Maybe not a fan of the tea partiers’ ideas. But definitely a fan of their sincerity and, yes, eloquence.
I’ve just returned from covering the Tea Party Tax Day rally at Palm Coast Parkway and Old Kings Road. Its’ the most fun I’ve had in quite a while, the most engaging conversations I’ve had in a while, and the best corrective to the stereotypes that harass this group, my own stereotypes among them, that I could ask for.
It took being there. We may disagree. And we certainly do on most issues. Vehemently. Unreservedly. But if you were looking for loony behavior, vulgar demeanor, offensive signs or hostile attitudes (as I must admit I was), you would not have found it there. Not even close. These are your grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and neighbors next door (though mostly your grandparents), the sort of people you’d want to hang out with if you had the time, the sort of people whose sincerity runs no less warmly through their veins than it does through yours.
- Festive Fears and Cheers at Palm Coast’s Tea Party Rally
- Tea Party Demographics
- Taking Back America–From Tea Party Phonies
There’s no question, to me anyway, that their ideas–political, social, economic–have as much to do with earthly realities as the debris flying around the Kuiper Belt. But that’s besides the point. The more relevant point is that this is not a fringe element in American society. You may call it “the lunatic fringe” if you like, but only in the sense that the great Southern writer Gerald Johnson used the phrase–a lunatic fringe in the tradition of Americans who, across the decades, have always coalesced into groups and movements that push the limits of public policy or express a rage of one sort or another because they feel they’re not otherwise being heard. It is an essentially American lunacy, the sort of lunacy that made this country and that has more about it to admire than not. You don’t have to agree with it. You only have to recognize that it is a voice, a legitimate voice, and often a compelling voice.
I wouldn’t say that it’s a voice that “deserves” to be heard: that would be condescending. It would suggest that somehow there are gatekeepers who choose who deserves to be heard and who doesn’t. (Troublingly enough, there are medias that assume, or rather presume, the role of gatekeepers.) Rather, it’s a voice that has every right to be heard, and if you care to listen, it might not sound nearly as grating or strident as you’d think.
Maybe it’s a Palm Coast thing. Let’s not have illusions: there are Tea Party rallies that have their share of obscenities, of racists, of idiots scampering about with Whittacker Chambers complexes and Obama-is-no-American type delusions. No movement is without its fanatics, no movement is without its demagogues. But if these nutty types exist, Palm Coast’s group is severely lacking in them. You’ll read and hear for yourself once I write up the story in the next couple of hours, and post a photo gallery.
I will note that of the 200 to maybe 250 people who turned up at the rally, I did not see a single black face, and was hard pressed to find very many Hispanics or Asians or anything not strictly, and to my taste boringly, white. It’s safe to say that I was likely the only former Arab, and certainly the only current liberal, there.
Then again, it’s not as if Palm Coast and Flagler County politics are a very diverse affair. We revel in the occasional token black presence on this board or that, holding it up, embarrassingly, patronizingly, as if it’s proof that this is a diverse community through and through, knowing fully well that in reality, Flagler County has a very, very long way to go before it can consider itself much more than a stratified community. The color line was more pronounced at today’s rally, because the further right Flagler’s politics go, the further white they get.
But that’s a story for another day.
Here’s the complete report, with audio interviews and photos, on the party rally. And to all of you tea party folks who graciously spoke with me and welcomed me today, many thanks.