A few thoughts about last weekend’s Tea Parties

While I’ve not had enough time to take a comprehensive look at Tea Parties held around the nation on or around Independence Day, here are some quick observations from this full-time Tea Party enthusiast and part-time skeptic.

First of all, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was booed when he spoke in Austin, Texas.  The key reason reason seems to be that he voted for the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout in order to protect “free market capitalism, with our civil liberties, [which are] are the foundation of American exceptionalism.”  In the hyperlinked explanation for his vote, he quoted Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in order to help spread the blame.  “This bill does not represent a new and sudden departure from free market principles…” explained Cornyn, who was quoting Coburn.

Coburn has also infuriated fiscal conservatives because, in his role as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he sided with “establishment candidate, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, in a Senate primary against young conservative leader, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio” in the Florida Senate race.

Coburn probably wasn’t the only Republican Party leader booed in Texas.  I’ve seen some video of Texas Governor Rick Perry speaking in San Antonio, but I’ve not seen any video with jeers from the audience from anywhere in Texas (he wasn’t allowed to speak at the major Dallas event).  However, there are multiple reports that he was booed for “his advocacy of toll roads to relieve traffic congestion.” I tried to obtain additional information on Twitter and it seems my suspicions were correct: He received some sporadic booing, not specifically because of toll roads, but that the road in question is the “NAFTA Superhighway” or “Trans-Texas Corridor”.  Based upon observations during my campaign work in east Texas in 2006, there are probably quite a few Birchers who still vehemently oppose this effort.

The least biased view of the Austin event which I’ve read comes from Robbie Cooper:

I’d initially decided not to attend because the organizers had decided to build their rally around high profile elected politicians (like Sen. John Cornyn, Governor Rick Perry, U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert, and State Rep. Wayne Christian).

The problem in Washington D.C. isn’t just Democrats. It’s been Republicans for at least the last 8 years, and in many cases these same GOPers are still complicit in helping the Democrats run our country into the dirt. Politicians on both sides of the aisles have been myopic in their quest to grant themselves more-and-more power and deprive us of more-and-more of our freedoms and our money.

The tea parties are our chance — the public, tax paying, hardworking, voting citizens — to make politicians listen to us. But instead, the Tea Party organizer (Heather Murray Liggett) thought that what our Tea Party needed was more politicians talking (and lying) to us.

She was wrong.

Cooper goes on to provide:

[Cornyn] missed the best speech of the day from the VP candidate from the Libertarian Party, Wayne Allyn Root. But it’s a speech that probably would have made Sen. John Cornyn pretty uncomfortable. Instead, Sen. Cornyn probably had to go find another RINO Senatorial candidate for his National Republican Senatorial Committee to endorse.

The other news coming out of Texas seems to be a tale of two headlines. The headline from the Dallas News (and Democratic Underground) reads “Tea party protest at Southfork Ranch falls short of estimated 50,000 attendees” while Michelle Malkin chose “37,000 at Dallas Tea Party — and next steps.”

My recollection is that the Dallas Tea Party organizers were hoping for 30,000 to 50,000.  The last time I checked, 37,000 is a credible number for any political event.

Of note also seems to be that President Bush spoke and was well-received at a Tea Party held in Oklahoma. Considering that Bush would have drawn loud jeers from the same folks who predominantly voted for him in Birmingham, I was surprised to read in the New York Times that he received numerous standing ovations.  Then I read the fine print:

Woodward Mayor Bill Fanning estimated about 6,500 people attended Bush’s speech. The former president surprised city leaders by accepting their invitation to speak at festivities celebrating the $25 million renovation of a local park.

Seats for the speech — held at a rodeo arena built in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration — ranged from $25 up to $500 for the ”Oval Office Ticket” in the first rows with VIP parking and complimentary beverages. Event promoter Landon Laubhan declined to say how much Bush was getting paid to speak.

After the speech, Bush waded into the crowd for a few minutes, giving hugs, signing autographs and shaking hands. ”I didn’t think he’d do that,” Fanning said. ”I told him he’s welcome back any time.”

Woodward is friendly territory for Bush…

This sounds like a hand-picked crowd of big-government Republicans to me.  I doubt one will be able to find a better example of GOP usurpation of the spirit of Tea Parties than this.

I did attend two events in Alabama. The first was a small local event in Decatur, AL – one of three events held near my home. I had nothing to do with the organization or planning of this event and wouldn’t have attended had I realized it was going to be a GOP lovefest.  To be sure, it was so poorly promoted that I didn’t hear about this event until July 3rd, and that was only because of a random e-mail I found in my junk folder.

As I noted on Twitter, the event began with some local talk show host blaming socialism on Clinton and Obama, but conveniently forgetting years of Republican majorities and presidential terms in the middle.  I was later informed by a local blogger that the host is Will Anderson, who was reportedly “fired” by the dominant local talk show station, WVNN. I was about to walk out when Mo Brooks, one of the GOP congressional candidates, took the stage. I listened to him and he played to his audience well.  However, his many appeals to social conservatism wouldn’t have played as well in nearby Huntsville.

