Sunday, March 28, 2010


It's easy to snicker smugly at the hypocrisy of this:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Tom Grimes lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago, he called his congressman, a Democrat, for help getting government health care.

Then he found a new full-time occupation: Tea Party activist.

In the last year, he has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a "bus czar" Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government's takeover of health care.

But, well, that's what you can get in a democratic society in which many citizens aren't extremely well educated or politically sophisticated, and in which freedom of speech can sometimes mean that the dominant political voices belong to lying demagogues.

Maybe I just say this because I'm the child of people who didn't have the education I did, but if you want to obtain "consent of the governed" when your ideas are complicated and your political opponents are vicious liars with much better messaging skills, you have to compete effectively for public support in the country as it is, not in the country you wish existed. You have to win Tom Grimes over even if he can't write a Harvard-quality senior thesis on government social spending.

The way the Obama administration might have prevented the rise of the tea party movement was to work tirelessly early on to convey a sense that it felt ordinary citizens' pain and was trying is level best to alleviate that pain; the failure to do so led to this:

Mr. Grimes is one of many Tea Party members jolted into action by economic distress. At rallies, gatherings and training sessions in recent months, activists often tell a similar story in interviews: they had lost their jobs, or perhaps watched their homes plummet in value, and they found common cause in the Tea Party's fight for lower taxes and smaller government....

A year ago, [Diane] Reimer's husband had been given a choice -- retire or be fired. The couple had been trying to sell their split-level home in suburban Philadelphia to pay off some debt and move to a small place in the city.

But real estate agents told them the home would sell for about $40,000 less than they paid 19 years ago -- not enough to pay off their mortgage.

Then Ms. Reimer saw a story about the Tea Party on television. "I said, 'That's it,'" she recalled. "How can you get this frustration out, have your voices heard?"

..."All I know is government was put here for certain reasons," Ms. Reimer said. "They were not put here to run banks, insurance companies, and health care and automobile companies. They were put here to keep us safe."

There you go: government was "put here to keep us safe." And, in this presidency, through all of 2009 it kept Wall Street safe instead, while failing to devise any program of even remotely similar magnitude for the immediate needs of ordinary citizens. No real jobs program. No real mortgage relief program. Nothing. Just a health care reform plan, most of which won't go into effect for years.

I don't feel smug when I read that these people accept Social Security and other government benefits while railing against government. We have a system that doesn't legally require intellectual rigor on the part of voters. Our side has to make a persuasive case to them anyway. That's just how it is. And our side failed all through 2009 -- and, the health care bill notwithstanding, isn't doing all that much better this year,

No comments: