The Blog

David Corn, Professional Journalist, Intuits the News

12:45 PM, Apr 16, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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But it was a crowd of people who find it useful to remind the government that the tax money it's spending is earned by the people it governs, just as our government derives its power from the consent of the governed. Surely Corn doesn't think that simply because the American people have once "consented to be governed" or taxed that they should evermore be silent about the ways in which they are governed and taxed, lest they be considered "too dumb to know to come in from out of the rain."

These people were not protesting particular policies of Obama; they were decrying the foundation of the American political system: citizens pay taxes that cover the costs of government services. How many of the conservative talking heads and political leaders who hailed the tax day protests would agree that there should be no taxes? In this nation, adults debate tax rates and the proper use of tax funds and even the form of taxation implemented by the government--not whether or not there should be taxes.

They actually were protesting particular policies of Obama, which Corn might have known had he attended even one event. Some of the fair criticism of the tea parties is that the crowd's grievances are somewhat unfocused. That's true, but the movement does quibble with specific, though disparate, policies, all on the grounds that a massive expansion of government power and spending is detrimental to us and future generations. They cite the stimulus, the bank bailouts, proposed cap-and-trade, hikes on tobacco taxes, and caps on charitable tax deductions.

I'm sure there were at least a couple people at a couple of these events who believe there should be no taxes at all, but it's hard to make clear enough how uncharacteristic they would have been in the crowd I saw, if they existed at all. But no matter. Corn just assumes away, granting himself the sapient silage he so desperately wishes to fell. Can he finish strong with a stereotype as insulting and hackneyed as his teabagging joke? Yes, he can:

The folks in the rain outside the White House were marginal government-haters. Some had been bussed in from who-knows-where--maybe from ultra-libertarian survivalist compounds in rural West Virginia.

Ooof! West Virginia! Good one. Haven't all overdone West Virginia jokes in the East Coast elite handbook been updated to overdone jokes about Wasilla yet? I wasn't at the Washington tea party, but the folks I saw in Edenton, N.C. were anything but marginal.

What's most disappointing about this blog post is that David Corn knows from marginal, kooky protesters with anti-government goals. Commendably, he wrote about them, in great detail, back when avowed Communists were organizing and governing the message of anti-war protests in Washington.

One man in the crowd was wise to the behind-the-scenes politics. When Brian Becker, a WWP (World Workers Party) member introduced (of course) as an ANSWER activist, hit the stage, Paul Donahue, a middle-aged fellow who works with the Thomas Merton Peace and Social Justice Center in Pittsburgh, shouted, "Stalinist!" Donahue and his colleagues at the Merton Center, upset that WWP activists were in charge of this demonstration, had debated whether to attend. "Some of us tried to convince others to come," Donahue recalled. "We figured we could dilute the [WWP] part of the message. But in the end most didn‘t come. People were saying, 'They‘re Maoists.' But they‘re the only game in town, and I've got to admit they‘re good organizers. They remembered everything but the Porta-Johns." Rock singer Patti Smith, though, was not troubled by the organizers. "My main concern now is the anti-war movement," she said before playing for the crowd. "I'm for a nonpartisan, globalist movement. I don‘t care who it is as long as they feel the same."

The WWP does have the shock troops and talent needed to construct a quasi mass demonstration. But the bodies have to come from elsewhere. So WWPers create fronts and trim their message, and anti-war Americans, who presumably don't share WWP sentiments, have an opportunity to assemble and register their stand against the war. At the same time, WWP activists, hiding their true colors, gain a forum where thousands of people listen to their exhortations. Is this a good deal -- or a dangerous one? Who‘s using whom?