Thursday, April 15, 2010

Of Tea and Taxes . . .

I am on everyone's e-mail list. I've been made well aware that today is not only tax day, it is also the day of the Richmond Tea Party's 2nd Annual Tax Day Rally.

"The day has finally arrived!" the organization's website announces. "We hope you are coming and bringing all your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Please don't miss this amazing event. Don't let Congress think you have given up after 12 months of fighting. Let's show every politician we are committed for the long haul! Come hear what we are about, what we have accomplished, and what we have planned for 2010!"

There is a list of speakers of whom I've never heard, but then I don't live in Richmond. The headliner appears to be Charles Payne, of Fox Business News, who has as unusual a resume for a journalist as I do. If custom prevails, I'm sure by the time those speakers get through, the crowd of Richmond Tea Partiers will be even angrier at the government than they were when they arrived. 

Today is also the Thursday after last weekend's quadrennially held Southern Republican Leadership Conference. As Don Gonyea, NPR's National Political Reporter, put it yesterday on Talk of the Nation . . .
It was a very conservative conference. And it seemed every speaker - save Ron Paul and Rick Perry, the Texas governor - spent a good bit of time talking about President Obama as a socialist. And about - I mean, Newt Gingrich used the phrase over and over and over, that the president is running a secular socialist machine; and Sarah Palin, certainly, goes there. So the rhetoric was very, very much red meat and kind of aimed at keeping the anger up, and doing that to kind of fuel the energy that they see out there. But when you get down to debating health care, if it's going to live in the details, it's harder to portray things that way.
So who are these extremely conservative, extremely angry people? There's a fascinating new poll reported today in the The New York Times that addresses just that question. The front page (as of this moment) article begins this way:
Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.
They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.”
And while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.”
What, I'd like to know, what does all this anger accomplish? Where are all these angry peoples' ideas for productive policies and solutions to the difficult problems facing us? And I'd really like to know what those speakers who work so hard at keeping  other peoples' anger aroused think they are accomplishing toward the greater good?

I spent yesterday at Longwood University, sitting in on 5 sections of students studying effective ways to participate as citizens of communities, states, and this country. Our conversation focused on how to have productive conversations among people who don't agree. We talked about the difference between civil discourse, where a person wants to engage others' minds; and inflammatory discourse, which aims at provoking an emotional response. And, by golly, those students seemed to really get it!

Perhaps it's a course more of us should look into.


  1. I was in one of the classes you visited at Longwood. I really enjoyed hearing your essay. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Megan, it was my very great pleasure. Really, really, really!!