While I was snapping photographs, one local told me that we are doomed to Obama and socialism because we have forsaken “The Lord, our God.”  Another told me that President Bush was a shining light of free-market capitalism. I left early, in disgust.

The Birmingham event (liveblogged here), which I did help organize, was much better.  Once again, elected officials were not allowed to speak.  While the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party (and several GOP candidates) had paid for booths, I didn’t see the state Republican Party out in force.  While we were setting up for the event, I had asked an event volunteer where the Republican Liberty Caucus and Alabama Republican Assembly booths were located and she gave me an earful as soon as she heard the word “Republican.” After I explained that both organizations had a long track record of opposing big-government Republican candidates, she politely assisted me.

The event was hosted by local talk show host Matt Murphy, who did a great job.  Other speakers included local conservative icon John Killian, local talk show host Lee Davis, and Kevin Jackson, author of The Big, Black Lie.

Before the April 15th Tea Parties, I had offered the following advice:

If you are an event organizer or speaker, keep in mind that pretty much everyone will agree with your fiscally conservative message.  The Second Amendment is probably pretty safe turf, but not necessary for the purpose of this coalition.  Conservatives or libertarians wandering off into territory such as abortion, gay rights, immigration, medical marijuana, and the Iraq War will be creating unnecessarily divisive issues.

On April 15th, the Birmingham speakers followed that advice and the only folks booed that day were Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.  The same was generally true on July 4th, with one exception.

During the candidate speeches leading to the main event, one candidate (I couldn’t hear him well due to the poor accoustics backstage) went off on a rant about our participation in the Iraq War.  He was immediately facing a roped-off section of veterans, and I couldn’t hear the end of his speech at all because of the boos he was receiving. To their credit, everyone else pretty much stayed on topic. Fortunately, there were plenty of Campaign for Liberty, Ron Paul, Libertarian Party and other folks there who were bright enough to focus on coalition building, as opposed to pressing issues destined to kill a team effort.

The best candidate speech was clearly the one given by Stan Cooke, who is also challenging incumbent Congressman Spencer Bachus.  Cooke was well prepared to go after Bachus for spending and ethical issues. He covered a return to constitutional government in detail and was equally critical of Democrats and Republicans.  Based on the level of applause, Cooke earned quite a few supporters on the 4th.

The presence of only two Alabama gubernatorial candidates was felt at the Birmingham event.  While Tim James wasn’t present, he did speak at the April 15 Birmingham event and provided a short video presentation on the Jumbotrons.  His were the first gubernatorial stickers I saw at the event and I saw more of his than all other candidate stickers put together.  I saw absolutely no Roy Moore signs, stickers, or any other sign of his existance, although I’m sure he had many supporters at the event.  There was no presence that I noted for any of the other announced Republican or Democratic candidates.

It is important to note that not-quite-yet-announced GOP gubernatorial Bill Johnson was there – not as a speaker but walking around with his wife and listening to people.

In his previously mentioned blog posting, Robbie Cooper noted:

Eliza Velma from Americans for Prosperity (the organizers) remarked on the event’s Facebook page in defense of inviting Cornyn, “He’s not only attending to speak, but will be in attendance to also hear what we have to say. It’s rare to find an elected official willing to do that.”

Ms. Velma obviously didn’t understand the mood of most Tea Party participants as well as folks in Alabama and Chicago did on April 15th. Here’s what happened in Alabama:

The highlight of the event in Birmingham was Beth Chapman, our Secretary of State.

Unbeknowst to most people, she showed up unannounced at the back of the stage and demanded to speak. Apparently she wasn’t there when I announced that no elected officials would be speaking and that at this rally politicians would listen to we the people.

As a matter of fact, she wasn’t there when the Rainy Day Patriots (25 in number) stood on 280 in the middle of a tornado warning with their protest signs. She wasn’t there during our organizational meetings. She wasn’t there during setup of the event. And she certainly wasn’t there during cleanup.

Needless to say, she wasn’t a very happy camper when she was told “NO”. I guess politicians are not used to being told no because she lingered for another 30 minutes quibling for a speaking spot.

It was a great day in Alabama when a group of citizens can grow their numbers from 25 to 7000 in a couple of weeks and tell our politicians “NO!”

Here’s what happened when event organizer Eric Odom told RNC Chairman Michael Steele that he was welcome to “listen” but not grab a microphone at the Chicago event:

As I mentioned on the phone the other day, I very much appreciate the fact that Chairman Steele is now finally starting to reach out to the true grassroots side of the free-market movement in America. Unfortunately, it appears that he has only just decided to reach out after realizing how big the movement has gotten and how much media is now involved.

That said, we’re still excited to know that Chairman Steele will be in Chicago and we hope, after knowing that he’ll be in the city, that he’ll stop by and mingle with the Americans who will be rallying on April 15th. This will also present a fantastic time for Chairman Steele to LISTEN to what we have to say and perhaps gather some thoughts on what the RNC needs to be doing moving forward.

With regards to stage time, we respectfully must inform Chairman Steel that RNC officials are welcome to participate in the rally itself, but we prefer to limit stage time to those who are not elected officials, both in Government as well as political parties. This is an opportunity for Americans to speak, and elected officials to listen, not the other way around.

