Friday, April 16, 2010
We discuss the tea party movement and the tax-revolt rallies held this week in San Diego County.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): I’m Gloria Penner, and I’m joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days. Today, we’ll examine the impact of tax rallies and the Tea Party movement on San Diego, the growth of the local Navy presence with the USS Vinson now based here, and why our water rates are going up. The editors with me are Tony Perry, San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome back, Tony.
TONY PERRY (San Diego Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Thank you very much.
PENNER: Tom York, contributing editor, the San Diego Business Journal. It’s good to see you again, Tom.
TOM YORK (Contributing Editor, San Diego Business Journal): It’s good to be here again.
PENNER: And Andrew Donohue, editor of voiceofsandiego.org. Andrew, it is always a delight to have you in the studio.
ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, voiceofsandiego.org): It’s always a absolute pleasure to be here.
PENNER: Oh, well said, Andrew.
DONOHUE: Thank you.
PENNER: Our number for calling is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Well, Thursday was tax day and it was a tense day for those rushing to get in under the midnight deadline to file their tax forms. But for others, it was an invigorating day of rallies and protests throughout the county. So, Tony, the county Republican Party sent out a notice that it had kicked off Tax Revolt Week in the county on Monday with 50 new attendees at its monthly meeting. How energizing is this idea of a tax revolt this year?
PERRY: A bit, I suppose. I mean, it’s kind of pro forma. Every April 15th we all groan and certain folks take their grievance to the street. I don’t know that the Tea Party will, in the long run, impact us much here in San Diego.
PENNER: Well, you know, it’s interesting to me, Andrew, I get the e-mails from the head of the local Republican Party, Tony Krvaric, and he writes this is a grassroots movement of Americans of all stripes wanting fiscal responsibility, limited government and a strong national defense. Now, certainly, these are Republican Party principles. Are we seeing those principles spreading beyond the party?
DONOHUE: I don’t think so. I mean, it’s a grassroots movement that you’re receiving press releases from the county Republican Party on. I think these, as a New York Times poll this week showed, I mean, these are older, wealthier, white males. I mean, these are sort of the bedrock conservatives that make up the Republican Party, so they may be energized but I don’t know that they would have ever voted any other way but Republican anyway. So I don’t know that we’re really going to see much of an impact on the ballot box. These aren’t the kind of people that the Democratic Party would necessarily be after anyways.
PENNER: But you remember protests last year, don’t you? Just a year ago? There were protests but they weren’t as big.
DONOHUE: Well, I don’t know – I mean, I’m not sure exactly what the numbers were. I don’t know that they weren’t that big. I just think that they didn’t have the sort of crush of media coverage that we have. Somehow, this has just, I think, set the media world on fire but I don’t know that it has any more impact than it did last year. It just seems to be a preoccupation of reporters.
PENNER: Well, Tom York, you know, several of the rallies—and Andrew talked about the media coverage—several of the rallies were promoted as protest Tea Parties, so what is the influence of the Tea Party movement on the local Republican Party? Could that be the reason that we’re seeing all the media coverage?
YORK: Well, I think that the Republican Party would like to tap into this discontent which is apparently growing, at least slowly. But this movement, in my observation, goes back, way back, to the Goldwater era of the 1960s when Goldwater ran for the Republican – ran as a Republican for president. It also goes back to the Perot era in the 1990s when Bill Clinton ran for president. There’s a sort of continuous undercurrent of discontent among a certain group of Americans. They’re usually middle class, they’re – discontented because they pay high taxes and feel that they’re not getting the services, and fear that as the deficit continues to grow, perhaps they will not be able to partake in such things as Social Security and some of the other benefits down the line.
PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. We’re talking about the protests that took place in San Diego yesterday as well as throughout California and, indeed, through the nation, protests against big government, protests against healthcare reform and protests against the president. And I’d like to know whether you feel that this is the result of a new movement, a relatively new movement called the Tea Party movement and what your feelings are about the Tea Party movement. So you want to say something, Tony.
