If Tea Parties Can't Here, Where? Healthcare Update

05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Taken along a busy NE PA Highway at rush hour 11 March 2010
Hal Donahue

Pennsylvania Congressman Chris Carney is a special case. He is a Democrat in a district gerrymandered to be a safe Republican seat. In his heavily Republican district, Carney is extremely popular and a pragmatist representing his district's values. As a college professor, Republicans tried to paint Carney as an "ivory tower egghead". They, and what was to become his district, soon discovered that Chris was neither. Congressman Carney is a Navy man. He worked as a Reserve Naval Officer at the Pentagon on counter terrorism issues during the Bush Regime. He is a family man, a patriotic rural American and remains a serving Naval Reserve Officer. Yet, all that said, tea party advocates targeted the Congressman for a picket.

Northeastern Pennsylvania is a political hotbed. "Politics" is often referred to as a contact sport. When Senator Kerry showed up here following the Democratic Party convention, approximately 20,000 people filled a courthouse square on short notice. In 2008, every major candidate repeatedly visited the area to large crowds. Last summer, hundreds of teabaggers flooded town halls across the Congressman's district and the entire area. Yesterday's protest was a surprise. Our airways are flooded with various "organizations" spreading information and misinformation against ANY healthcare legislation. Our right wing leaning local radio station keeps the "troops" fired up with the latest dose of the bible according to Limbawl. So when a tea party demonstration was announced in front of Congressman Carney's office, I expected an appropriate turn out. At the mid point of the picket, I literally counted thirty-eight (38) individuals and one dog.

Are Tea Parties fading? If yesterday's tea party was any indication, they are fading. Along a busy highway in northeast Pennsylvania, the straggly looking group of folks above lined the road to protest healthcare legislation. The teabaggers worked for nearly a week on-line, in person and on talk radio to generate enthusiasm and to build a crowd for this event, picketing Representative Carney's office. Tea Party organizers stated their mission was to make it clear to the Congressman that he faced certain doom (not being reelected) if he dared vote for a healthcare bill. Their picket may well have had the opposite effect.

The "crowd" of teabaggers numbered precisely 38 people midway through their rush hour rally. That was the best they could do on a warm, lovely, preview of Spring day. Everyone was outside. Yet this small crowd was the best that they could muster. The crowd was all white with many elderly. This is not a crowd representative of the district. The signs seemed to be as much about abortion as healthcare. Congressman Carney is Roman Catholic, pro-life and part of a large vibrant family. So I am uncertain why the anti-abortion signs. Just as I am uncertain about the group's anti-healthcare stance since a significant portion of the crowd appeared to be of the age to be covered by Medicare. Congressman Carney's press person said that the Congressman appreciated the picketers input and that the Congressman had received much input from both sides of the issue. Congressman Carney said:

"I will judge every plan based on whether it increases affordability, denies insurers the option of rejecting people with preexisting conditions and enables people to take their insurance with them when they change jobs. We must also protect coverage for our seniors and ensure that federal funds can't go to pay for abortions."

This is a rational position and appears to reflect the views of both the district and the demonstrators.

As the picketers waved their signs and flags along the busy, rush hour highway, few commuters or other drivers signaled their support. I was amazed at how the once vaunted teabaggers were simply ignored. Are times changing? I don't know.

Perhaps the very effective and likable Congressman Carney's reputation is such that not even the teabaggers could generate animosity. Yet during the past summer, hundreds of teabaggers flooded Carney's town hall meetings and they can at best be described as "less than friendly". One thing is certain. Yesterday, the tea party's picket demonstrated there was little district opposition against healthcare legislation and the most telling sign of all was a huge lack of passerby support.