Memo to the tea partiers, et al: We'll be cool—really—if you just stop using that phrase.
You know what I'm talking about. The five words that you deploy accidentally on purpose to tell the president and a whole lot of other Americans that they're not really Americans:
"I want my country back."
What's more insulting than that? It's shorthand for the way Sarah Palin described Boston tax day tea partiers as "These hard working, good, equality and liberty loving, good, everyday Americans." Shorthand for: Tea partiers are real Americans and everyone else is a socialist, atheist mongrel scrounging for handouts while "palling around with terrorists."
It's worse than "love it or leave it"—which at least had the benefit of a point of view; and worse than "show us the birth certificate"—which at least means that you've got a goal.
People don't have to don Revolutionary War costumes to prove their loyalty to the Constitution; there are better ways to demonstrate how much you love this country other than quitting your job as governor of Alaska. Tea partiers seem to feel like they've been dismissed by the federal government and the mainstream media. (Never mind that their rallies get 24/7 coverage on cable news outlets.) But they haven't done what people do when they want to be taken seriously. Want respect? Here's what you do:
Tea party events still have a whiff of those "Disco Sucks" rallies from the late ‘70s.
When tea partying, just keep in mind that there's someone out there who thinks your music sucks, too. If you display too much glee while burning BeeGee records or effigies of your congressman, what do you expect other people to think of you? Don't like being treated like a lynch mob? Stop acting like one.
Even some of President Barack Obama's supporters probably wish he'd break out his original birth certificate, just to put an end to birther madness—but it won't work. Anyone who questions the bona fides of a certified copy can question an original just as easily. If tea partiers want to be seen as spirited, engaged civil libertarians picking up where Ross Perot left off, and not fringe separatists, then they should swiftly and publicly purge their ranks of birthers and fringe separatists.
Taste Your Own Medicine
For 50 years, the "patriotically correct" crowd preached to people of color, gays and lesbians, pacifists, feminists, urban dwellers, Sierra Club members and other "politically correct" "elites" that America was an egalitarian capitalist nirvana set on auto-pilot. Attempts to rock the boat were not welcome. Concerns were to be taken to the ballot box.
Now that they're in the streets, the far right has to suck it up and take a little bit of the heat it dished out.
Get Mad Sooner
But the real rap on tea partiers isn't that they're street rabble. It's that they're only just now getting riled up over issues that have been here for years. Seventy-six percent of tea partiers polled by Politico after tax day rallies believed that President Obama is "pursuing a socialist agenda." But where were they before?
Any tea partier who voted Nader/Badnarik/McCain in the last three presidential elections can lay claim to the moral high ground. But anyone who voted to reelect George W. Bush in 2004 pretty much cosigned the Iraq war and an unfunded Medicare Part D. They helped pave the way for Katrina and TARP. It's pretty fishy now if your default stance is to man the barricades just because Barack Obama hasn't ended two wars, eliminated the national debt, fixed the schools and smacked down bankers in his first fifteen months.
And it makes sense if you're against healthcare reform. But why not say what you're for?
If you call stimulus funds and bailouts generational theft, just think how your kids would like to inherit a world where they don't inherit anything because the Dow dropped to 3000 and your 401(k) is empty. And then explain why a banking collapse would have been better.
If you're tired of taxing and spending, pledge that if your taxes are cut, you'll never file for unemployment, Medicare, Social Security, an SBA loan, a Pell Grant, a farm subsidy, a U.S. Passport, drive on an interstate highway or mail a letter.
More than anything, it should be the tea party movement's goal to dispel the perception that the real source of their outrage, their—pardon my French—raison d'être is that they simply can't accept the results of the last election. So far, they've been unconvincing.
RedState's Erick Erickson gets it. Last week, the increasingly prominent conservative blogger wrote to fellow conservatives that after tax day protest events, "I hope you'll leave the tea party protests behind and engage in the process." It's pretty good advice.
One of the greatest things about this republic—along with the First Amendment, apple pie, and digital cable—is that when it comes to elections, there'll always be another one.
That's how we do it in our country.
So, tea partiers, next time you stage a rally or disrupt an otherwise orderly town hall meeting, if you leave your musket and your powdered wig at home, lose the posters with the president made up as Hitler and abandon cries of "get your government hands off my Medicare"—you'll get some respect. Really.
But lay off "I want my country back." No one took it away—and it was never just yours in the first place.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.