Some of the tax day tea rallies around the country yesterday may have had professional organizing help, but none was apparent in the Grand Junction events. Organizers quoted in local stories even gave the wrong location in the city's central park. And not even the craftiest PR firm determined to hide its involvement could have come up with the two amateur-hour websites belonging to the sponsoring organizations.
The actual festivities were well within the capabilities of a Kiwanis Club vice president, a classic rock DJ and a couple retirees with a card table. These basic efforts were elevated by the presence of several thousand participants bearing signs, flags and willingness to applaud any platitude.
The speakers obliged with "freedom, not slavery," "a hand up, not a hand out" and "capitalism, not socialism" to name only a few.
The lineup featured local Glenn Beck wannabees, some of the town's most notable Christo-conservative officials and a Denver-area councilman running for U.S. Senate who has contentless patriotism down pat. Ryan Frazier was only a couple minutes into his stump speech when he delivered this line...
"We want a government that respects that this is the United States of America, not the European Union.
... and a man leaned over to a woman and said, "He's got my vote." And she said, "Mine, too."
I'm kicking myself for not saying, "Mine, too. And remind me, who are we voting for?"
Not to mention what.
To be fair, this sort of rhetoric is a staple of all kinds of political rallies. Missing was anything close to a coherent assessment of how the country got in this mess. Nothing about the war, education, innovation, affordable housing, health care, the environment. And certainly no solutions proposed, unless you count lower taxes and electing people who don't understand how government works, then throwing them out before they learn.
The only clear call for action was to support good conservative candidates who believe in small government and that this is a still a Christian Nation. The level of discourse here made a Ron Paul rally seem like a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Some speakers at the noon event stressed this was an anti-tax, anti-incumbent rally that held both parties in low regard. But they somehow never came up with any Republican names or policies responsible for their contempt. The name of George W. Bush may have been spoken once, but his reign was neither invoked nor blamed.
A sample of the wit:
"Both kinds of B.O. smell the same."
A joke about how the speakers didn't need teleprompters to tell them what to say — as speakers read without irony from their notes.
There was a strong anti-Democrat tenor aimed at specific figures, including President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, their Congressman John Salazar and Senator Michael Bennet, who has been in the job for less time than Obama.
For such a historically oriented crowd, they seemed pretty focused on the present tense when it came to the source of the country's problems. As the photos show, some estimates of our decline may vary. I asked the man with the sandwich board what exactly "went from plus to minus in 73 days."
It didn't seem worthwhile arguing that the deficit got worse lately because someone finally faced up to the problems. Or that the grownups in the White House are actually trying to do something to address the deficit he's decrying.
There's no question some fired up people were in attendance, and their disdain for government is real. They do see that large corporate interests have undue influence in Washington, but they don't seem to attribute any blame to private enterprise — another word for liberty.
They believe they are overtaxed, and don't think they'll see that change. They want a simple, leave-me-alone solution for problems they can only articulate in generalities. And they are unlikely to find common cause with Americans see some of the same problems, but who think government can have a constructive role in their lives.
As the rally broke up and the sign carriers went to a major intersection for a little rabble-rousing, a huge red Halliburton truck drove through, blasting its air horn for a block. The atmosphere was giddy. But for the sound and fury to translate into a movement, a bit more community organizing will be required.
[The No Socialism Dude had a passel of kids running around a Don't Tread on Me flag waved by his wife, who along with her daughter wore a long pioneer skirt. The man with the red coffee cup wore his veteran's cap and an understated sticker that said: Bush left a big mess. Clearly an infiltrator.]