Notes from the Monterey Tea Party
On April 15, I went to one of the few demonstrations I’ve ever been to: the Monterey, California Tea party. I didn’t know what to expect. It happened on what seemed like the coldest day of the year. The temperature was 50 degrees but a ferocious wind made it feel like the high 30s. So I went in my ski jacket, the first time this year that I’ve felt the need to wear it. The turnout was quite high: I would put it at 500 people. What was refreshing was that there was a wide range of ages and people seemed to having a genuinely good time. There were too many American flags for my taste but the high point was the signs, mostly homemade and carrying a wide range of slogans. My “End the War. Cut Taxes” sign was the only antiwar sign in the crowd, but the looks I got were more quizzical than hostile.
Part of what helped the press see it as a libertarian event was my friend Lawrence Samuels, who set up a literature table and handed out hundreds of buttons, dozens of posters, and scores of his new book.
I wondered how the press would report it, but I was pleased when I found out the reporter for the Monterey County Herald was Larry Parsons. In conversations with him, I’ve sensed that he’s what’s now called a “liberal,” but you can’t tell that from his reporting. When he covered a campaign to raise the county sales tax a few years ago and our small group of libertarians, conservatives, and assorted low taxers fought it off, he covered us fairly. (I’ve written about this here, here, and here.) Sure enough, he did a good job. What was best about his report is that he captured the fun people were having. He also gave prominence to the libertarian side.
At one point, I was talking to Dee, a woman whose Republican women’s group I had given a talk to a few years earlier. She told me that Obama was messing up on Iran and I told her why I didn’t think Iran was a threat to the U.S. But I was getting nowhere and so I changed the subject. I looked across the street at a counter-demonstration. Among the demonstrators were two men holding signs saying, “End Corporate Welfare.” “Look, Dee,” I said, “those two guys are against the bailout.” She started to say “no” and then said, “Oh, yeah, I see what you mean.” A few people around us got a good laugh.
That evening, a reporter from the Salinas Californian called me at home and he gave me a softball question that allowed me to point out why the Tea Party had given me hope. He said, “The demonstrators on the other side said that they didn’t understand your side’s upset because Obama is cutting taxes for 95 percent of people. How do you answer that?”
I answered, “First, Obama has already broken his campaign promise not to raise taxes “a dime” for people with income under $200,000. He signed a bill two months ago raising the federal tax on cigarettes by 62 cents a pack. Second, what many of these protestors are upset about is the huge increase in government spending. As Milton Friedman often pointed out, the real measure of taxes is not what the government calls taxes but what government spends. Government spending is financed by current taxes, future taxes, or inflation.” The reporter used the Milton Friedman line.