The Note, 4/16/09: Strange Brews -- ‘Tea parties’ reveal lessons and limits of protest


As President Obama bids adios for his trip to Mexico, five things we learned on Tax Day:

1. Tea bags can be intriguing (and, per the Secret Service, potentially dangerous) protest items -- but “teabagging” is too easy a double entendre to be funny anymore.

2. Vice President Joe Biden donates his time as well as his money -- and needs to write a better-selling book if he’s going to make Obama cash.

3. Tea parties don’t get rained out -- but their second scheduling might be more interesting than the first. 

4. The crowds that gathered at sites nationwide Wednesday were probably greater than any one politician -- probably including President Obama, and certainly including Michael Steele, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell -- could hope to put together at this moment in the election cycle.

5. This is a movement that nobody really controls -- and nobody really understands.

Something will develop out of this. But right now, we’re left testing a machine that does not exist.

The organizing energy that hit the streets Wednesday may be one of the most powerful forces in politics. But until or unless it’s channeled, all it’s going to do is give puddles an Earl Grey scent.

Yet if there’s a message here for all politicians, it’s that the anger and frustration is out there. Maybe no politician can own it -- and maybe no one wants to own it -- but it has arrived, and it’s probably here to stay.

“This movement is significant,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “Derided by elitists as phony, the tea-party movement is spontaneous, decentralized, frequently amateurish and sometimes shrill. . . . Yesterday's gatherings were made up of people who may never meet again (there's no central collection point for email addresses). But the concerns driving people to tea parties are real, growing and powerful.” 

Where the message could matter: “There’s one strain to the well-orchestrated chorus of tea party complaints that does seem to have hit a chord. It’s the worry that President Obama is trying to do too much at once, spending too much money without making the tough decisions about how to pay for it all,” Gail Collins writes in her New York Times column

“That was, you will remember, the Republican theory -- brilliant except for its utter wrongness -- that if you cut taxes enough, the lack of revenue would force Congress to reduce the size of government,” Collins writes.

Where its limits reside: “Gallup polls released this week found that 53% of Americans approve of the expansion of the U.S. government to help fix the economy, even if most of that group wants it scaled back once the crisis abates. And 48% think that the amount of federal income taxes they pay is ‘about right,’ a finding that shows anti-tax sentiment near a historic low for the last five decades,” Michael Finnegan and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times

“Nonetheless, protesters gathered in cities across America to mark the April 15 tax filing deadline with rallies inspired by the Boston Tea Party and promoted by Fox News, conservative blogs and talk radio,” they write.

“At issue is whether the anti-tax, anti-government spending message makes Republicans seem out of touch with present-day reality,” reads the version in the Chicago Tribune

USA Today’s Oren Dorell: “Shouts rang out from Kentucky, which just passed tax increases on cigarettes and alcohol, to Salt Lake City, where many in the crowd booed Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman for accepting about $1.5 billion in stimulus money. Even in Alaska, where there is no statewide sales tax or income tax, hundreds of people held signs and chanted ‘No more spending.’ ” 

Watered-down: “It was hard to determine from the moderate turnout just how effective the parties would be. In Philadelphia, a rally in Center City drew about 200 rain-soaked participants,” Liz Robbins writes in The New York Times. “Several hundred people showed up in Lafayette Park opposite the White House, until the park and parts of Pennsylvania Avenue were cleared while a robot retrieved what the Secret Service confirmed was a box of tea bags.” 

“The tea party protest of 2009 was a comedy of aggravation, but no matter. Hundreds of demonstrators ignored the missing truck, the dreary weather and the red tape and gathered in Lafayette Square yesterday for a rain-soaked but boisterous rally to protest high taxes, congressional earmarks and government bailouts,” Michael E. Ruane writes of the protest near the White House

“Though ostensibly an anti-tax protest, it was more of an anti-Obama festival. Among the messages: ‘The Audacity of the Dope,’ ‘O Crap’ and Obama as an acronym for ‘One Big Awful Mistake America,’ ” per The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. Surely the rain didn’t help the turnout: “Though the left and right will fight over whether the protests were organic or fake AstroTurf, there can be little doubt that the grass roots were well nourished yesterday.” 

