Tea Party Express: Tax day rally

David Weigel
Washington Post Reporter-Blogger
Thursday, April 15, 2010; 2:30 PM

Washington Post blogger David Weigel was online Thursday, April 15, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the tea party, today's rallies in Washington, D.C. and the future of the Republican Party.

Right Now blog: Tea Party Express takes a victory lap, makes endorsements


David Weigel: Thanks for participating, everyone! I just got back from the first D.C. protest of the day, so let's get started.


Washington, D.C.: What, in your opinion, is the difference between the tea party and moveon.org, PFAW, certain union-funded groups, etc.

To me, those groups are the lefty version of the tea party movement.


David Weigel: I think that's a fair comparison to make. One difference between tea parties and, say, Health Care for America Now, is that all of the tea party money is given voluntarily -- either by grassroots activists or by corporations. No union dues, no one helping out the cause against his/her will. And the tea partiers, being less top-down, do not hone in on issues or candidates unless an issue becomes all-encompassing, like health care. But I think most tea partiers would think the comparison to say, MoveOn, is fair.


Washington, D.C.: Are the tea partiers sympathetic to D.C. voting rights? With all their talk of no taxation without representation you'd think it would be the logically consistent thing to do.

David Weigel: There's not a lot of awareness of this issue, and when there is the argument is that "the Constitution says D.C. can't vote." Which is true! I brought this up to Dick Armey at today's rally, and he suggested D.C. Vote campaigners should be for merging the district with Maryland -- a pretty standard GOP response.


Missoula, Mont.: How long until the Republicans throw away the tea parties like bad cheese? After 2010 elections or before? I must admit having "ordinary" Americans do your bidding is a pretty good ploy! I tried bringing up Don Blankenship/Massey and that connection to the tea parties to some diehard tea party activists but they don't see the connection or why it's important.

David Weigel: That's a good question. How long did it take the Democrats to stop listening to the anti-war left, after all? Not too long. I think that if Democrats stopped mocking the movement and dialogued with activists about Blankenship -- about companies that exploit people or that live off public welfare -- they'd inform them and find a lot of agreement. Once in a while Glenn Beck will accidentally veer onto that terrain, attacking big banks, but he'll get distracted by Van Jones or something. I don't know if Republicans, in power, could embrace all of the tea party's populism. Either they'll adopt it or they'll "throw it away" and inspire more activism on the right.


Laurel, Md.: Today's date isn't the same thing as tax freedom day, although they fall pretty close on the calendar.

If we're going to observe what date we start keeping our own money, shouldn't we also make January into Social Security/Medicare Month, February Public Education Month, the first part of March Defense Weeks, etc., to acknowledge all the worthwhile things our taxes buy?

David Weigel: Liberals would be well-advised to start that argument. Sure, it sounds corny. But they have ceded a lot of territory to Republicans out of the belief that a fundamental debate on the size of government is just not winnable. It's not winnable, right now, because of decades of smart activism on the right, such as... tax freedom day.


Springfield, Va.: The media likes to show the most outrageous signs (like "Go back to Kenya"). I get the entertainment value, but as a reporter on the ground do you really think it's representative of the people there?

David Weigel: I don't think you can blame the media for that. If you're a sports photographer, do you use a photo of the guy with a "The Eagles are Somewhat Nifty" sign or the photo of a guy painted white and green? You use the weird photo. And yes, fringe beliefs are present at these events. Look at the NYT/CBS poll today that has 30 percent of tea party activists believing Obama was born outside the United States.

The fringe amuses me, but I'm more interested in the pervasiveness of questionable ideas that affect policy, like the idea that financial reform would mean a permanent bailout. That doesn't photograph well, but it shapes the dialogue in Congress.


washingtonpost.com: The Tea Party's Political Favorites (The New York Times, April 15)


Dunn Loring, Va.: What is the significance of the fact that most Tea Partiers are older, white and bemoan the "loss of their country"? To me this particular segment of the society wants to go back in time when things were great in this country if you were white and middle class (or higher), at the expense of other minorities.

David Weigel: Ironically, things were better for the white middle class in the era they're harking back to, but it wasn't because we had no income tax or death tax. On the racial issue -- that's simply not how most of these activists think about it. They honestly believe that entitlements prevent non-whites from becoming financially and politically independent. If they've read Charles Murray or Myron Magnet, they'll cite them. There is a strain of actual racism but that's not where most of these people are coming from.


Cincinnati, Ohio: Why do tea partiers pay Palin so much money to speak at their venues? Is she the only big market speaker they can get?

David Weigel: They can get other speakers, but few are as popular inside the movement. I've heard, for example, that Michael Steele doesn't speak at tea parties because he might encounter heckling. Palin's at the other end of the spectrum -- she's adored.


