Do you know what's happening in downtown St. Louis on April 15? The St. Louis Tea Party. This is an anti-tax protest organized by two radio personalities from the local Fox News Radio affiliate, 97.1 FM. It's actually a repeat of the first tea party protest in St. Louis, which took place on February 27 and turned up gems like this protest sign: "Let's Keep the Tea, Dump the Politicions." The protest was largely in response to the passage of the stimulus bill- you can read the Post-Dispatch article here. The P-D also ran an editorial a few days later, suggesting that it might be counterproductive to dump tea into the Mississippi River when a lot of people in our community are struggling to buy food. According to the editorial, one in six Missourians is eligible for federal nutritional assistance. Of course, people on food stamps probably qualify as free loaders, right?
The tea party protests aren't confined to St. Louis, this is actually a nationwide movement. The national website, Tax Day Tea Party, explains that the protests are a response to CNBC's Rick Santelli and his attempts to "expose the bankrupt liberal agenda of the White House and Congress." I've read the "About" sections on both the national and local protest websites, and looked through photos from the February 27 protest in St. Louis in order to read the signs and placards of the protesters, and I'm still not 100% clear on what is being protested. Here are some possibilities:
1) "Big government," which seems to mean a government that spends money in any way with which you disagree.
2) As seen in the above-linked photo, free loaders. Unclear who qualifies. My student loans are subsidized through federal programs, am I a free loader? Probably.
3) People who don't have jobs. See here.
4) Income tax and payroll tax. No, really.
5) The Congressional habit of passing legislation without actually reading it. This is actually a really valid argument, and CBS has a nice article outlining the problem. Pushing through legislation without adequate time for review is how we ended up with the USA PATRIOT Act. But I don't think tossing some tea into the river will do much to implement what is, in the end, a massive reform of Congressional practice.
6) National health care.
7) I actually have no idea what this man is protesting, but he's definitely upset. About something.
8) Socialism. This is an oldie but a goodie. I know it's become a reflexive argument for a lot of people on the right, but it's also really lazy, and it makes it clear that they have zero understanding of differing economic theories. Socialism is not the same as communism, nor is it the same as Marxism, nor is it the same as liberalism. This article is a useful breakdown of liberalism v. socialism. I know it's not very fun, it doesn't make for snappy slogans to put on your protest signs, but it really is important to understand the evolution of economic thought and the ways in which different schools of economic thought continue to shape the policies of our country and others. Robert L. Heilbroner wrote an excellent primer on economic theories, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers. The book ranges from Smith to Malthus and Ricardo, covering the utopian socialists and then on to Marx and Veblen and Keynes. Maybe that guy should read it.
In the end, I have to agree with Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly:
I suspect one of the problems with the Tea Parties is that it's not altogether clear what they're rallying for. They're conservatives who don't like the Democratic domestic policy agenda; this much is clear. But usually there's some kind of point to organized political events, and the Tea Parties are still a little vague.
I take it they don't like the economic stimulus package, but that's already passed. They don't like budget deficits, unless they're run by Republican presidents. They don't want their taxes to go up, but Obama has already passed a significant middle-class tax cut, which by most measures, is the largest tax cut ever signed by a U.S. president.So, angry, right-wing activists are going to get together to demand ... what exactly? A 36% top rate instead of a 39.6% top rate? A $3.1 trillion federal budget instead of a $3.5 trillion budget? It's hardly the stuff of a credible and coherent political movement.
It will be interesting to see what happens at the April 15 protests, here and around the country. Keep an eye out for the protesters if you're downtown- the St. Louis protest site has details. Maybe there will be a more coherent articulation of their demands, maybe not. Either way I bet there'll be more fun stuff like this- yeah, it's juvenile. But c'mon, that's funny.