I stood at the curb this afternoon as the Tea Party Express rolled by in two buses and stopped in front of the capitol in Phoenix. It was about 2:30 and waiting for the rally to begin on a sunny, very warm Sunday was a small but edgy crowd of about 1,000 disenchanted Americans, almost every one of them white.
The Express is on a meandering course to Washington, DC, with stops after this one in numerous cities across America. Flagstaff, Arizona, is the next one. The ultra-right Tea Party movement’s aim is to “take back America” from those attempting to turn it into a socialist nation.
I was there to take the temperature of anger directed toward the new healthcare reform law, liberals who are “ruining this country” and President Obama. Not necessarily in that order.
The headliner for the Tea Partiers was a strange choice, Joe the Plumber. That’s Joe the Plumber made famous by Arizona’s Republican senator John McCain during his 2008 presidential bid. That’s the same John McCain many in this crowd seem to think is part of the problem in Washington. Without their star, Sarah Palin, the Partiers apparently will have a hard time mustering meaningful turnouts.
There were flags galore. The American flag and the standard yellow and blue flags, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Most impressive were the homemade signs. Anguished people bearing their souls. One depicted Obama putting a flaming match to the U.S. Consititution and saying, “Shhh! We’re fundamentally changing the country.” Another took on a more violent slant: “Veteran or Terrorist? I Can Be Either,” with the last four words underlined.
The rally itself was deflating, the entertainment mediocre, the speakers uninspiring. Many in the crowd seemed more interested in shooting photographs, buying souvenirs and hobnobing with local politicians trying to latch on to the Tear Party base.
Perhaps the best moment occurred off-stage and out of my view. A woman friend told me she heard a male rallyer shout, “Let’s make the White House white,” and was promptly told by a female bystander to knock it off, that “we” don’t want to win that way.
I left long before Joe the Plumber spoke, if indeed he did. It was another failed moment for me to hear the bitter hatred I’d seen on television last week. No wild-eyed beasts, no rallyers brandishing guns.
And I came away from this fizzled rally feeling somehow encouraged, hopeful that the civil war some predict will not occur. Many at the rally do not yet see the sweeping changes that have occurred while they slept. They are only beginning to see that whites will be in the minority in the not too distant future. They do not understand how their healthcare has been dictated by a black president, a female Speaker of the House and, indirectly, by a Jewish homosexual, all Democrats and fairly elected.
“We want our country back,” they say. But it is too late and that is more than a bit frightening.