Posted by: Bill Tracy | April 17, 2010

Death or Potatoes? A TEA Party

Comedian George Carlin used to do a bit about state mottoes on license plates. He would contrast the starkness of New Hampshire’s, “Live Free or Die” with Idaho’s, “Famous Potatoes.” Somewhere between those extremes, he suggested, “the truth lies.” And he concluded that it was “probably closer to Famous Potatoes.” I think that’s a good starting point with the “TEA Party” movement.


This looks to me like the face of the TEA Party movement.

I’ve heard a lot the last year about this “TEA Party.” They’ve been called everything from Carlinesque “whackaloons” to right wing extremists to racist, redneck terrorists to revolutionary secessionists. They’ve sounded pretty scary. Then this week The New York Times published results of a poll that says they’re just angry, white old men with better education and more money than most people in this country. (Maybe that also means the wives are just humoring these old curmudgeons.) Then New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted in the New York Daily News with a positive spin on the movement: “It’s a bunch of people getting involved in government, in politics, that is good for the country.” So, do they fit into the live free or die category, or are they just famous potatoes?

The TEA party doesn’t seem to be a recognized political party anywhere. To me, it fits more in line with 1960’s socio-political movements like the Students for a Democratic Society, Black Panthers, Weather Underground or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. They seem to have a political agenda, but it’s not clear to me just what it is. Mostly what I hear is they want less government and less intrusion of government into private lives. The poll done by The New York Times found however, that many are collecting Social Security retirement benefits, and they sure don’t want that part of the government to go away. Comments I’ve heard attributed to this movement regarding the current political leaders in Washington seem decidedly irrational and mostly uninformed. Research I’ve done indicates some unsavory types (like former U.S. Representative  Dick Armey) are the movements puppet masters. Anyway, since they have public and open events, I decided to go to one and see what I could see and learn firsthand.

Veteran TEA

Many of the men I met at the event were military veterans.

The people I talked with, saw and photographed at the Angels Camp event on Thursday evening, April 15 don’t fit easily into any definable category. Many are older, retired people who have the idea this country is not the “City Upon a Hill” that it was in their heyday. Those still of working age, but still not young people, display a palpable undercurrent of anger, probably born of fear. The root of that fear is not clear to me, but I suspect it’s quite clear to some of the media rabble-rousers who foment it (Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, so called Michael Savage and many others). As a personal aside I’ll say I find it disgraceful those people enrich themselves by using the media to preach social and political polarization. As for young people at the TEA party event, well there really weren’t any, at least not in any numbers you’d notice. Perhaps they’re too busy working three jobs to do much political partying.

Don't Kill TEA

While this man seemed to be generally known by many at the event his message seemed to puzzle most of those savoring the tea.

While I did encounter a few scary types, my overall impression was closer to “famous potatoes” than people with a death wish. I came home thinking what I usually think about most right wing types – decent people who want the best for their country and their families. I disagree with most of how they’d like to accomplish that goal, but our goals are essentially the same. Nothing wrong with that.

The TEA Party folks I met seem to believe the people have lost control of government. Instead of the government existing to serve the citizens it has turned upside down so the citizens exist to serve the government ˗˗ and the politicians and corporations who are pulling the strings. I surely can’t disagree with that either.

I’m going to post a lot of pictures here. They have their own story to tell. Many more are available at:

Petition TEA

Petitions were being signed enthusiastically.

Race TEA

This was the only indication of racism I saw at the event. The sign says "Throw out the white liberals." It was erased from the white board as soon as I took the picture.

National Anthem TEA

An old crowd gets to its feet for the National Anthem.

Wrong TEA

Even if you're wrong, there are worse things to do on a pleasant springtime evening than holding a sign on a grassy knoll. President Obama has shown neither arrogance nor ignorance.

Panorama TEA

Folded arms were the most common body language I saw throughout the event.

Couple TEA

There were a lot of couples, not all identically dressed as here, but they were making it a family affair.

Commie TEA

Just when we thought the cold war was dead--I guess the commies are back!

Burnell TEA

The speaker is Cory Burnell, founder of a group called Christian Exodus. Their original intent was to flood South Carolina with people claiming to be Christians so they could take over the state and have it secede from the United States, again. I think their goal has now been scaled back to something of a more personal nature. Their Web site:

George Martha TEA

Even George and Martha showed up to do some speechifying.


  1. Bill, this is the best coverage I have seen about the Tea Party. I have heard a lot of snide comments in leftish circles but I always wondered who are these people and what do they want?
    I think I understand now, and identify to some extent. Regardless of political leanings, most of us could agree that the government has been shamefully mismanaged of late and all of us were helpless to do anything about it. Rather than laugh at these people, I am touched that they are still involved, that they still care. Most of us, once campaigners and letter writers, have given up. A word created in the 1960’s – “disenfranchised” – used to apply only to the poorest minorities. I would say now that every American is disenfranchised. None of us feel like we have a say. Even voting feels meaningless between the Electoral College and the dismal options.
    So you go, George and Martha; I hope you at least enjoyed the beautiful day.

  2. Bill:

    I can see we’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum. TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already. And we are taxed enough and don’t need any more taxes which will HAVE to happen with all the new “save America” bills that Congress is passing.

    Frankly, I like my health care plan which I purchase, I hate Medicare which I am required to accept because I’m 65. Plus being a Medicare recipient means I have to pay another $120 a month to the US Gov’t in order to keep the benefits for which I was paying the entire time I was working. And, besides that it comes out of my meager Social Security, which is not enough for a cat to live on for a month. The remainder of my SS goes for uncovered pills. I think if the Gov’t would just let the free market system do it’s thing we’d be better off.

    Do we need regulations? Yes. Do we need the gov’t to provide what is regulated? No.

    The TEA party gatherings remind me of the sit-ins in the 60s. They didn’t achieve much either. Or did they?

    PS: I like Rush, the other two — not so much.

  3. Sad, really, really, sad….

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