Yesterday, somewhere between “tens of thousands” and “two million” people flooded the nation’s capital to protest somethingoranother.
Thousands Rally in Capital to Protest Big Government (Jeff Zeleny, NYT)
A sea of protesters filled the west lawn of the Capitol and spilled onto the National Mall on Saturday in the largest rally against President Obama since he took office, a culmination of a summer-long season of protests that began with opposition to a health care overhaul and grew into a broader dissatisfaction with government.
On a cloudy and cool day, the demonstrators came from all corners of the country, waving American flags and handwritten signs explaining the root of their frustrations. Their anger stretched well beyond the health care legislation moving through Congress, with shouts of support for gun rights, lower taxes and a smaller government.
But as they sang verse after verse of patriotic hymns like “God Bless America,” sharp words of profane and political criticism were aimed at Mr. Obama and Congress.
Dick Armey, a former House Republican leader whose group Freedomworks helped organize the protest, stood before the crowd and led the rallying cries in nearly the same spot where Mr. Obama took his oath of office eight months ago. “He pledged a commitment of fidelity to the United States Constitution,” Mr. Armey said, suggesting that Mr. Obama was in violation of what the founding fathers intended the size and scope of the government to be.
“Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!” the crowd shouted back, echoing the accusation that Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, hurled at the president three days earlier during his address to Congress.
The demonstrators numbered well into the tens of thousands, though the police declined to estimate the size of the crowd. Many came on their own and were not part of an organization or group. But the magnitude of the rally took the authorities by surprise, with throngs of people streaming from the White House to Capitol Hill for more than three hours.
Lashing Out at the Capitol – Tens of Thousands Protest Obama Initiatives and Government Spending (Emma Brown, James Hohmann and Perry Bacon Jr. – WaPo)
Tens of thousands of conservative protesters, many complaining that the nation is racing toward socialism, massed outside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, angrily denouncing President Obama’s health-care plan and other initiatives as threats to the Constitution.
The crowd — loud, animated and sprawling — gathered at the West Front of the Capitol after a march along Pennsylvania Avenue NW from Freedom Plaza. Invocations of God and former president Ronald Reagan by an array of speakers drew loud cheers that echoed across the Mall. On a windy, overcast afternoon, hundreds of yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags flapped in the breeze.
“Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” declared Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, urging protesters to call their representatives. The demonstrators roared their approval. “We own the dome!” they chanted, pointing at the Capitol.
The demonstrators are part of a loose-knit movement that is galvanizing anti-Obama sentiment across the country, stoking a populist dimension to the Republican Party, which has struggled to find its voice since the 2008 elections.
Tea Party Protesters March on Washington – Thousands March to U.S. Capitol to Protest Government Spending, Health Care; Many Chanted ‘You Lie’ (Russell Goldman, ABC)
Thousands of conservative protesters from across the country converged on the Capitol Saturday morning to demonstrate against President Obama’s proposals for health care reform and voicing opposition to big government, what they say is over-the-top spending.
Carrying signs depicting President Obama as Adolf Hitler and the Joker, and chanting slogans such as “‘No big government” and “Obamacare makes me sick,” approximately 60,000 to 70,000 people flooded Pennsylvania Ave, according to the Washington DC Fire Department.
Organized by FreedomWorks, a conservative activist group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, many of the protestors were affiliated with the Tea Party movement, grassroots demonstrations that began across the country last spring to protest Democratic tax policies, and government bailouts of the banking and auto industries.
The big blogospheric debate seems to be over crowd size. FreedomWorks apparently quoted ABC News as reporting the crowd size at “1 million to 1.5 million” and others claimed as much as 2 million. ABC issued a report denying that it ever said anything of the sort: “At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as “tens of thousands.” The fact of the matter is that nobody ever has a very good idea how many people attended these things and, since the fiasco of the “Million Man March,” the Capitol Police have wisely stopped providing estimates.
Suffice it to say: A whole lot of people showed up. Michelle Malkin has crowd photos and there’s no refuting that the turnout was simply massive.
What’s more interesting to me is not how many but Why? Matt Yglesias does what pretty much everybody does when there’s a big protest from the other side: Point to the yahoos.
I wouldn’t want to tell you that the majority of the people I saw at this morning’s tea party were such hard-core patriots that they felt the need to walk around waving flags of treason and slavery:
Still it did strike me as noteworthy that your basic tea party crowd isn’t the sort of crowd in which a Confederate flag is unwelcome. I feel like if you’d tried to bring this to a health care rally, folks would have gotten upset. But the tea parties, like a lot of big time conservative events, are a very racism friendly environment. This guy, for example, clearly isn’t so much the type to march with a racist shirt on as he is the kind of guy who’d march with a shirt ridiculing the idea of anti-racism:
As was the case with the bulk of the protesters, there was very little sense that anyone had any actual specific complaint with Obama’s health care proposals. That one woman loves the confederacy. This guy thinks guns are great and diversity is stupid. Many protesters feel that abortion is murder and/or that Barack Obama is in league with terrorists. But nobody had a sign urging the president to adopt more stringent cost control measures, or slamming the concept of regulations to require insurers to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Now, as a Southerner, I tend to have a more benign view of people waving Confederate flags or wearing pro-gun T-shirts. Some of them are racist yahoos, to be sure, but most of them are just decent folks taking pride in a way of life they feel is under assault.
Regardless, however, Matt’s right about the last part: There’s not one single thing motivating all these people. They likely have vastly different policy preferences even on the central issue that supposedly ties them together: opposition to Big Government, whose era is not in fact over. I would simply add that this is true of all mass protest movements.
We on the Right have always made fun of these protestors — which have, until now, been almost exclusively the province of the Left — because, frankly, there are always a lot of yahoos in the crowd. There are always plenty of signs and t-shirts and epithets shouted that would make the organizers cringe because they take away from the intended message and make the protest seem less serious. (Matt Welch, who is very sympathetic to the Tea Party cause, points to a man carrying a sign saying “Stop spending our tacos. I love tacos.” I have no idea what inspired that but it’s epic.)
On the Left, there seem to be a solid cohort who will show up to protest anything; they’re damned near professional protesters. With the Tea Party protests, we may finally be seeing their analog on the Right.
It’s unfair, regardless of the loose cause that motivates them to show up, to criticize the “movement” because individual protesters seem unable to articulate why they’re there. Most people really can’t do that. And people who show up to protest are usually motivated by emotion rather than cold logic. They’re simply angry at the direction they think they’re country’s going and want to vent their frustrations and show that they’re not alone. Welch nails it:
Political rallies are no place to seek the subtle truth, nor feel particularly glowing about your countrymen, and today was no different in that regard for me. But the meta-fact about a huge anti-Obamanomics protest eight months into his term is certainly significant, and very little of what I saw made me fear that Alex Pareene will be blown to smithereens by a suicide hijacker from Arkansas.
Malkin’s got my favorite photo:
Not only is the sign defiantly funny — and decidedly not Astroturfed — but it’s a great crowd shot of a bunch of regular Americans getting together to express their displeasure with their government in a civilized manner. Protest rallies aren’t, so to speak, my cup of tea. But there are worse outlet valves for the inevitable frustrations of a huge and incredibly diverse country.