Salena Zito

Everybody complains about taxes and government spending, but nobody does anything about them.

Perhaps that’s because whenever they do something, they’re often labeled as racists, right-wing extremists or worse.

That’s what happened when various news organizations covered the April 15 “Tea Parties” across the country; the media clearly did not know what to make of such a robust turnout for the loosely organized events, and wound up dismissing or belittling it.

The Tea Party movement may or may not go forward from the tax-day protests – but any time the media or politicians dismiss a grassroots effort, they do so at great peril.

In this case, people attending those Tea Party events were consumers and voters, with a decent number of registered Democrats and independents sprinkled in.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Josh Shapiro, a Philly-area Democrat who is set to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Arlen Specter, was not keen on the rhetoric at some of the events, but he is wise enough not to ignore the real concerns of Americans who are angry.

Elected officials “should be trying to figure out where that anger is coming from and address it, rather than trying to find ways to dismiss it,” Shapiro says.

Whether or not you agree with the protesters, our country allows dissent because we believe fundamentally in free speech.

“I regularly remind my students that you know you are living in a good, strong and healthy democracy when you are offended on a daily basis,” says Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University.

She disagrees “profoundly with President Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, that the protestors were displaying an ‘unhealthy’ attitude. The only unhealthy – undemocratic – attitude was his.”

Purdue political-science professor Bert Rockman, on the other hand, was perfectly satisfied with the media coverage and less than impressed by the movement itself.

“But people often like the ‘goods’ (government) produces, they just don't want to pay for them,” Rockman says, calling that the prevailing attitude at the Tea Parties.

“The least the Tea Party-goers could have done was not pollute the common-resource rivers into which they threw their tea, and if they were really against waste they would have consumed the tea or given it to charity,” he adds.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.