|Tea Partiers in McMinnville, Oregon/Stapilus|
National hype notwithstanding, our observation of local Tea Party events over the last year has been not a rise but rather a gradual slippage. This isn't a national survey, of course, but local observation seems to bear that out.
Last summer, when Representative David Wu held a town hall meeting in McMinnville, Oregon, hundreds of Tea Party people jammed a city center and made themselves furiously heard. About the same time, in larger communities often reached the thousands. Each event we've seen since then, though, has been a little smaller, and a little more sedate.
Today was a beautifully sunny and temperate spring day - perfect for an outdoor event - and it was of course Income Tax Day, and the Yamhill County Tea Party group had set up at 4:30 p.m., just in time to catch the maximum number of people for the upcoming event to participate or observe, in front of the city library.
They drew about 50 people, maybe 60 depending on how far from the main group you go, along a city block. About half held signs.
Apart from the numbers, what else was missing was the sheer fury of last year. There were no Hitlerized pictures of President Obama this time (the only specific reference to him was a sign saying, "Impeach Obama for Treason"). There wasn't anything violence-tinged, and there wasn't any conspiracy-theory stuff. Were they concerned about the Tea Party "infiltrators" - had a message gone out to tone things down a bit? Or were they just toning down naturally? Or, had some of the more extreme folks drifted away?
The signs were almost all simple and generic: "One nation under God," "Save Our Constitution," "Invest in America - Buy Congressmen," "Free markets not free loaders," "Tea Party patriot." There were a few signs for Republican candidates, mainly for local office, and a few blasting Democrats ("Wyden consider this your going away party"). Few had much issue orientation; one urged "Not another 1 cent for bailouts," but there was nothing about health care - a remarkable shift from a few months ago.
Just wasn't last year's tea party.