Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
AKA The Militant Moderate
In the vernacular of New Orleans Saints’ fans, we might be prone to raise the question: “Who ‘dem Tea Party goers?” And, as compared to the famous car commercial of the olden days, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile,” we could say, “These are not the same tea-baggers you last saw in a town near you.”
Television provides us with repetitive images from which we sort to choose those which represent groups of people or even ideas. Television has provided us with images of tea-baggers. There was that one lady who reminded us of Cousin Minnie Pearl of Grand ‘Ole Opry fame. She had tea-bags hanging from the brim of her hat, reminiscent of Cousin Minnie’s price tags hanging from her hat and clothes. Then there was that slouchy militia, red-neck type carrying an anti-Obama sign in one hand and a rifle in the other.
But, no, the tea party at the fancy Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort was not that so-called populist movement of tea-baggers we saw rallying here and there around the country, wherever a crowd was already gathered. However, the rhetoric sounded pretty much the same.
To begin with, that Gaylord hotel is a rather fancy place, and it costs money to stay there. It also costs money to get there. The registration fee for the tea party was $549, plus an extra $350 to attend the dinner to hear Sarah Palin speak to earn her $100,000 fee. This tea party carried a price tag of somewhere near $2,000 a person for a really big party experience. One might say that eliminated that riff-raff, populist bunch.
While the sponsorship of the Nashville tea party convention was a “for-profit” organization, that is not really all that different either. The whole tea party and tea-bagger “grass-roots” movement has had its wealthy and corporate sponsors providing the money and paying for the organizing of their “spontaneous” events, bus tours, and celebrations.
But this group of tea party goers was indeed different than most of those we saw carrying the signs and yelling anti-government slogans around the country the last six months. This one was made up of people who could afford to leave home and jobs and spend $3,000 to $4,000 a couple for a trip to Nashville to visit with one another and hear their favorite right wing politicians.
Not every tea-bagger was invited to come, not all wanted to go, and not many of the well known people in the party (or even the tea movement) were invited to speak. This was a select group. These folk have been having something of a falling out. Some are mad about this, and some about that. Outsiders don’t know too much about specifics. Some of the old bunch didn’t like the crowd that sponsored the party to make money. Some were mad because their favorites were not invited, or were uninvited, to speak. Mainstream republicans were slighted.
We couldn’t tell for sure from a distance, but it looked like affairs at this tea party of right wing, ultra-conservative, republican folk went off to suit them just fine. We heard about only two of their speakers, the keynoter and the finale. Those choices were interesting and different, as was their manner and material. Both were “ex-es,” one a failed congressman and one a failed vice-president candidate and governor who bailed out half-way in her first term.
The race-obsessed, anti-immigrant, former congressman Tancreado blamed illiterate Latinos and blacks for the election of President Obama. He spoke fondly of reviving “literacy tests” (which were used for decades to keep black people in the South from voting). He noted that these would have kept Mr. Obama out of office.
No less an authority than Meghan McCain has called this speech “innately racist.” Of course, the cheering tea party crowd was an all-white gathering, polling as anti-government and anti-Obama.
Mr. Tancreado spoke of the president by his three names, each enunciated slowly and clearly – Barrack Hussein Obama -- as only a speaker appealing to prejudice does. Of course, that was meant to convey that our president was really a foreigner and not “one of us.” He also called the president “a socialist ideologue.” Tancreado, as is his custom, managed to appeal to several of the lowest common denominator traits in his audience. Sadly, each time he did so, he received spontaneous, loud cheers.
In such manner was the level of character, culture, and intelligence of these tea party goers established. Only such a group would pay someone such as Sarah Palin to come in and give a $100,000 speech, or pay $350 to hear her give the speech and cheer her along.
Sarah did not disappoint her crowd. She heaped coals of fire on the president’s head. She railed against government and taxes. That’s what tea party people do. Then she managed to get in several real cutesy digs at the democrats and their leaders – of the sort like “lipstick on a hockey-mom,” or whatever that old one was. But one backfired.
Her dig at the president’s use of a teleprompter while reading from her prepared text did not go over with the outsider audience of TV clips, and the “cheat sheet” printed on her hand at which she looked and checked during a press interview and later remarks was worse. That became a big joke. It would have not been so bad, had it not exposed her own pointed remarks as hypocritical.
Sarah has become something of a celebrity. That would be okay, of course, if she did not pretend to be anything of gravitas or serious nature. People would be tolerant of her, just as they are of Paris Hilton. The fact that observations and polls indicate that both she and some 35% of our people think that she is qualified to be president is the potential tragedy.
But this tea party society is Sarah Palin’s venue. She fits well there. Not much intellectual substance is expected. Not much is given. They have money, and they gave it to her. This is her kind of crowd.