Seattle, Wash.: MoveOn only got attention when it was demonized by the right as a radical leftist group doing un-American things, like not supporting our invasion of Iraq. MoveOn was never the subject of a media frenzy touting them as a new grassroots group of everyday citizens fed up with government. The media simply repeated right-wing charges against MoveOn, while in the case of the tea party, the media is amplifying the message of the tea partiers, not just their critics.

David Weigel: You raise an interesting question. The media right now is very, very different -- unrecognizably different -- from the media of 1998, when MoveOn launched. Conservatives can go online and upload their own videos and photos and accounts of things, or they can go on Fox News. Liberals have new outlets too -- TPM, HuffPo, to some degree my old magazine The Washington Independent, and MSNBC. But how much do they cover tea parties and the fringe versus the activity on the left? The question answers itself. Both wings of the partisan media amplify this message.


Houston, Tex.: The Tea party is advocating for lower taxes and easing our debt burden. I like the idea. However, what I need to hear from them are specifics. For example, what percentage of one's income should be taxed? If you added up all of the projected revenue according to their vision, how much would government spending need to be cut to match? Obviously cutting government spending would have to be part of the equation. What specific programs would need to be cut and by how much to equal or come close to revenues? I saw some recent information indicating that programs that the general public supports cutting would barely make a dent in federal spending. Who will make the hard decisions and can they be elected? Where can I find their plan?

David Weigel: I ask this question and get different answers. A lot of tea partiers want a national sales tax to replace the income tax. One activist I spoke to today told me she opposes middle class tax cuts and wants more people on the rolls with a flat tax. You don't hear numbers thrown around, more a sense that taxes need to be less progressive and spending needs to be slashed across the board -- although many activists don't want it to be slashed on defense.


Roanoke, Va.: There have been several stories on liberal groups planning to infiltrate tea party rallies. In light of that, how do reporters make sure the people they speak to are representative of the crowd?

David Weigel: Can I just say that "Crash the Tea Party" is the worst idea since Garth Brooks created Chris Gaines? All it's done is allowed tea party activists to cast doubt on the craziest stuff that will surface at rallies. Speaking for myself, I get the e-mails or phone numbers of the people I interview, and it's not hard to tell who's a grassroots activist and who isn't. I did not see them today, but I have seen "interlopers" in the past who do dumb things like dress in tuxedos and talk about how much they love banks.


Arlington, Va.: Are these tea party folks aware of the irony of protesting taxes while riding on public transportation, marching on tax-funded streets and being protected by the U.S. Park Police? Do they not see the disconnect there?

David Weigel: Yes. They'll tell you that a private system would be better but this is what they've got.


Bellingham, Wash.: Hello,

I asked this question in the earlier Romano chat and am interested in your take too:

According to the latest NYT/CBS News Poll released this morning "the 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45".

To me the operative phase above is "18 percent of Americans... identify... as tea party supporters".

First, can you think of any other group of 18 percent of Americans in support of anything that has received so much press, so much media oxygen, and so much publicity for their views?

Second, why is it that during the Senate health-care debate a couple hundred thousand people marching for immigration reform were absolutely ignored by the media while a few thousand tea partiers hurling insults and body fluids at civil rights heroes and House Representatives sucked up all the media oxygen? Why do tea party supporters receive coverage so out of proportion to their numbers?

David Weigel: I'll give you an answer similar to the one I gave above -- because partisan left and partisan right media sources are equally obsessed over the tea parties. Also, because immigration activists have been around for a while, while the tea parties are new.

I feel like religious conservatives got as much political coverage as tea partiers in 1995 and 2005, but there was simply less media then so it wasn't obvious.


That's a good one: "I think that if Democrats stopped mocking the movement and dialogued with activists about Blankenship -- about companies that exploit people or that live off public welfare -- they'd inform them and find a lot of agreement."

Yeah, that'd be like going up to a tea partier today, while they're protesting taxes, and pointing out that taxes are lower now for most middle-class people. I'm pretty sure once I "dialogued" with them, we'd "find a lot of agreement."

David Weigel: You're too cynical. There is no argument on the right about taxes -- taxes should be lower. There is an argument about the government "picking winners and losers" and helping some businesses at the expense of others. I really think this is an area where activists could work together. How, in this partisan climate? Darn good question.


Alexandria, Va.: What if anything is the president and Congress doing to protect Social Security for Americans who will be following the baby boomers? My husband and I, age 39 and self-employee. We pay in the max., which is around $36,000 per year for both of us. With that high of a tax burden -- our ability to save for ourselves is much harder. It seems to me that when the federal government decided to become the pension for the masses, they should be treated like a pension with required solvency rules and Sarbanes-Oaxley disclosure and fraud rules.

