Conservative Establishment Backs Anti-Spending Rallies
Joe the Plumber attends an anti-federal spending protest in Washington.
?”Hello, fellow rebels!”
The two-hundred-odd protesters at the Washington, D.C. Tea Party, a rally against federal spending, cheered at Michelle Malkin as she addressed the crowd. Gripping a hastily acquired bullhorn the conservative columnist and blogger congratulated the group for showing up outside the White House on a drizzly, if unseasonably warm, Friday afternoon.
Image by: Matt Mahurin
“What we’re seeing is convergence, a confluence of many new factors,” said Malkin. “We’ve got established taxpayer groups, and conservative groups who are here already for CPAC. But we’ve got a gathering of online activists who are here through Twitter, through other social networks.”
Last week, CNBC pundit Rick Santelli ripped off his manacles and gave viewers a freewheeling rant about President Obama’s proposed mortgage rescue plan. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” asked Santelli, as Chicago traders dog-whistled and cheered him on. “I’m thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party!”
At Obama’s speeches in Meza, Ariz. and outside Rep. Dennis Moore’s (D-Kan.) office in Kansas, conservative protesters took Santelli at his word. Meanwhile, Malkin reported blow-by-blow on the small groups forming online, calling for anti-stimulus protests across the country.
**This string of nation-wide protests was spontaneous, but it was egged on and given form by the establishment of the conservative movement. In Washington, the Tea Party protest was brought into a rough, flash mob order by J.P. Freire, the young managing editor of the American Spectator and a rising star in cable TV punditry. Freire launched a web site and Facebook page for the Washington event, Malkin promoted it, and conservative think tanks jumped on the bandwagon. By Friday the event was endorsed by Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Prosperity, whose local chapter had helped promote the Kansas rally. The timing meshed with the 36th annual Conservative Political Action conference, and dozens of attendees had hopped on the D.C. metro, skipping a speech from Newt Gingrich, to make this event. Others had driven up from as far away as North Carolina, came to argue that President Obama’s stimulus was bound to fail.
“What did Ronald Reagan do?” asked Jeff Gallagher, a project manager from Silver Spring, Maryland. He held a sign featuring a printout of the sinking Dow Jones Industrial Average that he’d printed from Yahoo.com, and pie chart of homeownership numbers he’d printed from Malkin’s web site. “Reagan cut taxes,” Gallagher said. “That was not a failed economic policy. The failed economic policy of the past was FDR in the 1930s, and I don’t know how many times the American people have to have it demonstrated for them that the government doesn’t know best.”
When it was pointed out that Reagan raised taxes multiple times throughout his presidency, Gallagher hesitated. “You got me on the 1982 tax situation,” he said, “but historically we’ve seen revenues go up as tax rates go down.”
“Reagan pulled us out of the Carter years like a champ,” said Max Barron, a network engineer from Federicksburg, Virginia “He came in swinging like Tyson, knocking down tax rates, and poof! We’re good.”
The rally started slowly, as protesters trickled in and looked for the gatherings at Lafayette Park that looked like-minded. (Outside the White House, two other groups were protesting torture at Guantanamo Bay and the Iranian government.) As they found each other, protesters snapped photos, talked into video cameras, and showed off their signs and merchandise. Some grabbed stickers reading “POOP: Prisoners of Obama’s Oppressive Policy,” and faux trillion-dollar bills with the faces of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
At noon Freire appeared with a bullhorn to lay down ground rules (“we’re not allowed to have balloons,” he said, as pig-shaped balloons were passed out) and move the rally a few yards away from the statue of LaFayette. Joe Wurzelbacher, who had been walking around the rally with a PajamasTV cameraman, was called to speak, and protesters craned their necks for a look.
“Is that Joe?” murmered one protester.
“Joe the Plumber’s here!”
“I’m here with PajamasTV,” said Wurzelbacher. “The mainstream media doesn’t seem to want to cover the tea parties, but we do.” He urged the crowd to organize at the grassroots, and do its homework. “Michelle Malkin has an incredible site, great information. Go out there, get educated, get involved.”
Freire handed off the bullhorn to Malkin, and to National Review writer DeRoy Murdoch, but the din of the crowd moved him to dive in and give the most energetic protestors a minute to speak.
“If we want to get the monetary system out of the hands of the corrupt, we have to end the Federal Reserve system,” said one protestor, asking everyone to attend anti-Fed marches on April 25. “Woodrow Wilson, who signed it into law, later said he regretfully destroyed his country.”
Behind the front line, Patrick “Chief” McCarthy started to out-shout the speakers. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” he said. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
“What has always been the tool of tyrants?” asked Patrick “Chief” McCarthy, a retired navy chief petty officer and organizer with the Gathering of Eagles, a group that counter-protests anti-war rallies. “It’s crisis. Oh, I’ve got a crisis, I’ve got to suspend this. I’ve got a crisis, I’ve got to suspend that.”
With no place to march, and nothing to throw at or hand over to the White House, the rally petered out before 1 p.m. “We want to do this again on tax day,” said Brendan Steinhauser of FreedomWorks,* holding the bullhorn. “April 14.”
There were murmurs in the crowd. “You mean April 15?”
“Right, April 15.”
The rally drew to a close, with some protestors huddling to sing an impromptu rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, some exchanging information and taking more photos of their signs. Freire headed back up to CPAC, where he accepted the 2009 Conservative Journalism Award.
** The original version of this article misidentified this speaker as Andrew Langer.*