When Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express descended on the Boston Common today, this liberal city not only survived the onslaught but managed to exercise a sort of rough-edged democracy with a hint of humor and a modicum of decorum.
No, I’m not talking about the idiot who warmed up the crowd with just enough “Barack Hussein Obamas” to satisfy the closet birthers and racists in its midst. I’m not talking about Palin herself, who delivered a stock stump speech, presumably at a hefty price tag, with just enough calls for tax cuts, liberty and oil-drilling to keep the applause coming. Forget, too, the token and disheartening black dude who, after announcing “I’m not an African-American, I’m American,” sang soulfully while a bunch of blondes around him pumped their hands skyward in their best Rockettes rendition of Motown.
No, the real action wasn’t on the stage but in the crowd, where protesters and counter-protesters came armed with enough dueling signs to muster the political equivalent of the old Banner Day at Shea’s Stadium, where fans had to do something to survive the awful play of the then hapless New York Mets.
The Tea Partiers punched with signs proclaiming, “Our Wallets. The only place liberals are willing to drill” and “Obama debt-laden,” a two-fer that could imprint the president as an A-rab terrorist and big spender in just three words.
Liberal counter-protesters parried with a Palin look-alike carrying a sign that read, “Am I full of lies, hate and BS? You betcha,” and a group of Harry Potter fans from Emerson College, where I teach, who paraded around enthusiastically with a proposed ticket of “Palin-Voldemort” in 2012.
And for those who forgot signs? No problem. This Tea Party is a for-profit operation, so you could buy just about anything even (and this may be unAmerican) Italian sausage with hot peppers.
Small “Don’t Tread on Me” flags sold for $5. T-shirts with the same logo for $15 (discounted to two for $25). There were star-spangled hats, standard issue American flags of all sizes and even a Betsy Ross design manufactured by a guy who proudly informed me he’d slipped a few hundred into a Scott Brown rally. (Alas, though Scott’s special flags made it to Monday’s affair, the new Massachusetts senator hedged his bets and stayed in Washington.)
Some signs on both sides were, perhaps, just a tad in bad taste, such as the one on the pink T shirt of a busty young Tea Partier that read, “Waterboard Obama.” Or the large naked photo of Levi Johnston, father of Palin’s grandchild, with a picture of Palin pasted on his most private part.
Where signs dueled participants did too, with spirit, but, surprisingly, without overt hostility. While representatives of the two camps periodically traded insults, they seemed to do so without a lot of shouting or profanity and, as far as I could tell, without a single raised fist.
The kid with lacivious Levi soon fell into a spirited debate with a guy wearing wrap around sunglasses and a T-shirt that read “Certified Right Wing Extremist.”
Their one-upmanship lasted but a few lines before sun glasses said, “I think you look like an idiot,” and poster boy countered, “I think you look like a nut job.”
Nothing too profound, mind you. But at least something approaching discourse, which is entirely missing in the propaganda that spews from the mouths of Rush and his ilk. Others, with diametrically opposing viewpoints, parried and parted with nary an insult, standing their respective ground in a Common created in part for just such political debate.
I left no less convinced that these Tea Party folks are deluded, but could tolerate them somewhat better than the mean-spirited propagandists who manipulate them like marionettes.
It helped that the sun was shining, the trees blooming, the temperature in the 60’s. But in the end I guess I was surprised that the event was as mild as the weather, if considerably less uplifting.