Both sides should take tea parties seriously

I’d like to offer a word to the wise in both political parties. If the Democrats think the tea party protests held in hundreds of locations across the fruited plain on April 15 were only about taxes and President Obama’s proposals to raise taxes, and if Republicans think the tea parties were only about Obama and the Democrats, then both parties were reading the tea leaves entirely wrong.

The protests brought out people who had never gotten involved in political events in their lives. And many of the people who participated felt they were making a contribution to their country.

A few senior citizens that I met over the past nine months at my local fitness center made it a point to tell me the morning of April 15 they were going to attend their local tea party protest. I saw them a week later and jokingly observed that I had not seen them on Fox News or CNN. One of the ladies replied that they were all in raincoats, but they were among Republicans, Democrats and a very diverse group of American citizens.

The day we pay taxes was the perfect day to highlight all the ills of the system. When one pays more than 50 percent of his income in taxes and fees and works until May 15 to pay the government, it is always appropriate for taxes to be part of any protest.

But these protests were about more than taxes.

Why couldn’t people be sick and tired of being sick and tired of our government spending so much? The profligate spending afflicting Washington in the past 90 days has been shocking. We spent $787 billion on a stimulus bill, $410 billion on an omnibus spending bill, $350 billion for additional bank bailouts, and on top of all that — the president submitted a budget exceeding $4.5 trillion. So it would not be a stretch to say that people are concerned about the level of spending that has taken place.

Why shouldn’t people be concerned and protesting the Obama administration’s energy polices that will bring higher energy bills and higher gas prices?

Why is it so hard to believe that people would be upset that the government wants to take over charitable contributions from the private sector? Allowing private donors to get tax relief for giving to charitable organizations such as their churches and synagogues, the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the like allows those organizations to thrive.

Why is it hard to imagine that people would be upset over the elimination of parental choice in an education scholarship program for low income children that has proven effective in our nation’s capital? Contrary to the dire predictions of Democrats and the education unions, this program has worked and worked effectively. Why wouldn’t we be ticked that the Obama administration is revoking this program?

Why is it hard to imagine that people would be upset over unrealistic, rosy predictions on future growth to accommodate an overreaching federal budget?

I was baffled that some would think that many American citizens wouldn’t have enough sense to know whether they should be upset or not. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the grass-roots efforts we saw unfold before our very eyes was actually a grass-tops efforts. She actually called it an “Astroturf” effort — implying it was manufactured. Again, she missed the point, because the protests were about much more than taxes.

A CNN reporter was incredulous during an interview with a father and his 2-year-old son who participated. She rudely missed the point when he was expressing his concern for the future of our country.

On another cable network, a reporter predictably injected race into the reporting, by asserting that the protests were all about a black man in the White House. (That had to happen at some point.)

Do you recall any reporter claiming Cindy Sheehan’s protests were simply because there was a Republican in the White House? Anyone? Anyone? I thought not.

As I said, neither Democrats or Republicans should underestimate the April 15 protests. While some media sources on the right encouraged and promoted the events, the anger and energy we witnessed was directed at both parties. Our leaders in Washington would do well to heed the voices.

J.C. Watts ( is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

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