"Hello, fellow racists."
That's how I greeted the gathering at the Tax Day Tea Party rally in Sacramento, Calif. Several people dropped their hoods and sheets in laughter. After a thorough search, I can report that I detected no secret handshake, security guards or minority-sniffing German shepherds to alert blacks that our presence was unwanted.
An MSNBC reporter at another Tea Party rally actually asked a black man whether he "felt uncomfortable." "No," he laughed. "No, these are my people -- Americans." The man appeared far too polite to ask, "You ever felt uncomfortable working for MSNBC?" I once appeared on a television show where a black pundit accused former President Ronald Reagan of racism. When I asked for proof, he said that Reagan "was uncomfortable around black people." I replied, "I'm uncomfortable around you. What does that make me?" So in the black tea partier's case, his presumed discomfort around whites made them racist. In Reagan's case, his presumed discomfort around blacks made him one. It does get confusing.
A more serious criticism of the Tea Party movement goes like this: When George W. Bush and the Republicans controlled the House, Senate and Oval Office, where were the complaints about spending?
One TP critic put it this way: "During these Tea Party protests conservatives are showing why the word 'hypocrite' should be part of the dictionary definition of conservative. They said nothing and did nothing while Bush and the Republican Congress were getting the country into deeper and deeper trouble. The conservatives who organize the Tea Party protests sat on their hands and did nothing. They did nothing when the balanced budget was destroyed, nothing when Bush exploded the deficit, nothing when Bush cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for the war he started."
As to Bush's non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending, people did complain -- lots of them and frequently. Why isn't this more widely recognized? When a conservative criticizes Rush Limbaugh, that's news. The left hates Limbaugh. When a conservative criticizes Bush's spending, that's not news. The left loves domestic spending. For liberals, Bush's No Child Left Behind program "wasn't fully funded." The prescription bill for seniors contained a "doughnut hole," which made it insufficiently generous.
Conservatives, pundits and talk show hosts routinely blasted Bush for domestic spending. In 2003, after the passage of the Medicare prescription bill, a member of The Heritage Foundation said, "The president isn't showing leadership, and conservatives are angry." Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said, "The conservative, free-market base in America is rightly in revolt over this bill."
In 2003, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., made a bizarre accusation, condemning Bush for "undoing the New Deal." That December, I wrote: "Does she not see the steam blasting from the ears of principled conservatives flatly astonished by President George W. Bush's and his Republican colleagues' willingness to spend, spend and spend? During Bush's term in office, excluding defense and homeland security, non-war government expenditures increased at a rate faster than under former President Bill Clinton. By this time in his term, Reagan vetoed over 20 bills, Bush none."
So if people were unhappy with Bush's spending, then why are folks only now assembling, carrying signs and holding rallies in opposition to bigger government?
Fair question. Better late than never. More importantly, things are much, much worse. Government bailouts, "stimulus," ObamaCare, etc., now push the nation's deficit to record non-World War II levels and debt to an all-time high.
Bush-bashing left-wing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman inadvertently explained why today things are different. In March 2006, he wrote about Bush's (nonexistent?) conservative critics who were "rushing to distance themselves from Mr. Bush." But he pointed out that a lot of Bush's increased domestic spending came from entitlements on automatic pilot. He accused Bush's critics of creating a "false impression" that Bush was a "big spender": "The great bulk of this increase was accounted for by increased spending on defense and homeland security, including the costs of the Iraq war, and by rising health care costs." In other words, as to increased domestic spending, Krugman argued that Bush wasn't as bad as his conservative critics claimed.
Bush, the so-called fiscal conservative, irresponsibly increased domestic spending, including the decidedly non-fiscally conservative prescription benefits bill. But under Obama, the Democrats and some unprincipled Republicans, Americans now bear dramatically increased, brand-new domestic spending. With ObamaCare, taxpayers now support 30 million people who are guaranteed health insurance. Taxes must go up, and the middle class is not spared. Economics adviser Paul Volcker, along with others, even floats the idea of a European-style value-added consumption tax -- on top of the current taxes.
Tea Party supporters, at least many of them, did complain about the size of government pre-Obama. Now things have changed -- for the worse. Government is larger than ever -- with no sign of abating unless and until this administration is stopped.
As Vice President Joe Biden so eloquently put it, "This is a big f---ing deal."