Where does this get a movement? “It was the sort of protest the Wall Street Journal editorial board would have designed if they were asked to come up with their ideal rally,” Jennifer Rubin writes for Pajamas Media. “It is not clear whether this is the making of a new political party or a flash in the pan. What it does show is that the absence of a single Republican leader does not hinder some impressive grassroots organizing.” 

One darling of the day -- and watch this play out in his primary: “Answering news reporters' questions, [Gov. Rick] Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that,” per the AP’s Kelley Shannon

“There's a lot of different scenarios,” Perry, R-Texas, said. “We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot.”

The next rallying point? “As the Obama administration works to complete its stress tests for gauging the health of major banks, it could confront another problem: how to pay for shoring up any weaknesses the tests reveal,” David Cho reports for The Washington Post. “The administration would be hard-pressed to ask Congress for more rescue funds to plug the holes. Anger on Capitol Hill is high, especially after the furor over bonuses paid to employees at American International Group. . . . Senior administration officials have said it is likely they may need to ask Congress for more money, but they say such a request probably wouldn't come anytime soon.” 

The response: “The president talked about tax day, making the argument that April 15th will be less painful for most Americans because of his actions,” per ABC’s Jake Tapper

“As Tax Day protesters outside the White House and around the country attacked what they see as out-of-control government spending, President Obama promoted himself as a tax-cutter,” per the Washington Times’ Jon Ward

“My administration has taken far-reaching action to give tax cuts to the Americans who need them,” the president said at an event at the White House intended to highlight tax cuts, credits and refunds enacted since he took office.

The White House’s Thursday: “The President will deliver remarks on efforts to transform travel in America with a system of high-speed rail that meets the transportation needs of the 21st century and lays a new foundation for our economic prosperity by connecting cities, untangling congestion on our roads and in our skies, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.” Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will also attend.

Then -- it’s hello, Mexico, with a meeting with President Felipe Calderón at Los Pinos and a joint news conference.

Before he goes: “President Obama today designated three Mexican drug cartels -- Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, and La Familia Michoacana -- as targeted for special U.S. sanctions,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.  “The objective is to deny the cartels and their members access to the U.S. trade and financial systems.” 

Expectations: “President Obama will visit Latin America this week to reassure the region it will have a place in U.S. foreign policy, visiting Mexico and attending a regional summit in Trinidad and Tobago to take up issues including drug-related violence, the global economic crisis and U.S. policy toward Cuba. But the big question is whether the president can deliver much beyond goodwill,” The Wall Street Journal’s David Lunhow and Laura Meckler write

“As Obama arrives for his first presidential visit to Mexico, many from the nation's southern jungles to northern deserts are hoping the U.S. leader will bring some of his contagious optimism,” Time’s Iaon Grillo writes

Overexposure? “Barack Obama has gone from being historic to being ubiquitous. He doesn’t just control the news cycle, he is the news cycle,” Roger Simon writes for Politico. “Need an auto exec fired? A pirate killed? A dog patted? A Cuba policy addressed? An Easter egg rolled? An economy stimulated? Hey, he also does Seders!” 

Paging the left: “The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year,” Eric Lichtblau and James Risen report in The New York Times. “Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in ‘overcollection’ of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.” 

Those interested in that will also be interested in this: “The Obama administration is expected to release some operational details of a Central Intelligence Agency interrogation program and its legal rationale, while seeking to keep secret the names of detainees and the way techniques were applied to particular prisoners, two officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday,” The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez and Siobhan Gorman report.

“An announcement is expected Thursday on the release of memorandums in which Department of Justice lawyers gave legal guidance on CIA interrogations. During a fierce debate, CIA officials have argued for keeping sensitive information secret, while Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration lawyers have favored a full release.”