I do hope that Chairman Steele will join us as a regular American in protest of Government spending and extreme taxation.

While Johnson is receiving criticism from local anti-tax advocates as well as national criticism in libertarian circles from folks ranging from Tom Knapp to Eric Dondero, he showed and wasn’t treated rudely (that I know of, at least). At a bare minimum, he deserves credit for showing  and listening to what folks have to say.  I don’t know (yet) what he said in return, but I did note several Libertarians and libertarian-Republicans sporting his sticker by the end of the day.  I’m sure that whatever Johnson ends up saying at the end of the day on fiscal issues will prove interesting.

From a political Tea Party perspective, the clear winner of the day was Tim James, followed by Bill Johnson.  Losers were the ones who didn’t show. The ultimate loser was Roy Moore, as he could have picked up a lot of support had his people been organized and energized.

The congressional winner of the day was clearly Stan Cooke.

Unlike in some other cities, short but reasonably fair coverage of the event was provided above the fold of the Sunday Birmingham News. The Alabama event was also under attack from a writer at DailyKos:

So this is a nationwide “nut fest.” What on earth is going on?

I’m not a psychiatrist, so I’m certainly not qualified to diagnose any form of mental illness. And I hate to throw that term around, partly because I probably have a number of friends and family members who might attend one of these events.

We’re not talking about the kind of mental illness that makes someone dysfunctional or overtly dangerous. But is the “tea party” movement grounded in reality? I don’t think it is. Should we be concerned about it? The answer, I think, is yes.

My guess is that quite a few people today will go to the Verizon Wireless Music Center, and other sites, simply to partake of the food, fireworks, music, and such. But if you read about these events, you see signs of possible psychological disturbances–hysteria, paranoia, delusion, and more. At the very least, it seems some people connected to these events are separated from reality.

For example, folks behind the Birmingham event claim they are not anti-Democrat or anti-Obama. But one of their speakers is a fellow named Kevin Jackson, who has penned a screed called The Big Black Lie: How I Learned the Truth about the Democrat Party.

The Birmingham organizers apparently have not checked the Web site of the AFA, the umbrella outfit for the tea parties…

To be quite clear on this, I attended quite a few of the organizational events for this event and never heard the American Family Association mentioned once. The Birmingham event was was totally organized by a brand new grassroots organization called the Rainy Day Patriots.

Calling most participants (there were a small handful of Truthers present) hysterical, paranoid and delusional is quite a stretch (my wife is a psychiatrist and she was there). But there was a lot of well-deserved anti-Obama sentiment displayed.

Finally, there has been a lot of talk about Tea Party attendance. My friend Dave Weigel observed:

The result of all of this: lower expected attendance, with some of the difference made up by a more celebratory atmosphere. On April 15, the largest Tea Party in Texas was the Fort Worth rally featuring Gov. Rick Perry, who drew days of controversy for apparently endorsing the idea of Texas seceding from the union. The July 4 Dallas Tea Party, by contrast, will combine political speeches from columnist Michelle Malkin, Bosnia war hero Scott O’Grady, and local conservative activists with entertainment from ersatz Monkees drummer and singer Mickey Dolenz, a bluegrass Beatles cover band, and a program that lets kids edit themselves into rock videos (”Be a star — no talent required!”).

TPM notes:

Thousands of right-wing activists across this country rang in the Independence Day holiday with yet another round of tea-party protests against President Obama, inadvertently highlighting an interesting divide in the Republican Party. On the one hand are the hard-line activists who attend these things, versus the more mainstream politicians who want to win elections and are looking for their votes — and are running into all manner of conflicts as a result, or finding themselves taking on some rather interesting policy stances along the way.

Less national media and less GOP interference probably did lead to lower turnout in a lot of places.  Birmingham dropped from well over 7,000 to around 3,000 – but Huntsville went from 2,300 to a reported 5,000.  Another factor to consider is that the events were scheduled on July 4th, a holiday where plenty of people had other plans.  To be sure, if I hadn’t been involved in the organization of this event, I would have been shooting fireworks and hanging out with my friend Robert Stacy McCain at Lake Weiss.

There’s another factor to consider, as well.  The first Birmingham Tea Party I attended wasn’t after Obama was elected, but in response to Governor Riley’s proposed tax increase in 2003. It was the only event of its type in Alabama (a dozen or so were held across the state yesterday) and the turnout was around 2,500. Obviously, there was no serious GOP presence, as it was in opposition to a major GOP tax increase. That event was the clear focal point which turned the momentum and those 2,500 activists lead the charge to kill the proposal by a two-to-one margin.

Unlike April 15th, there was no national media at our event, it was on a holiday and there were other Tea Party events in the state. That more people showed than in 2003 indicates that there is a hardcore activist base of fiscal conservatives in the state.  And if they have their way, Obama will be a sitting duck after the 2010 elections.

Disclaimer: The company for which I work has submitted various proposals to many Alabama candidates who could be described as “moderate, libertarian or conservative.”  We’ve not received any compensation from any entity mentioned in this article. The opinions and observations presented in this article are mine alone and not necessarily shared by my business partners, current clients or potential future clients.