The Wandering Eye had a nice, steaming dish of crow to eat for breakfast today. We predicted that the "Tax Day Tea Party" in Bend would fizzle, but we have to admit the tea partiers put on a pretty impressive show.
By The Eye's unscientific eyeball estimate, several hundred people showed up at Troy Field downtown on a bright but chilly afternoon to vent their anger about President Obama, taxes, deficits, gun control, "socialism," and all the other things right-wingers are chronically angry about. Here are a few more-or-less random observations:
The success of the Bend tea party is proof that this area is still pretty conservative. Deschutes County went for John McCain and Sarah Palin last November, though by a thin margin; the Republican ticket carried Jefferson and Crook Counties handily. Although Portland's population is more than seven times the size of ours, the crowd at the Bend event was almost as big - maybe even bigger - than the one in Portland, which The Oregonian described as "more than 1,000."
It was a predominantly middle-aged or older crowd. There appeared to be damn few teens, very few 20-somethings, a few more 30-somethings, and a lot of 40-, 50-, 60-, 70-and-beyond-somethings. If conservatives want to capture the youth demographic they've got their work cut out for them.
The tea party movement was billed as a grassroots uprising, and several of the speakers in Bend referred to its supposed grassroots nature. But the grassroots had a lot of fertilizer applied to them by rich right-wingers and the organizations they bankroll.
For instance, the organizer of the Bend tea party, Lucy Brackett, is the Deschutes County chair of Americans for Prosperity. Speaking at yesterday's rally, she urged people to sign up to join the organization. Americans for Prosperity is a national group based in Washington, DC that since its founding in 2003 has mounted "grassroots" campaigns for various right-wing causes, such as opposing efforts to curb global warming.
AFP describes itself as "a nationwide organization of citizen leaders committed to advancing every individual's right to economic freedom and opportunity." Its board of directors includes such well-known right-wing luminaries as Art Pope, a North Carolina retail magnate and former state legislator who heads a foundation that "supports a diverse collection of conservative, free market and libertarian oriented think tanks"; James C. Miller III, budget director under Ronald Reagan, senior fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution think tank and former board member of several other right-wing organizations; and David H. Koch of Texas, billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, described by SourceWatch as "the largest privately held company in the United States, with annual sales of $90 billion."
The story of the Koch (pronounced "Coke") family, as told by SourceWatch, is an intriguing one. The founder of the company, Fred Koch, was one of the charter members of the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society. Fred's son and David's brother, Charles, founded the libertarian Cato Institute. David ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980. The Koch Family Foundations, which David and Charles run, are "one of the largest single sources of funding for conservative organizations in the United States," whose beneficiaries, in addition to Cato, include Citizens for a Sound Economy, Reason Magazine, the Manhattan Institute, the Heartland Institute and the Democratic Leadership Council.
The Koch family firm's relationship with the law has been a troubled one. In March 2000 it agreed to pay $30 million in penalties for more than 300 oil spills in five states caused by its faulty pipelines during the 1990s. "In 1996, a flawed pipeline caused an explosion outside of Dallas in which two teenagers were killed. In a lawsuit related to the deaths, a trial court returned a judgment of $376.69 million against the company."
In light of this history, it's not surprising that David and Charles Koch resent the gummint's attempts to infringe on their "right" to foul the landscape with their leaky pipelines.
Looking around at the signs at the Bend tea party, we were struck by how many times the word "No" appeared. "No One-World Government," one proclaimed. "No Cap & Trade," said another, referring to a strategy to cut greenhouse gases. And of course there were endless variations on "No to Socialism." In short, pretty much the same ol', same ol' rhetoric we've been hearing from the righties since ... well, since forever.
"Okay," we found ourselves thinking, "we know what these people are against - but what are they FOR?"
Obama's policies might not be perfect; there are a couple of them we don't much care for ourselves. But at least he's trying to do something, and like they always say, you can't beat somethin' with nothin'. American conservatives still aren't offering any practical, positive alternative to the progressive agenda. And until they come up with one, their ideology - for everybody but a small and shrinking core of true believers - will have all the appeal of a used teabag.