PERRY: Well, a year ago, we probably underestimated Tea Party, the media did, and now we’re probably over estimating the Tea Party. That’s that pendulum swing that we in the media enjoy all the time. But I would say the Tea Party folks, that they’ve got the three things that a good mass movement needs. Civil rights movement had it. Anti-war movement had it. They have a sense of grievance that’s turned into anger. They’ve got a unified view of the world, they’ve got their heroes, they’ve got their villains. They’ve got their rhetoric that makes them feel very comfortable: They’re being besieged, they’re the real Americans, they’re defending the Constitutions (sic). And they have a place to organize. I mean, the civil rights organized in the churches, the anti-war on the college campuses, and these folks are organizing on the internet, with the talk show boys, and with cable news. So they’ve got the fixings. They’ve got the three elements, I think, that could make for a good, strong sustained mass movement. They are, however, going to attempt that most difficult thing in American politics; they want to defeat some incumbent United States congressmen. Good luck on that. Every study I’ve ever seen says being elected to Congress is lifetime security. Bringing down an incumbent, particularly one who’s not just in his first or her first term, is real difficult. Come the fall, we’ll know whether these Tea Party folks can wield some real power or whether it’s just been kind of a walk in the sunshine and a little bit of news time.
PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Let’s hear from Reggie in Chula Vista. Reggie, you’re on with the editors.
REGGIE (Caller, Chula Vista): Oh, thank you for having me on.
PENNER: You’re welcome.
REGGIE: My main concern is like they’re attached to the Republican Party. If this movement can gain traction without being attached to the Republican Party, they have a legitimate grievance. Remember, we bailed out the banks, we gave them money, they took the money, they spent the money, they made money, they got bonuses. Then we have two wars. They’re unpopular wars. And now we have a problem with healthcare, not that it’s a problem but it’s mandatory that you take healthcare. So there is traction but if you attach it to the Republican Party, you won’t make it. Thank you.
PENNER: Thank you very much, Reggie. Andrew Donohue.
DONOHUE: I think that’s an interesting point. What I’m having trouble is trying to discern exactly where the movement is right now because, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this actually started when President Bush signed the first stimulus bill so at first it was an anti – it was sort of an anti-pork and anti-government spending operation during a Republican’s presidency but what I’m trying to tell – differentiate right now is how much of this has become sort of just a de facto anti-Obama campaign and that that’s sort of separate from what its original roots were.
PENNER: But Reggie did outline some of the things that the – certainly, the Tea Party is saying that they’re opposed to: healthcare, the two wars, the – I’m not so sure about the two wars.
DONOHUE: Well, that’s the – I mean…
PENNER: Yeah, I’m not so sure about those.
DONOHUE: So that’s – I mean, I think that’s interesting and so how much of this is the – so how much of this is real activists that are – that were against things that a Republican president actually did with, you know, perhaps wars or just with the bailout of the banks, and how much of this is actually the Republican Party sort of feeding on a movement and turning it into just a way to attack the president?
PENNER: What I found interesting, Tom, is that only one of the events in San Diego that didn’t carry the Tea Party title was billed as an ‘Anti-Tax Rally with Carly Fiorina.’ Now, Carly Fiorina showed up and Bill Horn showed up, and they didn’t call it a Tea Party rally, they just called it anti-tax. Why would they omit the Tea Party from an event with a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from California?
YORK: Well, I think that some of the candidates feel that this is not a mainstream type operation and they want to just kind of disassociate themselves from it, especially Carly Fiorina, who would have reason to want to be in the middle and not on one of the extremes of the party.
PENNER: Okay, well, that’s a good answer. Barbara in Vista would like to join us now. Barbara, you’re on with the editors.
BARBARA (Caller, Vista): …so much, Gloria. I agree with everything that the gentleman is saying and I think there are also – Well, I have several comments, if I may. Number one, is not this group in favor of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? Or am I wrong on that one? Because if that’s the case then they’re the biggest hypocrites that exist because they’re saying that that’s socialism. But if they’re in favor of it and they don’t want to see it eliminated then it seems to me that everything they say they stand for is just a lie. But I also feel that they have attracted the extreme rightwing fringe of lunatics. You have neo-Nazi skinheads, white supremacists. These state riders who are calling, you know, the confederate flag, but what they’re really saying, they don’t mention slavery in the south and the history of slavery. They’re really just racists. So you have them, you have the conspiracy wackos who believe that they’re – the militant groups, who a group of them tried to attack the country recently, who believe that there is a concentration camp built under Denver International Airport and you…
PENNER: I get your drift, Barbara. You’re talking about extremist views. But let’s go back to the entitlement programs that you were talking about, the Medicare and the Social Security and what have you. Tony, is there a divide here? I mean, are the – is the Tea Party saying we want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare and basically programs that could be associated with a socialist, quote, unquote, style government?
