"I guess hard times flush the chumps. Everybody's lookin' for answers."
- Everitt McGill,
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
At 5 p.m. today, hundreds of people will gather in downtown Augusta and other communities for "tea parties" to protest the runaway federal budget. The local event is being organized by Columbia County's Young Republicans.
While I won't be there, I'll sympathize with them as I stand in line to mail a check for my federal taxes.
For a few of those tea partying people, I'll wonder: Where the heck have you been? Did you even notice that this federal spending orgy started under a Republican president with the complicity of a Republican Congress? Or did your simmering outrage rise to a boil only when the Democrats took over the kitchen?
For some other attendees, I'll make the broad-brush assumption that their involvement with the "tea party" movement is just their latest bumper-sticker anti-establishment cause du jour.
Now, don't get me wrong; I love windmill-tilting causes. I favor a consumption tax (though not specifically the FairTax) and I voted for Ron Paul for president.
But I'm also enough of a realist to understand that the FairTax is not going to be enacted, just as Ron Paul wasn't going to be elected. Likewise, I hope these fervent folks at the Riverwalk Amphitheater and other similar events around the country don't leave the event all amped up and thinking that something is going to change merely as a result of an afternoon protest - especially if standing around hooting and clapping for slogan-filled speeches is the extent of their activism.
This means that the tea parties can't be effective unless they are seen not as the culmination of a few weeks of planning, but as the starting point of a bigger movement.
What should that movement include? More than anything else, voting. And not just reflexive voting along party lines, but fearless voting against any politician who condones the long-term fleecing of our country - no matter what their party.
What's this mean? Swallow hard, Johnny Isakson. Your cohort in the U.S. Senate, Saxby Chambliss, won re-election last year in spite of following in lockstep with Bush administration spending, and you were right there with him. Portraying yourself as the loyal opposition now that your party squandered its time at the helm might not be enough to fend off a conservative challenger.
Beginning or end, now that this movement is underway I also worry that the major media, which has all but ignored the tea party planning, will finally figure out how to cover it - and its supporters will be sorry they got what they wished for.
I fully expect tea-partyers either will be caricatured as, well, windmill-tilting loonies, or blown off as disgruntled Republicans in venting-sore-loser mode over the loss of the White House and Congress.
What likely will be avoided in the coverage is the hard, cold fact that conservatives lost the White House and Congress long before Republicans were shoved aside by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.
Conservatives weren't beaten by Democrats; they were marginalized by squishy "moderate" Republicans who then, as a result, lost to the Democrats.
It all will come full circle only if and when conservatives either retake the Republican Party, or form a viable movement outside the two-party stranglehold and then work to retake Congress and the presidency from the free-spending, morally relativistic neo-Socialist movement. That's the real glimmer of hope in these tea parties.
Until then, the windmill is only going to grow bigger. And all of us will feel like chumps for letting it get so huge while celebrating the extra $13 per week in our paychecks borrowed from our grandchildren.
And I wonder if I'll have to start paying back that "extra" money when I write a check for taxes next year.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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