The tea parties: Not my cup of tea

Driving into work on Friday morning, I was stuck behind two gleaming, painted tour buses that could’ve belonged to a rock-star on tour. Curious if someone interesting, (could it be Brett Michaels?), was stopping in Sacramento, I patiently waited to pass the buses that had somehow managed to block all traffic on 10th street. Imagine my disappointment when I drew closer and the photo on the back of the bus became clearer – staring back at me was not a rock-star, but the image of a stern-looking… Lew Uhler, the renowned conservative wing-nut and go-to-guy in California for all things anti-government. How could I have forgotten? It was “Tea Party” day.

Never one to miss a good historical re-enactment , I wondered how the Tea Partiers were going to make a “taxation without representation” argument in front of the very Capitol building housing all of their state elected representatives. The Boston Tea Party, after all, is one of the seminal moments in American history, representing the colonists’ desire to have the right to vote – the right to have a say in their own destiny. So I wondered – were the Tea Partiers feeling disenfranchised somehow? Did they need to be reminded how to register to vote?

Along with a friend who was equally as curious about the goings-on, we crossed the street from my office to the Capitol Steps in search of some answers, and possibly a nice cucumber sandwich. Disappointed to find that no one had bothered to dress in period costume, the first Tea Partiers we encountered were excitedly waving signs opposing the “Dog Tax.” As someone who keeps a pretty close eye on animal issues, I had never heard of taxing our pooches, so I asked for some clarification. I soon learned that “clarity” was in short-supply at this particular tea party, replaced by an overwhelming feeling of misdirected anger and malaise. The dog-taxers were the proud owners of a champion pure-bred Roman Rottweiler, and were red-in-the-face angry about proposals to spay and neuter pets. Short on relevant facts about that proposal or any other, the most vocal of the dog-tax group was actually mad about the very existence of animal shelters, and said, with a straight face, “ONLY 400,000 pets are euthanized in California every year – that’s not MY problem.”

Convinced that this man must have a tiny stone where his heart was supposed to be, I moved on through the crowd in search of some other message, hoping that not all Tea Partiers were puppy-haters. But it turns out, they all hated something.

Our next conversation was with a man we’ll refer to as Mad-Chad, a guy who was up in arms that he was unemployed, a situation he blamed on undocumented workers and a bad court system (again – facts and logic were in short-supply here). After his rant about getting rid of all government employees, my friend asked him if we should get rid of the hard-working police officers keeping the peace at his tea party. At some point during this conversation, Mad-Chad actually resorted to shoving her – so we made friends with the above-referenced, heat-packing, peace-keeping, government employees. In a bizarre twist, Mad-Chad then sent a woman with an eerie resemblance to Norman Bates’ mother to follow us around with a video camera. And here I thought tea-parties were supposed to be civilized.

With State Sen. George Runner giving a red-meat speech to approximately 500 to 600 Tea Partiers – turns out their projected crowd of 8-10,000 never materialized – we wandered along, Norman Bates’ mom in tow. There were plenty of people waving signs opposing “government run health-care,” who, with no sense of irony, were standing next to Tea Partiers holding signs reading “hands off my Medicare.” I couldn’t help but thinking that the people in this crowd, not exactly the picture of health, would likely be the very people who would need the Obama health care plan the most, particularly as insurers increasingly deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

We then came across what had to be the most unlikely booth at the whole Tea Party – the man collecting signatures to legalize and tax marijuana. Feeling a sense of civic duty, I finally found a cause I could support at this “anti-tax” Tea Party – and given the large number of signatures on his clipboard, either passers-by found this irony as fascinating as I did, or the Tea Partiers are actually fine with taxes, as long as they don’t have to pay them.

Leaving the festivities, we noticed the many flat-bed trucks circling the Capitol building, apparently successfully polluting our air (doubling Sacramento’s pollution for the day) in a display of opposition to the California Air Resources Board.

So, my take-away message from their event is this: if the Tea Partiers had their way, I guess we’d live in a world with dirty air and roaming packs of homeless dogs, where the elderly and sick don’t get any health insurance, police officers don’t exist and Norman Bates’ mother is always following two-feet behind you. That sounds more like a horror flick than a tea party.

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