The Birchers and Billy James would have loved the tea parties

You’d think after “Maverick” McCain ran to the right and got clobbered last November, the Republicans would try to hit the comeback trail by edging toward the center.

Think again. The “tea party day” tax protests were more proof, if proof were needed, that the party of Lincoln and Liberty is bound for the farthest shores of American politics.

Robert Welch and the Rev. Billy James Hargis would have loved tea party day, a made-for-TV movement bankrolled by rich, right-wing Republicans like Dick Armey and his friends at FreedomWorks and ballyhooed by Fox News, the GOP’s propaganda ministry.

Welch founded the John Birch Society in the 1950s. He suggested that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a moderate Republican, was a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.” (Birchers said fluoridated drinking water was part of the conspiracy.)

Hargis, who belonged to the Birch Society, was a segregationist preacher who started the Christian Crusade, also in the 1950s. He said the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were communist.

Not coincidentally, the tea parties were on April 15, the annual income tax deadline. Officially, the protests were “TEA Parties.” “TEA” stands for “taxed enough already.”

Party goers also took aim at other familiar right-wing Republican and libertarian targets including socialism, one-worldism, gun control, abortion, single-payer health care, the United Nations, evolution, illegal immigrants, environmentalists, the Employee Free Choice Act, France and same sex marriage.

Party planners meant for partygoers to focus most of their ire on “socialist-in chief” Obama. They were not disappointed.

At the same time, the tea parties were feel good therapy for the Obama-bashers. It was a chance for group hugs and commiserating over last Nov. 4.

Many of the partygoers brought signs. The Huffington Post Internet blogsite put up several photos of them.

“OBAMA’S PLAN WHITE SLAVERY” said a placard carried by a white guy. Almost all tea partygoers were white.

Based on other signs, a lot of protestors were of the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand-you persuasion. “King Obama Move Over & Give God Back His Throne,” a sign said.

Another homemade sign asserted “Free Speach [sic] is Not a Crime.” That one reminded me of a sign from the tea party in Paducah, Ky., where I teach at the local community and technical college.

I saw the sign on  TV. It was shaped like a tombstone with the epitaph “R.I.P Capitolism.” I don’t know if the sign-maker thought he was being clever or if he needed a dictionary, too.

I suspect the Paducah program was especially cathartic. Kentucky is one of the reddest Red States. McCain carried the Bluegrass State big, even though the “socialist-closet-Muslim-one-worlder” won the election.

Like the other partygoers I saw on TV, the Paducah protestors were passionate. “Hey, my fellow extremists!” a woman yelled the crowd before the two main speakers, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield and State Rep. Brent Housman, stepped to the microphone. Both Republicans gleefully joined the Obama and the government bashing. But Whitfield admitted to a local TV reporter that he was passing out government checks before the tea party.

No doubt the tea party throwers and goers hoped to scare the Democrats. More likely they scared middle-of-the road, independent voters.

Polls suggest pretty strongly that the farther right the GOP goes, the more independents identify with Democratic policies.

Hence, egging on events that showcase far-right wing extremists might not be the best way for the Republicans to win back the White House and Congress. That’s why I figure the Democrats can’t wait for the second round of tea parties, which is scheduled for Independence Day.

Meanwhile, the tea party crowds seemed to have fun demonizing Obama. But the polls say most Americans think he’s doing a good job. Obama’s approval rating in the Gallup Poll has averaged 63 percent since he took office. Fifty-six percent of Americans support the president’s stimulus plan, according to the Pew Research Center.

Polls also show most Americans blame “capitolist” Bush and Republican-run Congresses for our economic woes.

A final note: the tea parties were supposed to represent the “spirit” of the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Some at the Paducah party claimed they, too, were protesting “taxation without representation.”

They need to read some history, the subject I teach. Or they might check a Louisville Courier-Journal editorial of April 15:

“At the heart of the Boston Tea Party, which has inspired today’s tea motif, was the reality of taxation without representation; the colonists were being ripped off by the British government, not their own. We have representation. If enough of us feel they’re ripping us off, we have the right to overturn them every couple of years, and we just did that.”

In other words, if the protesters feel unrepresented it’s because their man McCain was beaten fair and square.

In addition, the editorial writer found the protests “a little too spleeny” but conceded everybody has a right to gripe about the government. “Protesting is as American as apple pie,” the editorialist observed.

“Many Americans are uncomfortable with the high cost to taxpayers of the bailouts,” the editorial also said. “Yes, many Americans feel the spending is out of control, and that they have little control over how national leaders are handling the economic crisis. We get that.”

But the editorial concluded, “Where was all this outrage when the nation’s savings account was opened and the dollars were flying out, when the nation’s credit card was being swiped again and again to pay for wars that weren’t even showing up in the nation’s budget? Suddenly, there’s a new president and, boom, instant tea parties.”

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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One Response to The Birchers and Billy James would have loved the tea parties

  1. Angela Rice says:

    Wouldn’t it be unfair to suddenly ascribe direct blame to something that has been in motion under various heads for years?

    I just think that a balanced view is especially necessary with this sort of thing.