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Drifting through Mall C on Wednesday was an odd experience. Never before had I seen so many Republicans in one place in Cleveland. I wondered how many of these people came from Indiana.

A few thousand had for the Cleveland installment of the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party, and more than a few were sufficiently tax-averse to plunk down $5 to some lady at a table, who in turn handed over poster boards and markers for a DIY placard-a-rama of conservative catchphrases: “IT’S THE SPENDING STUPID.” “IS THIS DAY ONE OF THE NEXT AMERICAN REVOLUTION?” “PARTY LIKE IT’S 1773.” “DOWN WITH CHANGE, UP WITH FREEDOM.”

Many of the attendees who came to rail against President Obama’s stimulus program and government intrusion in the marketplace were the garden-variety money-managers. And many others, snuggled in full deer-hunting regalia, looked like they just stepped off the militia compound. Cleveland never looked so white. You’d have thought, with the turnout, that Rush Limbaugh was expected, or that somebody was going to really tea-bag Dennis Kucinich or something.

But no: The line-up of speakers was as inconsequential as the party itself in and around this city — a few armed forces members with militant ideologies; a few business owners blathering about the tax-and-spenders; former county GOP chair Jim Trakas; Sandra O’Brien, who ran for Ohio Treasurer on an anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage platform; and state Sen. Tim Grendell, who just offered a proposal to reform Cuyahoga County government, even though he lives in Geauga County. (Talk about no taxation without representation.)

“If my Uncle Norm were here, he’d say, ‘Don’t throw tea into the river,’” said one of the speakers, retired Army Capt. David Morgan. “He’d say, ‘Do something creative and throw some of these crooked politicians into the river.’” As if Republicans weren’t even politicians at all, he said old Uncle Norm also liked to deconstruct the word politics: “poly, meaning many, and tics, meaning blood-sucking parasites.”

Har-de-har-har is right. “We have one group in Washington with too much power,” he concluded. He neglected to remind everyone how it was Republicans with all the power until the voters said, “No more.” Morgan ended his speech by paraphrasing Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Really. The whole thing about how you could take his life but NOT. HIS. FREEDOM!

Holding up a “PROUD AMERICAN CAPITALIST” sign, Beachwood ninth-grade history teacher Karissa Piper didn’t look like the typical attendee. She said that in the classroom, she encourages her students to formulate their own opinions. But here, she was proud to rail against the Wall Street bailouts and lack of Congressional strings attached.

“Congress is taking our voice away, because in a capitalist system, money is our voice,” she said. “It just seems these bailouts have been a back-and-forth dance between corporations and Congress, and I’m not sure Congress, as a rule maker, have been very articulate about there being any new rules.”

They should have had her speaking. There’s at least some sense in that. But those on the soapbox seemed to devote most of their time to reading all the signs stacked up on the horizon and quoting St. Ronald of Reagan. One cliché after another. And fear-mongering was the order of the day.

“After 236 years, we find ourselves right here again, right where the first American patriots found themselves,” said Sandra O’Brien. Grendell speculated that if the Boston Tea Party happened today, the Department of Homeland Security would call participants terrorists and “we’d form a new government department of tea protection.”

“This is not the end here today,” he said. “This is the beginning. Let’s make this a shot heard around the world. Enough is enough!” And the crowd erupted in the repeated chant. Before he gave up the mic, Grendell also gave out his cell phone number (216.904.0029). “You have a problem with your state? Call me and I’ll see what I can do.”

Call him and see if he answers.

One of the event organizers, Ralph King, showed off the banner that proclaimed the event, Cleveland Tea Party, then said, “We wanted to make sure if people came and didn’t hear us, at least they could read us … unless they went to public school.” Ha! Get it? Because only those people go to public school, you know how stupid they are.

Then it was time to hear from the keynote speaker, the person who probably lured half of the revelers down here: our own local Limbaugh, WTAM’s Bob Frantz.

I headed for the car, shaking my head. I’d had enough Thomas Jefferson quotes to last an entire semester of American history. On my way to the car, a stooped old man stopped me and warned me not to speak with the lone protester at the curb, holding a sign that read, “FACE IT! THE ELEPHANT IS DEAD!” “He’s the enemy!” the old man said.

The protester was Daniel Dieter, a sophomore computer science student at Case, who said, “I’m hesitant to walk over there. It’s too intense. It’s like Ground Zero or something.” But still he made his point succinctly without having to read it from his poster. “I’d like to know what percentage of the group over there makes more than $250,000 and actually did see a tax increase,” he said, and I smiled and said thank you.

As I neared my car, I could hear Bob Frantz goading the herd to snarls, admonishing any “traitors in the crowd.” He told them, “You are doing what millions of Americans want to do today.”

What’s that? I wondered. Rejoicing in the freedom? Turning this fucking channel? — Dan Harkins


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