By Steven Tavares
We live in turbulent times. Composure is not something usually attached to times like these when uncertainty is hitting Americans in both their pride and checkbooks. We are frazzled. Unemployment reached a plateau off over 11 percent in the East Bay and just under 10 percent nationally. In scary times like this it is no wonder we see such an outpouring of fear, hot-tempered rhetoric and name-calling at events like Rep. Pete Stark's town hall meetings last weekend. In fact, such behavior is unfortunately the norm in troubling times.
A vast majority of the people gathered in Hayward and Alameda did so to unleash their anger at the long-time congressman who many times stokes the fire of discontent identified with the growing Tea Party movement. The Bay Area may be a bastion of liberal politics but the rancor emanating from the edges of the East Bay are growing. From Fremont to Dublin to Oakley conservative contempt is rising and liberals cannot turn a deaf ear to their voices. Let's be clear, the movement is not racist in its intent, but a disenchanted group of mostly white, middle class Americans absolutely terrified of what the future holds for them. In these times, the threshold of tolerance is vastly lowered as the vice of uncertainty twists and tightens. Disparate groups like the poor, minorities and their subset, undocumented workers, become the scapegoats for all that has gone wrong with America. Their destruction becomes an easy antidote for a return to the halycon days of Americana based on their perception of the good ol' day or as a 75-year-old man in Walnut Creek told me last week, "normal times."
After eight years of wildly increasing spending under President George W. Bush and the severe recession that followed, many people in the Tea Party exhibit a peculiar political schizophrenia regarding the economy
A boiling, pink-faced man repeatedly jumped to his feet last Saturday anytime Stark made reference to taxes and every time his argument would diverge with the growing immigration problem. "God, Guns and Country," he declared to Stark. He described his experience patrolling the Arizona borders and made reference to "rounding up" those "illegals" and sending them back to Mexico. A Hayward man told me Stark wins elections every two years because "illegals" vote for him, without realizing you have to be an American citizen to vote.
Another common gripe is the rising deficit under President Obama. While nearly all the Tea Party supporters veer to the right, the issue of the deficit is the outpost where most do not have a political party to identify. Democrats will spend to fund social programs and expand government, they say. Republicans once offered supporters an opposite view, but after eight years of wildly increasing spending under President George W. Bush and the severe recession that followed, many people in the Tea Party exhibit a peculiar political schizophrenia regarding the economy.
A retired woman in Alameda who said her and her husband live comfortably on their Social Security check and savings accrued over 40 years of work, jousted with Stark generally over rising spending by Democrats and specifically provisions of the health care reform act she said will balloon the deficit. Stark, this time, politely disagreed and then offered his consistent critique of the war in Afghanistan as a colossal waste of money. He seemed to have been attempting to reach common ground with the woman's sense of frugality. Except, the word "Afghanistan" stopped the woman's money-saving refrain in its tracks. "I personally know someone who is in Iraq right now," she said. "I think we need to finish what we went there to do."
It is exchanges like these that indicate the Tea Party movement is not political, but somewhere between a social movement and a grand bitchfest. A forum for Americans to unleash their hurt and fears. Where every topic imaginable is open for argument and little in the form of facts and figures is allowed. There is no focal point, just an amalgam of unrelated tirades. Dozens of people may feel better after pelting Stark with heavy invective, but for most of the time Saturday morning healthy discourse of the issues facing the country and the 13th Congressional District was drown out by name-calling and intimidation. Let us hope as the economy brightens over the next few years, the level of discussion rises commensurate with better times.