About the time an icy gust of wind nearly lifted the wig off Samuel Adams' patriotic noggin as he prepared to deliver the Pledge of Allegiance on Saturday morning in the desert outside Harry Reid's hometown, I decided it would be easy to have fun at the Tea Party crowd's expense.
Maybe a little too easy.
Just reading the handmade signs alone was worth the wind-blown, about 50 -mile jaunt south of Las Vegas to a town historically known for its whorehouses and currently famous as the birthplace of the Senate majority leader and the 10-cent cup of coffee at Verlie Doing's Searchlight Nugget.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, was the official rock star attraction Saturday, but, for my money, Senate candidate Sharron Angle stole the show with her entrance on the back of a purple Harley Road King. (I never thought I'd ever write these words, Mrs. Angle, but you make such a credible biker chick.)
Thousands gathered for the Tea Party's "Showdown in Searchlight," officially to take their righteous stand in the name of liberty and conservative values, but also to vent their anger at the America they find themselves in these days.
You may know the place. It has high unemployment and higher taxes. But its biggest problem is that it's run by Democrats to the exclusion of God-fearing Americans who also happen to mostly vote as members of the Republican, Libertarian, and Independent American parties. Of the dozen people I interviewed Saturday morning, I met no one who had ever cast a ballot for Reid, not to mention Obama. In fact, listen to the anger of those assembled for a while and you might begin to wonder how the president ever gained citizenship, much less won by a landslide less than two years ago.
But I think it's simplistic to call the Tea Party movement merely a get-out-the-vote device aimed at returning conservative Republicans to the power they boozed away like sailors on shore leave during the George W. Bush administration. It is that, to be sure, but I think it is more than that.
Beyond those handmade signs, the first thing you would have noticed Saturday was the anger. It's safe to say the Tea Party crowd hates Satan, fascism, socialism, communism, Harry Reid, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
But not in that order.
They love the Constitution. (Applause.)
They love Jesus. (Bigger applause.)
They love liberty. (With due respect to the Almighty, I think liberty received bigger applause.)
They love to say the word liberty. Liberty and freedom. Freedom and liberty. Constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.
The folks I talked to, to a person, were certain the current administration has made them less free. They're sure the Democrats are bankrupting the country, not fixing health care, doing nothing to improve the awful job market, and worst of all are ruining America for future generations.
The makeup of the crowd was older and almost exclusively white. In a gathering with an attendance estimated at 20,000 by "Anger Is Brewing" leader Debbie Landis, I spotted four black faces including the picture of professional Tea Party Express entertainer Lloyd Marcus. Who knows, maybe I missed a few, but it's safe to say this was mostly a group of angry, conservative white Americans. And they believe their America is vanishing before their eyes.
To a person, no one I spoke with thought the recent stories emanating from Washington about black members of Congress being spit on were true. They wanted proof and some suspected the press was manipulating the story and blowing it out of proportion.
"No one witnessed any of that," one sincere woman told me as the wind swept a neighbor's American flag in my face.
Political cud-chewers can ponder the deeper meanings, but my point is this: The "Showdown in Searchlight" was a gigantic success, but I'm not sure Reid lost many votes Saturday. I'm not sure how much crossover potential there is in the Tea Party parade, but it should certainly help get conservative voters to the polls on Election Day.
That said, I met some fine folks Saturday. Among them was Golden Valley, Ariz., resident Rebecca Carey, who worked 20 years in Laughlin and told a tragic tale of having her health care yanked out from under her after illness and injury forced her and another family member to use it. The health insurance company really screwed her, she said in more polite terms.
So you might think she would be in favor of the recent health care reform in Washington, which the Tea Party crowd called socialist "Obamacare."
Absolutely not, she said.
"I wasn't raised to think somebody else should pay for our hardship," she said, adding that programs such as Social Security should be phased out to ensure the nation isn't one day bankrupt.
I listened as Carey explained a principled position against the multibillion-dollar stimulus package, jobs bill, and health care reform. The mounting debt would hurt future generations, she said as the wind picked up and the crowd swelled.
For Henderson residents Jim Carr and wife Gerry, getting to Searchlight helped them express their anger over the direction the country is heading.
"I want the government to know I don't agree with them spending our money," said Jim, a Vietnam veteran. "They think we're voiceless. They think we can't do something. We're trying to tell them, 'We can.'"
Gerry, a retired nurse, added, "I think there's been a lot of money wasted in the stimulus package."
Jim: "We're owned by China and he's spending more. We're going to vote out the people who don't work for us."
Carr's friend George Rapp, a retired insurance agent "and proud of it," came to Searchlight to stand up for conservative values and the Constitution.
"I want people to take responsibility for themselves," Rapp said, adding that he and wife Judy had attended Tea Party events featuring Palin and Glenn Beck in Florida. "It's been getting worse and worse and worse. The country's dying. Churches are dying. Families are dying."
Judy said, "We have seven grandkids. I want them to see a better world. I want them to grow up in the kind of country we grew up in."
As the candidates on the wind-swept platform talked about the Constitution, the importance of conservative values, freedom, liberty, and immigration reform, I felt like I had a better understanding of the Tea Party movement.
I thanked Gerry Carr for her hospitality, and she smiled and said, "No, thank you. I've been using you for a wind block."
It was the least angry sentence I heard all morning.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.