There was a certain sense of empowerment and cohesiveness at the Pocatello TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party held at the Pocatello City Hall parking lot on Wednesday. For many, it seemed comforting to know that they weren’t alone in feeling like our country is being steam-rolled to a socialistic state where those of us who work hard to provide for our families are shouldering the costs of an out-of-control spending machine in Washington. Participants were unified against expansion of government, encroachment into the private sector, restriction of freedom, and against the massive taxes that will have to be eventually levied to pay for all the spending being done in Washington.
Our nations’ founders intended for there to be a check and balance system where the power and authority of one branch of government could not be expanded at the expense of the others. This check and balance system was designed to prevent governmental excess and oppression of the people. But when the legislative and executive branches function in lock-step usurping not only constitutional power granted to the people and the states, but the people’s capital, a sense of helplessness and disenfranchisement ensues.
The event Wednesday seemed to assuage some of that feeling of helplessness, and seemed to be an eclectic gathering of common people who are not revolutionaries or extremists. They’re just American citizens fed up with the bailouts, the spending, and taxes. It truly was a nonpartisan group, as we have seen all too clearly through the years that no political party has a monopoly on fiscal responsibility and restraint.
The government spent more during George Bush’s eight years in office than any other administration in history, and the current administration is well on its way to dwarfing that. Many of us thought spending under Bush was unrestrained, but what we see now is out-of-control spending on steroids.
Rather than being unified by party, those at the rally were unified by a common sense of fiscal responsibility and frustration at the perceived anti-American actions of the federal government. The spirit of the gatherings nationwide could well be captured by one very young protestors sign, “My future is being mortgaged,” and another, “Why do I feel like a ship passing by Somalia?” an obvious metaphoric comparison of current government actions to piracy,” and another “Tell the politicians to cut their budgets; we’re already cutting ours.”
In February, I watched the live CNBC report by Rick Santelli from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade in amazement as he launched into a diatribe against Congress and the President for their plan to reward bad behavior by having fiscally responsible citizens help pay the mortgages of those who have been less responsible. Santelli said maybe it was time to consider another Tea Party symbolizing our collective disapprobation of the tax-and-spend mentality dominating Washington. Traders on the floor cheered him on (mind you, the CBOT is based in Chicago, not exactly the heartland of conservative political values). as he pled to the camera, “President Obama, are you listening?” From that heartfelt plea by a single citizen, a nationwide grassroots movement was spawned.
It’s hard to say whether the Tea Parties represent an actual movement or were simply a flash in the political pan. If they were a one-time event, the affects will prove ephemeral, as Washington seems impervious to pleas of restraint and discretion in spending and taxation.
But if it was the start of a grassroots movement of concerned citizens for the future of the country, the affects could be monumental. It took just two-and-a-half years from the symbolic Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Declaration of Independence. If the participants of the 2009 Tea Parties want to have a real impact, they need to keep that spirit alive and growing for the next year-and-a-half to alter the composition of Congress, much like disaffected voters did in 1994. If the rallies didn’t catch the attention of decision makers in the nations’ capitol, you can bet that a realignment of Congress in 2010 will.
Richard Larsen is a financial planner and stockbroker who lives in Pocatello. He writes a column for the Idaho State Journal.