The most memorable moment from the first major Tea Party rally in front of New York’s City Hall, in April 2009, wasn’t the woman chain-smoking cigarettes by a guard rail, there, she said, to defend “smoker’s rights.” Nor was it the machismo menace that hung in the air, or the “Don’t Tread on Me” signs held by untrod-upon-looking junior insurance executives in for the afternoon from Glen Cove. It wasn’t even the palpable anger at Mayor Bloomberg, who (presumably) sat in his office a few feet away and, his efforts toward gun control and bike paths notwithstanding, was the only chance Republicans had of holding onto City Hall that November.
No, the most memorable moment of that afternoon was the speaker who took to the microphone and urged everyone present to put down their tricorner hats and give a round of applause to the people who had made the rally happen: the New York City Parks Department, the sanitation workers, the police guarding the barricades.
These were “the working people,” the ones lionized by this movement for the screwing they had been taking from the Obama administration and assorted powers-that-be, but they were also government workers, their salaries and pensions paid for with hard-earned taxpayer dollars, their very existence dependent upon public largess.
In the two and a half years since that gathering, there have been hundreds like it across the country. In 2010, Tea Party protesters and their ilk not only took out the Democrats in Congress, but even managed to squelch the ambitions of a few Republicans who were deemed insufficiently conservative by the latest right-wing litmus test.
But by late 2011, Glenn Beck, once the Cassandra of this crowd, had been shuffled off the stage. The town hall meetings that first alerted the mainstream media to this new substrata of the body politic are now filled not with conservatives yelling at Democratic congressmen to keep their government hands off of Medicare but with liberals yelling at the Republican reps to let the Bush tax cuts expire. The debt ceiling has been raised, budgets have been passed. The likely Republican presidential nominee is as far removed from this tumult in the streets as the average CEO is from the jobs he outsourced.
Into this breach have slipped a couple of books that attempt to explain this new world we now find ourselves in.