Tea Partiers converge on Washington to kill the (healthcare) bill
The rally began with an unaccompanied rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung to an oversized American flag hoisted aloft by a middle-aged man dressed like Captain America.
But the Marvel Comics super-hero impersonator was one of the few fringe elements on display, when about 200 Tea Party members gathered in a small grassy park in the shadow of the Capitol Dome with Washington-based organizers from conservative special-interest groups, House Republicans and, inevitably, the news media.
They had come from as far away as Texas, Michigan and Georgia for a “Kill the Bill!” rally meant to launch an 11th hour grass-roots lobbying effort to stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats from achieving victory for the Obama healthcare plan.
But nowhere in sight were those controversial posters that picture President Barack Obama as The Joker from the Batman super-hero series. Also not in evidence was Obama’s surname with the first letter styled as a Communist hammer-and-sickle. A few organizers even seemed to play down the Tea Party label a bit by stressing their readiness to join with other brands of conservatives, particularly independents.
Some posters did seem edgy. Several pictured a smiling, cheerful Obama, dressed in a blue tuxedo and sitting in an open coffin marked “Healthcare Bill — R.I.P.” Another advised Congress to “Bury Obamacare Like Obama Buried His Birth Certificate.” A few warned against socialism, while one curiously pointed out that “Fascism is not Democracy.”
But on the whole, the crowd seemed to be on its best behavior with slogans, placards and rhetoric tightly focused on message, which may suggest a slight change in the direction of the political breeze.
The Tea Party movement, which began more than a year ago as an angry response to the Wall Street bailout and the Obama stimulus package, is now approaching the heart of the 2010 congressional election campaign. Some organizers hope the group will provide a cheering backdrop for fiscally conservative politicians who need independent votes to win Republican primaries and go on to capture seats in the House and Senate in November.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose nonprofit group FreedomWorks has helped organize and shape Tea Party actions almost from the beginning, described the Tea Partiers this week as one segment in a larger movement devoted to conservative fiscal policy and smaller government.
Tuesday’s rally provided a dramatic backdrop for a handful of House incumbents who are up for reelection — Mike Pence of Indiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Tom Price of Georgia and Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Each got to strut before the TV cameras, megaphone in hand, while vowing to protect liberty, free enterprise and the Constitution before a cheering crowd.
“This debate is not about what kind of country we want to be,” Pence said in a remark meant to correct Obama. “This is about what kind of country we are!”
Then came the off-camera work.
After whooping and shouting slogans like “Kill the Bill!” and “Just Say No!”, the Tea Partiers headed off to the legislative office buildings that dot the fringes of Capitol Hill to link up with hundreds of other activists already on the prowl for House members in need of education.
FreedomWorks had people standing near congressional offices with information packets that included talking points. There was also a campaign “War Room” set up in a local hotel to help sustain the effort.
Any lawmakers they missed should not rest easy. The Tea Partiers will be back in town to talk about taxes on April 15.
Photo credits: Reuters/Jim Young (U.S. Capitol)
Click here for more political coverage from Reuters