05/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tea Parties: GOP Once Again Manipulating the Average Joe


During the eight miserable, ineffective and wasteful years of the Bush administration, Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove, the president's chief political advisor, deftly crafted a successful strategy of turning the "little guy" on himself. That being, to divert and distract these Average Joes away from the real issues that effect them--unemployment, wages, health care, education--and instead drive them to the polls through hot-button issues including abortion, gay-marriage and life-support (Terri Schiavo). For a long while, it worked. The little guy consistently voted against his own self-interests.

But the little guy's not completely stupid, and the inevitable backlash began with the 2006 midterm elections where Democrats won a small Congressional majority, and kicked into high gear last November, with Barack Obama's presidential victory and the Democratic landslide in the House and Senate. Dejected, the GOP crawled away a broken, dysfunctional family. A tarnished brand. But as this year's tax season rolled around, conservatives issued a rallying cry in the form of "tea parties," those ill-founded, embarrassing, scantly attended protests that were held Wednesday across the nation. Though touted by organizers (most likely GOP funded and supported) as being attended by "Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents," judging from the crowds and the signs they waved, it was pretty clear this was a decidedly anti-Obama movement. And that's the insane part.

What the demonstrators are protesting is what they believe to be higher taxes and wasteful government spending, in particular the $787-billion stimulus plan and the $3-trillion bailouts of banks, Wall Street and the auto industry. But the not-so-comic irony here is that the Obama administration has yet to impose one single tax increase on anyone. To the contrary, it's giving income tax cuts to 95% of Americans, and gives additional tax cuts and credits for small businesses, tuition payers and home buyers. The only individuals that could be hit with an actual tax increase are those whose annual incomes exceed $250,000. An increase, mind you, that's still a full 10 points less than the rates during the Reagan presidency. But I didn't see any seemingly rich dudes in NY, Chicago, DC and elsewhere parking their Benz's and raising any protest signs at these rallies. The crowds, though small, were filled with the same types who've been used and abused before: low and middle-income taxpayers who ironically stand to gain the most from Obama's tax policies. And once again, they've somehow been manipulated by the GOP through lies, misinformation and perhaps even racial bias.

I nearly cringed when I saw on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show a few people in the crowd jeering one of the guests being interviewed, a woman from a progressive/green organization, who supports taxing the rich. It was as if the poor and middle class in the crowd had been brainwashed into defending those mistreated rich folk at the hands of the elitist Obama.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, there are many recent signs that the economy may finally be turning around. There's been several positive indicators in the banking, home, retail and auto sectors. The credit markets are opening up. The stock market's had the best rally since the Great Depression. And, there hasn't been one bank/Wall Street failure since the bailouts. Maybe, just maybe, the government's fiscal policies which began in the Fall under George Bush and then expanded under Obama are working? And maybe those misguided protesters--the ones out across America yakking about Obama as if he was the biggest socialist since Karl Marx--should realize that these same policies are the ones that will help create jobs; protect savings; make home-buying more affordable; make tuition easier to pay; create universal health care; make the US more energy efficient; and, overall, resuscitate this ailing economy.

But the GOP sees opportunity here to revive its heretofore comatose, dispirited base. What a better, time-tested, tried-and-true conservative cause-celebre than taxes? It's the Republicans trying to create something out of nothing. But will this populist approach work? Will the newly-energized "Contract with America" folks like Newt Gingrich succeed in creating a groundswell of support over this issue and thus breathe new life into the near-dead Republican Party? A new Gallup poll released this week shows that 53%of Americans approve of big government spending to fix the economy, and 48% think that the federal income taxes they pay are "about right," indicating the lowest anti-tax sentiment in 50 years. And President Obama enjoys impressive overall approval ratings. Judging from yesterday's meager turnouts--so weak they should be called "Decaffeinated" Tea Parties-- it appears these tea-baggers are nothing more than a fringe minority.