David Weigel: They're punting. Either they raise the retirement age, raise taxes, or cut payments. There's no political will to do any of those things, and I don't yet hear Republicans ready to restart a discussion about this. I do hear Republicans like Jim DeMint saying that this will be discussed when we get deep enough in crisis to start scrapping entitlements so, uh, there's that to look forward to.


Rochester Hills, Mich.: There is no doubt the tea party leans to the Republican side of the aisle. Thus it would hurt the tea party's intentions to split a vote, in November, with the Republicans. What is being done to avoid this outcome?

David Weigel: The tea party movement is actively policing itself to stop third party efforts. Check out my post on that CBS/NYT poll -- tea partiers are less interested in a third party than the average voter. Look at Nevada, where the Tea Party Express ran TV ads attacking third party candidate John Scott Ashjian and succeed in lowering his poll numbers.


Keedysville, Md.: Since the tea partiers are essentially mostly nostalgic about Bush, doesn't that pretty much discredit its libertarian credentials?

David Weigel: You said it, not me! For every FreedomWorks activist who thinks Bush did tremendous damage, there is a tea partier -- often more concerned with America's culture than with economics -- who thinks Bush was our last bulwark against European secularism and socialism.


washingtonpost.com: Poll: Tea partiers miss Bush, like the GOP, don't want a third party, and wonder where Obama was born (Right Now, April 15)


Alexandria, Va.: Who do you think are the conservative movement's strongest leaders?

David Weigel: If we leave aside the ones whose names are mentioned in presidential polls, I'd say David Koch, Andrew Breitbart, and Michele Bachmann. Koch has funded not just Americans for Prosperity, but think tanks that have helped conservative activists fall in line on the issues. Breitbart has won significant victories against the traditional media. Bachmann is always a few steps ahead of the press in figuring out what arguments will motivate the GOP base, and occasionally what arguments will sell to independents. By no means a comprehensive list, but I think those people are shaping the world we live in.


Harrisonburg, Va.: Does the inherent autonomous nature of many of the participants of the tea party movement work to the detriment of its ability to organize and mobilize as a more monolithic force?

David Weigel: Not really, because it's so easy to organize online. We've seen activists hurting their own cause, as in Rep. Tom Perriello's (R-Va.) district, but not hurting their ability to organize on big projects.


Shepherd Park, D.C.: It seems to me that most tea party supporters come from states that receive more from the federal government in highway funds, agricultural subsidies, etc., than they pay in taxes and fees. Has anyone pointed out this irony to them?

David Weigel: Yes. They oppose all of that. I've had some interesting conversations with tea partiers who take subsidies, like Indiana Senate candidate Marlin Stutzman, and they want that phased out.


Charlotte, N.C.: Why do you not correct people when they say things of which there is ZERO evidence?? The previous questioner said, "Second, why is it that during the Senate health-care debate a couple hundred thousand people marching for immigration reform were absolutely ignored by the media while a few thousand tea partiers hurling insults and body fluids at civil rights heroes and House Representatives sucked up all the media oxygen? Why do tea party supporters receive coverage so out of proportion to their numbers?" Where is there any proof of these allegations? Don't journalists have to objectively report the facts and not conjecture??

David Weigel: Yes, but I was there and there were insults hurled at members -- that question was phrased very well. And John Lewis stands by the story you're referring to.


Cleveland, Ohio: If you were to ask the typical tea partier what "taking back our country" means, what do you think the reply would be? While I understand the value of having slogans for purposes of demonstrating, they only go so far. What specifically does a tea partier want when he or she says that he or she wants to take back our country?

David Weigel: Newt Gingrich at the SRLC put it the way most tea partiers would put it -- the country has been taken over by a "secular socialist machine" and they need to dismantle it and get us back to the pre-Progressive Era regime of taxes and regulation.


Taxed Enough Already?: What are they protesting exactly? Taxes are lower than they were two years ago, and any implicit tax increases required in the future have a lot more to do with Medicare Part D and the Iraq war than with anything that has taken place under Obama. If it's bailouts they hate, where were they in 2008?

I appreciate everyone's right to a Howard Beale moment, but shouldn't it at least be coherent if it is to be taken seriously?

David Weigel: They'll tell you that they're protesting the inevitable tax hikes that "ObamaCare" will require, and the taxes that will be hiked at the end of 2010, when the Bush tax cuts expire. You make a great point about Iraq, but tea partiers will tell you the war was worth it and health care reform is not.


