If my car radio had gears, they would
grind and screech each time I switch from AM to FM. I keep my FM preset
on National Public Radio for the morning, and the AM is set on WHEN-AM
(620). As I drive to work I’ll switch back and forth between WAER-FM
88.3 for news and AM620 for sports. As the day goes on, I’ll cruise
over to WSYR-AM (570) to catch Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn
Beck now and again for my daily inoculation of right-wing talk radio.
White noise: It’s a safe bet that the protesters
at last week’s local tea parties have at some point in their lives
benefitted from a taxpayer-funded government program. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
All I will say on behalf of the
motormouths is that they have never asked me to contribute to their
pledge drive. And if it is true that people vote with their feet, I
think it is safe to say that much of the country has voted this faction
off the island.
Last week’s Limbaugh, Beck and
Hannity-instigated “tea parties” were, by any objective standard, a
failure. Coming on the heels of a resounding defeat at the polls last
fall for the hard right and the new Know-Nothing movement, the weak
response to the tea baggers’ plea is a sign that more thoughtful
politics might be on the horizon, or, even better, already on our
If the local organizers of the protests,
held downtown during the day of April 15, and in Liverpool in the early
evening, were looking for a good turnout, you couldn’t have asked for
better conditions. We had perfect weather on the dreaded day when our
federal taxes come due. The dawn brought with it not only clear skies
but a propaganda coup money can’t buy—right on the doorstep of nearly
everyone in the region. In what must have been seen in some quarters as
a sign of God’s blessing, The Post-Standard inexplicably agreed
to devote the bulk of its redesigned front page and its increasingly
scarce newsprint to spreading the word about the event.
The front page of Syracuse’s only daily
paper was little more than a poster for the gathering. It was
impossible for me to recall a time when the Post served as the principal pre-event propaganda vehicle for any leftist demonstration.
Yet the crowds of protesters at the
Federal Building, and later out in Longbranch Park were in the triple
digits, in spite of promises from organizers that thousands would show
up. Nationwide, the results were the same. Organizers promised 1,500
protests—in spite of round-the-clock coverage by cable’s Fox News
Channel, only half that number materialized. Beck was featured at the
marquis event in San Antonio, Texas, along with hard-rocking gun
advocate Ted Nugent. Organizers claimed that 50,000 people were certain
to appear—the San Antonio News estimated the gathering at “a few thousand” in spite of the music and the sun-drenched skies.
Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity have played
such an important role in lowering the bar for American political
discourse for decades now. It is heartening to think that after years
of letting these noise machines tell a substantial chunk of us what to
think, that America is finally growing up. The challenges we face are
so daunting that sound-bite answers won’t do, and maybe—just maybe—our
political center is coming to realize this.
Check out the split screen. On one side,
you have a president who is doing what presidents do—visiting allies,
appointing czars, shooting pirates and walking the First Dog. And you
have Limbaugh calling for an end to the Federal Reserve.
On one side you have our brand new
congressman doing what congressmen do—throwing out first pitches,
rhapsodizing about cocaine and prostitutes on television and eating hot
dogs with our visiting U.S. senator.
And Glenn Beck’s best response to this is to fire up the masses to toss tea bags.
It kind of makes you feel sorry for
those living on the fringe. So in the interest of fairness, I would
like to offer some tips for the local organizers of this protest.
First, if you want to organize
conservatives, don’t ask them to throw away teabags! God’s honest
conservatives never throw anything out. Asking a respectable
conservative to waste a perfectly good tea bag is like asking a
tailgater before the Syracuse University-Notre Dame football game to
dump out his Bud Light in the parking lot at 7:30 in the morning. Not
gonna happen. Don’t any of these folks have a grandmother who grew up
in the Depression? They won’t throw out anything.
Second, tea? I get the reference to the
Boston Tea Party, but tea? In case Rush and company haven’t noticed,
tea has lost some of its Revolutionary War era cache. Perhaps heaving
Coke cans at the State Office Building to protest the governor’s
proposal to tax sugary soft drinks would be a better visual.
Third, crank control. You’ve got to keep the guys with
the “Fire Congress” signs away from the front line where the cameras
will pick them up. Some of the people watching might actually know that
the Constitution has other provisions besides those guaranteeing us the
right to own assault weapons. I think that the institution of the
Congress is a protected species.
Fourth, find better spokespeople. It’s a
lovely advertisement for the democratic nature of our society that such
inexperienced organizers can come to the forefront, but there should be
some sort of vetting process. As a million bloggers prove again and
again every day, possession of a mouse and a Road Runner subscription
is really not enough to ensure that you have something useful to say.
By the way, the guy organizing the rally
in Liverpool against government spending was on food stamps last year.
That’s a good thing: Food stamps are one of the smartest government
programs ever invented. It is a government program, supported by tax
dollars, that helps farmers and hungry people. That’s one of the
reasons we pay taxes.
And the lady organizing the show downtown,
during hours when most of us are at work, rails against Barack Obama’s
efforts to nationalize the economy as she sustains herself on Social
Security. Again, I am grateful that a program set in place by Franklin
Roosevelt allows us to pool our funds so that we are taken care of when
we get sick or old. I wonder if this leader of the angry mob has
thought about what would be happening to that monthly check if we’d
gone for George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security just before
the stock market started bleeding trillions?
Putting these people in charge of the
revolution would be like hiring a guy who can’t pay his taxes to run
the Treasury Department in a time of deep financial crisis. Oops.