PERRY: I haven’t heard them say that. In fact, just the opposite.
DONOHUE: I don’t know that those are associated with a socialist government.
PERRY: A lot of folks…
PENNER: Well, a lot of folks say that, you know…
DONOHUE: It turn – That’s what they’re saying, I mean…
PERRY: Yeah, I – No, I haven’t heard that. And I would not judge a mass movement by its far – far fringes, left or right. That was tried with the anti-war movement, that’s tried with the civil rights movement. Let’s call them all communists or whatever. Well, there were in both movements, I’m sure, but that’s not the broad mainstream and that isn’t the mainstream here. Now, do these folks have a legitimate grievance or is there rhetoric over the top? Well, the rhetoric’s over the top as movement rhetoric always is but you have to drill down and say, okay, are they going to be able to wield some power, elect and diselect some people? If they can’t this year, they probably can’t any year. This ought to be a year where incumbents are in trouble. We’ve got a stinko economy, we’ve got two unpopular wars, we’ve got this health plan that some polls suggest the American people didn’t want. If you can’t knock off an incumbent this year, it’s probably not going to be possible.
DONOHUE: Now, Tony, you’re bringing up sort of this in the context of the civil rights movement or the anti-war movement…
DONOHUE: …do you think it has that sort of…
DONOHUE: …potential or…?
PERRY: No. No, I do not. I think this is a walk – I think this is a walk in the sunshine. Read James Jones’ in “The Merry Month of May.” You’ll learn how much fun protests can be even for the non-college set. There is a certain exhilaration in being – feeling beleaguered and feeling virtuous and having righteous anger. It is, in and of itself, is a benefit that doesn’t lead to anything except feeling good at night.
PENNER: Well, I heard from the Libertarian Party, the executive director writes that Republicans don’t belong at the Tea Party rallies because decade after decade Republicans have supported massive increases in government spending and trillions on foreign wars and banker bailouts and massive Medicare expansion. In other words, big government. Tom, how accurate is that contention?
YORK: Well, I think it’s true. I think the people that are driving this are people that are fearful of big government. I don’t think they care whether it’s a Republican government or a Democratic government. Add to that, a lot of these are baby boomers who protested in the sixties and seventies and then also we have, in the White House, we have a man of a different color and I think it reflects the changes that are undergoing in society where, you know, where the whites are in the – going to be in the minority and so there’s some fear. I think there’s some fear and loathing with the changes in society.
PERRY: Well, we’re ignoring the 800 pound gorilla.
PENNER: Excuse – Tony, Tony. We’re hitting a break here.
PERRY: Oh, my goodness.
PENNER: So, yeah, yeah, you’re stepping on our break. So before we let Tony talk more about – or respond to Tom, let me just say this is the Editors Roundtable. We’re going to take more of your calls when we come back. Note, the number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. I’m Gloria Penner.
PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. And we are talking about the protests that took place in San Diego yesterday, a lot of them having a relationship to the Tea Party movement, and we’re trying to identify, you know, what that really means and how strong that movement is and who does it represent. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. With me today, Andrew Donohue, editor of voiceofsandiego.org and Tom York, contributing editor to the San Diego Business Journal, and from the Los Angeles Times, its San Diego bureau chief, Tony Perry. And if we don’t get to your call because it looks like our lines are pretty well filled up, please feel free—and I urge you because we like to read these comments and others do as well—go to KPBS.org/editors and register your comment and you’ll be surprised at the responses that you get to that. So with that, I’m going to go to Alan in North Park. Hi, Alan, you’re on with the editors.
ALAN (Caller, North Park): Hi, Gloria. It’s interesting that your introduction you talked about the e-mail from the GOP…
ALAN: …and they want limited government and a strong national defense but…
ALAN: ...Tea Partiers are not protesting against the fact that 48% of our income taxes are going to go to pay for military expenditures. These Tea Partiers, they’re not talking about the one – is it one trillion, two trillion, three trillion dollars that have been spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? I much prefer to see that money being spent on housing, on education, on healthcare rather than on the death and destruction of war.
PENNER: Thank you so much, Alan. Appreciate your comment. Lynne in Vista is with us as well. Hi, Lynne, join the conversation.
