Column, 667 words

Palin’s Tea Party

At first glance it's easy to dismiss the Tea Partiers as bumpkins with the political acuity of a box of rocks.

Donald Kaul

The Divine Sarah has spoken.

“How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?”

That’s what she said, Sarah Palin. She said it to the Tea Party at their recent convention (or was it the Tea Party Party?) in Nashville.

She said other things too. For example:

“If you can’t ride two horses at once, you shouldn’t be in the circus.”

“People look to Alaska as a beacon of hope.”

“We need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law.”

Also:

“I am so proud to be an American.”

“Happy birthday to Ronald Reagan.”

“It is inspiring to see real people.”

And: “This is bigger than a charismatic guy with a teleprompter.” (She said that despite the fact that during an interview, she kept referring to notes she had written on the palm of her hand.)

OK, so it wasn’t a great speech; at least she didn’t use a teleprompter. She read from a text in front of her on the lectern. And…uh…her hand.

But the Tea Party Nation ate it up, couldn’t get enough of her. “Run Sarah Run,” some of them were shouting.

Well, why not? Maybe it’s about time we had a woman for a president. I even have a campaign slogan for her:

“No idea larger than the palm of your hand.”

It just might be crazy enough to work.

I was a little disappointed with the Tea Party Party’s party itself, however. Only about 600 registrants showed up. That hardly constitutes a mass movement.

On the other hand, it cost quite a bit to get to Nashville and to pony up the registration fee, so maybe a lot of people who are going through hard times were there only in spirit. In any case, you can look at the attendees as the shock troops of the movement, expected to go forth and proselytize their friends and neighbors until there’s an army of converts out there, ready to go forth to do battle.

(I was also disappointed in the way the attendees looked. Unkookish, even drab. The few who chose to come in protest costume came in colonial dress—three-cornered hats, etc.—unaware, perhaps, that the original Tea Party protesters dressed as Indians or “Redskins,” as they were inappropriately called. I want to see some loincloths and war-paint at their next meeting.)

Still, at first glance it’s easy to dismiss the Tea Partiers as bumpkins with the political acuity of a box of rocks.

That’s true at second glance also.

But give them a third glance and what you see are people who are, in the words of “Network” character Howard Beale, “mad as hell and not going to take it any more.”

What are they mad about? Everything, more or less. They’re mad at liberals, conservatives, corporations, immigrants and the government. Especially the government.

They’re mad at being taken for granted by arrogant politicians, abused by corporations, and told what to do by people who know nothing about them—and probably don’t care, either.

I don’t happen to agree with much of what they say at meetings like the one in Nashville, but I certainly can see where they’re coming from. What we should be asking ourselves is, what’s wrong with the rest of us? Why aren’t we mad?

Aren’t we being taken for granted by those same politicians and bullied by those same corporations?

The Tea Party is a legitimate political movement. It has a distant precursor in the “Mugwump” rebellion of 1884, when reformist Republicans bolted the party to support Grover Cleveland, who disappointed them by being insufficiently reformist too.

That tends to be the fate of reformists. Their champions seldom live up to the expectations of purity thrust upon them. Governing is always messier than it sounds during the campaign. And that’s with or without a teleprompter.

The best the Tea Partiers can expect from a (God forbid) President Sarah Palin is a better-looking, even dumber version of George W. Bush.

Washington doesn’t give good hopey-changey.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.