Those who watched and mocked the national Tea Parties back in April would find a different bunch of tea partiers today. The truly lunatic fringe of opportunists is now largely gone. But owing to the froth kicked up months ago, the movement’s name, “Tea Party,” still has currency and momentum, so why not use it? It’s a branding conundrum the United Negro College Fund surely appreciates. A day after one of North Dakota’s largest-ever tea parties, at the courthouse in Grand Forks, the only thing I can say with certainty about the movement is that it’s mostly about making funny signs and producing lots of unintentional irony. And anger. Plentiful, seething, soul-rooted and only vaguely-focused anger. And maybe racism. But not really that much racism!
Far, far less racism than in April. (And far less than found at many of the tea party website message boards.) During the entire two hour evening event, featuring dozens of everyman speakers and dozens more signs, only one guy mentioned Barack Obama’s illegitimate birth and that he’s Muslim. And that was only in passing on his way to a point about something, I forget. Probably “socialism.”
So, you people of the coasts: what do they want? They want Washington to “listen.” They want to not be “treated like sheep.” They want better education (maybe). They want Ronald Reagan bon mots. They want jokes about moving D.C. to North Dakota because the cold would “force politicians to keep their hands in their own pockets.” They want to sing God Bless America. They want, in one speaker’s words, “to take it back for the United States Constitution for liberty.” They want, more than anything, lower taxes.
This last item is where the irony begins, because North Dakota is one of the greatest of all federal welfare states. It receives over two dollars back for every one paid in taxes. If anyone has reason to complain, it’s the Minnesotans, who get back only around seventy cents for every one of their tax dollars. Minnesota, by the way, is only about a quarter mile away from this particular tea party.
North Dakota is home to protectionist policies ranging from agriculture co-ops to state-run insurance to a law demanding that all pharmacies be locally owned (banning the only advantage of a Wal-Mart: cheap drugs). There is the state-run Bank of North Dakota, which in a year that saw private banks taking federal bailouts, returned $30 million to the state’s general fund. More importantly, these state organizations operate in competition with private business, a fact that keeps everyone honest and is a system that, while quite successful and popular here, is clearly going to destroy America if partly implemented on any national scale, such as with health care.
So this “Anti Tax Tea Party” is a bit like a grunged-up trust fund kid begging for change on the street-at the Mexican border crossing.