LYNNE (Caller, Vista): Well, I just wanted to put my two cents worth in about the people protesting against taxes being sort of divorced from the reality that taxes are lower than at any time in the last, you know, 40 years. They’re certainly lower than at Reagan’s time. And I’m finding that some of the rhetoric on the right is really – really scary. I wish we had the Fairness Doctrine back. I feel that the Republican Party and certain corporate interests are co-opting and obviously, you know, supporting Tea Partiers to get bigger and more coverage but, you know, the real problems are serious and they don’t come in sound bites and waving signs.
PENNER: Okay. Thank you very much. Appreciate that, Lynne. And Craig in Cardiff is joining us as well. Craig, what do you have to say to the editors?
CRAIG (Caller, Cardiff-By-the-Sea): Hi, everyone. I just – You know, there’s a bit of history that is missed by most of the media when it comes to the Tea Party and that is these Tea Parties started most recently with Ron Paul supporters back in December 17th, 2007. And although it didn’t get a lot of media attention at the time, he did break the one-day fundraising record on that. He raised over $6 million that day, so it was very successful. And then when the bailouts came, because of the success of those Tea Parties, a lot more people joined in and had other Tea Parties and then that movement grew but drawing in kind of, you know, a broader audience. And, of course, the GOP tried to co-opt it. But the Ron Paul supporters started these Tea Parties to end the war as Ron Paul has always—he’s against the war, unlike most Republicans—and to end the federal reserve banking system, and to limit the federal government, and…
PENNER: Okay, well, I thank you – I thank you for that bit of history. And I want to get some final thoughts from our editors on this before we move on. According to the latest USA Gallup Survey, Tony, Tea Party supporters skew right politically but demographically they are generally representative of the public at large. 28% of U.S. adults call themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement. So that’s pretty strong, isn’t it? How are they making their power felt?
PERRY: No, it’s not very strong because polls like that tell you what people – how they respond to certain questions. It doesn’t tell you what the depth is. And it doesn’t matter what – how the population breaks down, the people who care, who will put money behind it, who put energy behind it, will they do the difficult work to elect or diselect people? Will the Tea Party folks do registration? Will they walk door to door? Will they try to convince people not to vote for Barbara Boxer, seems to be one of their targets. Or are they just happy to call in to Sean Hannity or Rush or one of those folks and let off some steam, and that’s good enough for them. Organizing is difficult. Politics is difficult. Diselecting people is difficult. We’ll see whether this movement, which is very intriguing and seems to have a head of steam, small though it may be, seems to have a head of steam. We’ll see come November whether they can actually impact the body politic.
DONOHUE: And who they actually get behind, too, because like the previous caller talked about, this was very much sort of a Ron Paul Libertarian movement but it seems to becoming (sic) more of a Sarah Palin movement or something along those lines. Sort of become…
PERRY: Becoming a Fox News movement.
DONOHUE: Yeah, so does it become a Libertarian movement or is it a Republican movement because they’re two very, very different movements.
PERRY: And we’ve not talked here about the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which is the talk show industry and Fox News. How much of this is being driven by them? It’s awfully good for them. It helps their ratings. Does it help the people who hold these views to influence American politics? We’ll see.
PENNER: Tom York, as we head toward November’s midterm elections the outlook for Democrats could be in doubt with predictions from the Republicans anyway, that they might win several seats away from Democrats all the way to retaking a majority of both Houses. For this campaign season to favor the party in power, which is the Democratic Party, what needs to change?
YORK: What needs to change as far as favoring the party in power, I would say that historically, during the midterm elections there’s always a shift. People shift away from the parties in power or those in power, and I think we’ll see it again in this November. I think there’ll be a move towards more Republican candidates getting elected to Congress. I think it just represents some uneasiness now with Obama, especially now that the healthcare plan has passed. But I think it has historical roots and I think that this Tea Party movement taps into an underlying current of discontent that’s not so much political as it is just concern about the trends in society.
PENNER: But do you think that the Tea Party movement will take credit for whatever shift there is toward Republicans in the midterm elections?
YORK: Oh, I think, absolutely. And then they’ll try to build on that to become more mainstream. Yes, absolutely.
PENNER: Okay, once again, I remind all the callers who haven’t been able to get through, please go to KPBS.org/editors and register your comment. All right, let’s move on.