Another conservative "leader": So, after citing Michelle Bachmann as a leader of the movement, I happen to notice that Victoria Jackson, former performer on "Saturday Night Live," appeared at a Tax Day Tea Party rally today in Washington D.C., and sang a song apparently titled 'There's A Communist Living In The White House.'

Apparently, it went over really well.

But, of course, this isn't a sign that the tea partiers are irrational nuts. She's just part of the fringe. Who happened to get a chance to be at the podium. And sing this song for everyone. Which went over well.

I'm sure that's just a freak occurrence.

David Weigel: It was very well received. You're not going to get a tea partier to say that calling Obama a "communist" is going overboard. Jackson has been incredibly over-the-top, but organizers told me that they thrive when liberals attack them. So expect to hear that song again. Nice ukulele part, at least.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Many of the tea partiers rely on Medicare and Social Security, entitlement programs that comprise a massive portion of federal spending. There won't be much government to reduce unless senior hand-outs take a turn at the chopping block. Will these anti-tax folk put their entitlements where their mouths are?

David Weigel: They've tried! Dick Armey is suing for the right to opt out of Medicare. One thing I'm watching is whether we see some tax protests -- some people refusing to file returns -- to make this point.


Re: Merging D.C. with Maryland: That's one idea, but what about merging it with Virginia? Would Dick Armey like to see a very Democratic area merged into a state that was once very red but is now "purple"?

David Weigel: Good question! Creigh Deeds certainly could have used that. But D.C. residents would rather remain a state and get the vote.


National Sales Tax: Arkansas is considering such a measure, at the state level. Estimates put it at around 30 percent to make up for the loss of state personal and corporate income taxes (and associated corporate fees). As upset as the tea-partiers are over a false and inflated notion of 20 percent tax burden, I can't see them supporting a 30 percent burden in reality, can you?

David Weigel: I talked about this with Rep. John Linder, the biggest congressional supporter of the "Fair Tax," at today's rally. He's convinced that the debate over VAT will help the cause, because voters will be choosing between higher income AND sales taxes or simply a higher sales tax. We'll see.


Arlington, Va.: "You're not going to get a tea partier to say that calling Obama a "communist" is going overboard"

But it is. Do they understand what a communist is in reality and just don't care that they are exaggerating, or are they ignorant of the real tenets of communism?

Either way it does not work for me. And these are not the fringe people in this movement.

Death panels. Sure.

David Weigel: You make a good point, and it's pretty obviously insulting to compare the man who hired Tim Geithner and Paul Volcker with Stalin or Mao. But tea partiers have effectively shifted the Overton window. If you challenged every one of them on their "communist" accusation, you'd never be done. So the accusation just sits out there, and it's up to swing voters whether or not to reward it.


Anonymous: It cannot possibly help their cause to use terms like fascist and socialist interchangeably, can it?

David Weigel: No. It's not good for anyone that Glenn Beck's bizarre version of history is informing so many people right now.


Chicago Ill.: How can the tea partiers demand limited federal government, low taxes, adhering to the founders' vision for America, and a strong national defense? Those concepts are mutually exclusive. Thanks.

David Weigel: National defense was the one area, they say, where the founders wanted us to spend and appropriate mightily. The debate is between Ron Paul-style conservatives, who say the founders wanted us to stop at the water's edge, and other conservatives who say the founders would have wanted us to spend whatever it took to keep us a superpower.


Re: phasing out subsidies: You wrote that you've talked to tea partiers who receive government money (subsidies) who are in favor of having those phased out. I find this fascinating. So, do you ask the follow-up question of, "If that money is phased out, what will you do?" And if so, what is their answer?

David Weigel: In the case of Marlin Stutzman, he wanted to buy more private insurance.


Re: Springfield, Va.: While I agree that most tea partiers aren't waving racist signs, I perceive a great deal of white resentment behind the movement. Do you? The more articulate members use loaded terms like "real Americans" and "good people" as contrasted with the poor and immigrants (both legal and illegal). In my own experience with tea partiers, they falsely equate health-care reform is simply another welfare program, often evoking the "welfare queen" myth. Does that jibe with your experience?

David Weigel: This is a subject that I wish we could discuss without devolving into shouting matches and non sequiturs like "but Robert Byrd was in the Klan." You should take note of the result in the CBS/NYT poll on how many tea partiers think Obama's policies are biased toward non-whites. More than the national average, but not a majority.


LaCrosse, Wisc.: Are there any Republicans who are critical of the tea party movement?

David Weigel: Some pundits like David Frum, but no elected Republicans that I've seen -- why irritate these potential supporters?


David Weigel: Thanks for all of the great questions -- thanks for the great ones sitting there in the queue, mocking me, that I don't have time to answer. Please keep in touch via the blog or twitter, and e-mail me any time.


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