Klamath County is notoriously conservative – 70% for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and almost that much for McCain (or maybe Palin) in 2008. Like others around the country, the Klamath Tea Party people held a rally on April 15, 2010, on the little plaza in front of the County Government Center on Main Street downtown.
I didn't go out of my way to go by there; I was on my way to the library about a block away to sit at a table and get some work done. But as I was walking on the other side of the street, one hand-scrawled-on-cardboard sign grabbed my attention. It said: "No taxation without representation." That was, of course, the rallying cry of the original Boston Tea Party, which occurred before the Revolution, in other words before the United States existed and while Massachusetts was still a colony of the British Empire, under the ultimately absolute power of the King. Back then, the people in the American colonies were taxed, but they actually had no democratic representation – they did not get to vote for Parliament, the body that made many of the laws with which they had to comply, including the Stamp Act, a tax on tea. In other words, the people at the Boston tea Party had a point – they paid taxes to a government that did not allow them any democratic representation. Maybe you can see where this is headed. . . . In 2010 in the United States of America, we have, it is true, taxation; but we also have representation – specifically the Congress people and Senators and President elected in regularly-held, more or less democratic elections. Of course it is also true that many people live in States or Congressional districts where they did not vote for the people who are the representatives in Washington at any given moment. I, for instance, did not vote for the currently-serving congressman representing Oregon's 2nd District, which includes Klamath Falls. Of course that does not mean we are not "represented." Even though I did not vote for Greg Walden, he is my representative in Congress; that's how American democracy works. This system does mean that our representatives might not vote on issues the way we want them to (mine doesn't). But that cannot mean we are not "represented" or the idea of American democracy, as constituted through the Constitution, would collapse. In American democracy, we have the individual right to vote for representatives in democratic elections, but we do not have the individual right to pick our representatives; that right belongs to the democratic majority in any particular election. What thinking person could disagree with this? I went over to the guy with the sign, pointed at it and asked, "What does that mean?" He looked at the sign, then back at me, and said, "No taxation without representation." "Well you are represented; you have a congressman, right?" "Not my representation; they're not doing what I want." "You don't support Greg Walden, he's your congressman, he's a republican." "I voted for Greg Walden." "Well then you have representation, right?" "Well, not in the Supreme Court [?], not in the White House." "Well that's how democracy in American works, right? You get to vote for representatives-" His scraggly wife interrupted: "Well none of the Senators [both in Oregon are Democrats], not the President." "Well that's how democracy works right? You have elections and whoever wins is your representative, and they probably vote along the lines of the people who voted for them, right?" The wife then suggested I go read another sign. As I was walking away I looked at the husband and suggested he try using his brain.
At least 90% of the crowd was over 40 years old, at least 75% was over 50, and at least half seemed clearly to be of retirement age. At least 95% of the crowd was white, with a few people who looked possibly Hispanic or Native American. The crowd was, not surprisingly, mostly composed of the kind of folks we call "Klamath people" (and whom I call "Crew Cabs"): flannel shirts, jeans, sun-faded baseball caps with agricultural company logos printed on the front. These are the stereotypical "ranch culture" people who have long held the cultural center of gravity in the Klamath Basin (but whose grasp is slipping as more and more "Subarus" arrive, depressing the percentage of "Crew Cabs"). About half the signs people held were hand-made and half were apparently paid for and handed out by some person or group. Almost all expressed resentment over taxes.
Shortly after I walked away from brain-dead husband and wife, a white man about 60 years old, wearing a flannel shirt, and apparently one of the organizers of the rally, got up to the microphone on the steps above the plaza and started talking. He reassured the crowd that they were good people, good Americans, and that if there were people there who opposed the tea Party movement (I didn't see any that were obvious), well, that just proved they were having an effect on American politics. He then reminded the crowd how good they were, told them that the United States was founded "based on the Bible, and then launched into a not-short prayer requesting that God intervene in upcoming elections, so as to assure their "freedom." At that point, I am reminded of my one-time realization that I am not ultimately the journalist type. I have a very hard time sitting quietly and documenting what people say when what they say is based on ignorance or lies. It's why I gave up listening to Rush Limbaugh years ago. I am interested in what is being said, in what is going on in America, but not to the point I can sit there and take it without talking back, and since there is no talking back to the radio, I just can't take it. So I left the rally and went to the library where rather than work on what I should have been doing, I typed this up instead. By the time I decided I should go back, about an hour later, people carrying little American flags were streaming away from the Government Center. The rally was over and the people were off to wait for their tax refund checks...
Some core features of the 2010 Tea Party:
1) Ignorance of the contents and history of the Constitution.
2) A political philosophy holding that if the government institutes policies they disagree with, the government is thereby illegitimate – a philosophy that is flagrantly anti-democratic and subtly authoritarian (i.e., the people they deem "real Americans" get to decide government policy, as opposed to a government elected by a democratic majority)
3) A selfishness and unjustifiable self-righteousness that is the opposite of morality and could not be more anti-Christian.