From the annals of transparency: “Want to learn about the earmarks, the federally funded local projects that your member of Congress wants to stick in the federal budget? It may not be easy. In fact, it could be like looking ‘under an electronic rock,’ as one budget watchdog group put it,” McClatchy’s David Lightman reports

“To find the 22 pages of earmark requests from Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., one must find his Web site, click on ‘On the Issues,’ then ‘Economic Development and Job Creation.’ Next, the reader sees a long statement from Rogers that starts with his high school graduation in 1955 and, after eight paragraphs, ends with a link to his earmark requests.”

The not-so-secret envoy: “[Valerie] Jarrett, who calls Obama ‘Mr. President’ in the offices of the West Wing and ‘Barack’ in the privacy of the East Wing, came from Chicago with a portfolio of power as personal as it is political. That may give her more clout with the first family than any other White House aide,” Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman writes. “Jarrett, a onetime aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, has focused on reaching out to the business community. She regularly speaks with executives of New York-based financial companies such as Kenneth Chenault, chief executive officer of American Express Co.; Richard Parsons, chairman of Citigroup Inc., and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., as well as to Robert Iger, CEO of Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Co., to “pick their brains” about the economic crisis.” 

Just serving the people of Alaska: “As the legislative session draws to an end this weekend, [Gov. Sarah] Palin is pushing no major bills, and neither are state lawmakers. Many pivotal alliances between the governor and minority Democrats are obsolete, undone by mutual bitterness from the election. The rush of oil revenues that helped Ms. Palin press for big-ticket projects in the past has been replaced by a budget deficit that will require taking at least $1 billion out of state savings,” The New York Times’ William Yardley writes. “And then there is the pervasive sense among many lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, that a new political reality has overtaken this remote government seat.” 

Looking good for Scott Murphy: “The Saratoga County Board of Elections finished counting ballots Wednesday, but absentee voters in the county -- a stronghold for Jim Tedisco -- did not give the Republican enough of a boost to lift him above Democrat Scott Murphy in the entire 10-county district,” per Leigh Hornbeck, of the Albany Times Union. “Tedisco finished in Saratoga County with a 163-vote advantage among absentee ballots, bringing the total county tally to 30,708 for Tedisco, 25,937 for Murphy.” 

Nate Silver declares NY-20 all but over: “Although Republican candidate Jim Tedisco is leaving no stone unturned in the special election in New York's 20th Congressional District -- including objecting to the ballot of Kirsten Gillibrand, the woman whom he hopes to replace in the Congress -- the results tallied so far suggest that he is bound for defeat,” he writes at

By the numbers, per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Karen Travers -- not a bad haul for a year spent on the trail: “The Obamas filed their income tax returns jointly and reported an adjusted gross income of $2,656,902, paying $855,323 in federal income taxes and 77,883 in state income taxes. . . . The vast majority of the family’s 2008 income comes from proceeds from the sale of the president’s books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  The president and first lady donated $172,050 -- or about 6.5 percent of their adjusted gross income -- to 37 different charities.” 

Debt update: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slashed her campaign debt in half during the first three months of this year as virtually the entire Democratic establishment rallies around an effort to retire all of her remaining debt,” ABC’s Tahman Bradley reports

Guess what’s left: “Clinton still owes pollster Mark Penn's firm $2.3 million.”

The Kicker:

“He stepped on my economic speech yesterday.” -- President Obama, on why he didn’t bring Bo to his Tax Day announcement. (Washington version of the dog ate my homework?)

“The charitable donations claimed by the Bidens on their tax returns are not the sum of their annual contributions to charity. They donate to their church, and they contribute to their favorite causes with their time, as well as their checkbooks.” -- Vice President Joe Biden’s office, in announcing tax returns that showed $1,885 given to charity, or about 0.7 percent of their adjusted gross income.

Don’t miss “Top Line,”’s new daily political Webcast, hosted by Rick Klein and David Chalian, at noon ET. Thursday’s guests: media consultant Mark McKinnon, and Politico’s Ken Vogel.

Follow The Note on Twitter:

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...