP critiques of the Obama administration.

"The GOP may also hope that these rallies will energize their base, and that could become useful in the 2010 election cycle," he said.

But Stephens said many Republicans also could have reason to fear the new movement, because they're part of the problem.

After the GOP took over the U.S. House in 1994 by campaigning against Democratic excesses, he said, "all of a sudden, we became them.

"We became even worse big spenders than they were. Maybe this movement gets us back to our roots."

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themaninthemirror
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themaninthemirror 04/20/09 - 12:16 pm
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Maybe those teabag grounds

Maybe those teabag grounds will help fertilize the watermelon garden at the whitehouse.

hr69
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hr69 04/20/09 - 12:20 pm
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"But Stephens said many

"But Stephens said many Republicans also could have reason to fear the new movement, because they're part of the problem. After the GOP took over the U.S. House in 1994 by campaigning against Democratic excesses, he said, "all of a sudden, we became them. "We became even worse big spenders than they were. Maybe this movement gets us back to our roots.""

Term Limits for all elected officials!!!!!! In my opinion all parties are at fault here. They have forgot that they work for "we the people". way too many career politicians in office right now. Unless the ones I have a chance to vote for do something to show me they are working for "we the people" and not special interests and their own pocketbook, I am going to do my part to vote them out. RWF

HotFoot
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HotFoot 04/20/09 - 12:33 pm
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Re: maininthemirror: there ya

Re: maininthemirror: there ya go. That's what I'm talking about. That sort of racism is threaded throughout this "movement", which, as the article points out, has a totally scattered message that includes social issues such as gay marriage. Also, it's clear from the article that it is, in fact, a Republican effort in the main, not a union that includes independents and disaffected Democrats. So, all you commenters who keep protesting that it's not--pay attention.

hwduncan
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hwduncan 04/20/09 - 12:39 pm
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The protest movement

The protest movement culminating in the Boston Tea Party was not a dispute about higher taxes. The price of legally imported tea was actually reduced by the Tea Act of 1773. Protestors were instead concerned with the "no taxation without representation" argument, along with the question of the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies. Since taxes in 2009 are imposed through elected officials, many of today's "teabaggers" helped to elect, it seems erroneous to co-opt the Boston Tea Party as the emblem of their cause.

jackfruitpaper833
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jackfruitpaper833 04/20/09 - 12:41 pm
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No most of these people were

No most of these people were angry white men/women with the majority I'd say 95% of them republicans. Dare I say since his election that's all you see of TV. *SHRUGS*

justthefacts
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justthefacts 04/20/09 - 12:45 pm
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Maybe it's not Midwest, but

Maybe it's not Midwest, but it should be. The current rate of spend is not substanable.

themaninthemirror
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themaninthemirror 04/20/09 - 01:14 pm
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There certainly was no racism

There certainly was no racism meant in my posting. You missed the sarcasm.There is nothing that can be accomplished by throwing tea grounds on the white house lawn. We have a president that seems to be setting his own policy regardless of past policies. He seems to have no one keeping a check on him. Race has nothing to do with it. I for one would like to think that in four years I will still live in the "home of the free, and the land of the brave". Just like we can't take in every poor nation, we also can't pacify eevery nation that wants to build their own arsenal of nuclear weapons. Some times you have to stand up and "kick a little" to keep things in perspective.

thistownisunbelievable
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thistownisunbelievable 04/20/09 - 01:16 pm
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I think Mr. Wonderful

I think Mr. Wonderful listened to our protests. He just cut the budget proposal by a whopping 1/35,000th. Now THAT'S fiscal responsibility.

DMac_357
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DMac_357 04/20/09 - 02:25 pm
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I'm glad to read what

I'm glad to read what Stephens said about the GOPs actions after they took over the House in 1994. The GOP is good at spending as well but you never hear the usual suspects complain about that. Bush had to be a big spender to turn what Clinton left him into a huge deficit but we don't hear about that. When that issue is brought up, we usually hear, "that's in the past."

Junket831
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Junket831 04/20/09 - 06:15 pm
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The outrage is misplaced. In

The outrage is misplaced. In this era of partisonship it won't work until enough members of both parties can claim the problem as theirs. Until then it looks like one group is whining. The real problem is our system of government is broken. People are upset by the seemingly unfair tax process that is so complicated that even members of Congress or the Administrative branch can't get it right when its time for them to pay their share. Simplify the tax filing process and the system will become more fair. Get rid of most or all deductions and just make people pay the same rate. Then we can all argue whether the one rate is too high, too low or just right.

KSL
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KSL 04/20/09 - 08:13 pm
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Bush spent a lot, but I have

Bush spent a lot, but I have a jpeg graph comparing deficits in his admin to those of Obama (projected). Any sane person would shut up about Bush's spending, sane meaning a person who actually understood why the economy tanked, not someone who just wants to blame the person in charge for the problems that the entire government was responsible for. Remember, GWB did not have enough money on his own to wage the Iraq war. Without Congress, it would not have happened and Congress didn't cut off the funds after it was claimed that the intel was bogus.

Taylor B
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Taylor B 04/20/09 - 08:49 pm
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Both parties are lost...

Both parties are lost... Bush, Obama.... same ol stuff. Repetition with the same result.

robaroo
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robaroo 04/20/09 - 08:53 pm
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I love to hear from the

I love to hear from the Republicans when they talk about cutting spending. But this is the same out of control party that kicked off the huge deficits in the first place. And in the same breath, they demand tax cuts. They are just as irresponsible as the the Democrats. The Dems and Reps are destroying this great country's economy. I don't count on either party to make the hard choices to fix it.

Taylor B
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Taylor B 04/20/09 - 09:06 pm
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The libertarians are

The libertarians are coming....

KSL
124785
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KSL 04/20/09 - 09:37 pm
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robaroo, do a little research

robaroo, do a little research on who is actually kicking up the deficits. And the economy is beginning to recover, like was predicted, without the actual stimulus money hitting the streets. Do you think it's on a wish and a promise. If Obama was really intelligent, he would cancel the pork parts of the stimulus package (money not yet spent and therefore not contributing to the economic improvement) and become the really great president so many think he is.

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