Predictable reactions to tea party rallies

Posted April 17, 2009, at 7:01 p.m.

It would come as no surprise to learn that more than a few astute readers connected the dots between a news story on the front page of Thursday’s newspaper and a collection of articles on Page B6. No surprise, either, if they came away with an appreciation for the wisdom of the proposition that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

While the front-page story and photos reported on Wednesday’s Tax Day “tea party” demonstrations in Maine featuring sign-bearing taxpayers mad as hell about government’s profligate tax-and-spend ways and apparently not about to take it any more, the Page B6 package listed some of Maine’s recent handouts from the federal government.

Where the front page screamed about taxpayer anger with politicians addicted to spending our money like drunken sailors — no offense to the drunken-sailor contingent — Page B6 shouted nothing quite so much as “Keep throwing money at us and we’ll follow you anywhere.”

As the front page reported that the fed-up natives are growing restless and wondering how future generations of taxpayers will be able to pay the piper for today’s spendthrift ways, Page B6 featured five stories announcing Maine’s latest receipts of government largesse.

Our Washington sugar daddy had sent us $5 million to help reduce poverty; $3.3 million to stop terrorism here dead in its tracks; $423,794 for food pantries and homeless shelters; $363,000 for boating projects; and a request from the Environmental Protection Agency for the state to make a pitch for up to $35,000 available for “green” projects in New England.

Whether those funds are part of the $1 billion in federal stimulus funds that Maine is expected to receive, with orders to spend immediately or face the consequences, was not clear. In any case, it was only one day’s worth of government alms seemingly designed to get us hooked on handouts, like dopeheads hooked on heroin, with no prevailing concern in Washington that the bill will some day become due.

The national spending spree and the taxes required to keep it alive were major reasons why tens of thousands of protesters staged “tea parties” around the country Wednesday. But there were other provocations, as well, including philosophical differences concerning how best to right the foundering good ship Lollipop. The Associated Press suggested that the demonstrations tapped into “the collective angst stirred up by a bad economy, government spending and bailouts.”

There was plenty of taxpayer angst on display. No doubt about that. But as interesting to watch as the demonstrations on cable and satellite television was the running cat fight they provoked between the liberal and conservative wings of the national news media.

The liberal crowd predictably labeled the “tea parties” a bunch of Tax Day hokum dreamed up by sore-loser Republicans and their vast right-wing conspiracy, aided and abetted by the conservative Fox network to make President Barack Obama look bad. Their coverage of the nationwide events seemed meager and somewhat reluctant.

The conservative gang at Fox and elsewhere predictably insisted that the rallies were nonpartisan, and — despite what the liberal CNN and the loony leftwingers of MSNBC would have their viewers believe — included sizeable numbers of apprehensive Democrats, Independents and Libertarians, as well as Republicans, whose anger was directed at all political parties. They spared no resources in covering the demonstrations wall to wall, as though they were the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach.

My claptrap meter tells me that both camps may have been partially correct in their assessments. Which is more than could be said for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Not surprisingly, the polarizing California dragon lady dismissed the nationwide protest as more a bunch of rich people engaged in a group whine than a legitimate grassroots demonstration of anger with Congress and the Obama administration.

The protesters on television didn’t look particularly rich to me, but a lot of their signs were definitely rich in perceptive allusions to the problem at hand. My favorite was held by a young girl, perhaps 10 years old — one of the future taxpayers who will be picking up the tab. “I Read As Much Of The Stimulus Legislation As Those Who Voted For It,” her sign proclaimed.

Didn’t we all.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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