April 16, 2009

Don't Let Them Convince You That It Was Something That It Wasn't

Justin Katz

This is a topic that I intend to consider from a couple of angles for some posts tomorrow, but it's worth making the general suggestion that attempts by various folks to define yesterday's tea party in Providence as something that it wasn't, or in a light that doesn't really apply, suggests that they just don't understand what's going on among right-of-center grassroots movements and the right side of the blogosphere. It could be that a basic difference in priorities, interests, and style precludes their understanding.

Consider the professional/mainstream media inclination to highlight a partisan aspect to the rallies — actually, to embellish for the purpose of highlighting it. Last night, as I waited in studio to go on the air with Matt Allen, WPRO reporter Steve Klamkin opened the door to discuss the tea party and was adamant that it was a "Republican event." The response that I gave on air to Matt was that the correlation is only a detracting factor — making it truly a "partisan" event — if the motivation for attendance was partisan regardless of the message. This was the opposite.

But this morning, Mr. Klamkin's report highlighted one speaker: Representative Joe Trillo, who said a few extemporaneous words after signing a no-tax pledge. Consider that: A reporter who wishes to see the event as a partisan event made a point of portraying it that way — not only picking a speaker who is known to be Republican, for one reason or another, but singling out one who is, by the nature of his office, a Republican figure.

The Providence Journal did something similar by using a picture of Republican candidate Dan Reilly for its front-page story of the event. It certainly isn't a denigration of either Mr. Reilly or Rep. Trillo to suggest that a picture of Colleen Conley, Bill Felkner, or Helen Glover would have been more appropriate as the signature image.

More than half of the other speakers are not explicitly partisan and would have conveyed a better sense of what the bubbling unrest is about: It's about people forming a popular movement, and that should be a much more frightening prospect to entrenched powers than the inevitable fact that politicians will find their way to microphones.

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"The Providence Journal did something similar by using a picture of Republican candidate Dan Reilly for its front-page story of the event."

Yes, I happened to see the front of the paper ProJo this morning and had exactly the same reaction. Great picture but why that speaker? So the word Republican could be in the caption?

I haven't wanted to stray too far from the fact that it was a terrific event. I'm still enjoying it today.

At the same time, out of respect for the fact that the organizers did not organize the Tea Party as a Republican event and the vast majority of attendees did not attend the Tea Party as a Republican event (and I say this as a proud Rhode Island Republican), we need to correct the erroneous label that some have tried to apply and emphasize once again: this was a non-partisan event.

Posted by: Monique at April 16, 2009 5:57 PM

The last time the Republicans tried to stage a demonstration at the State House, about 15 people showed up.

I've been around the Republican party for quite a few years now. Believe me, the RI Republican party of the last 10 years or so could never have pulled this off.

Posted by: George at April 16, 2009 5:59 PM

Good points, all. The mere presence of some Republican speakers at an event, does not make an event "Republican."

The best thing I think that the RI Republican Party did in regard to this event, was to get out of its way, and let it grow and evolve into the success that it ended up being. Yeah, there were a few organizers who were Republicans, and the RIGOP has a table there, but it most definitely was not a "Republican" event. I'm afraid that the media tends to slop on party labels sometimes, as a way to marginalize what they don't like. As a result of being able to work well with others, we got many of our points across, regardless as to whether you'd want to call it a non-partisan or multi-partisan event.

The idea of smaller or limited government should be a naturally Republican issue. However, because so many Republican have gotten away from that, many people don't naturally see a direct connection between the two. We need to get that back.

Posted by: Will at April 16, 2009 5:59 PM

The event was a huge success. I was a little dissapointed when I tuned into WPRO on my way to work to hear Joe Trillo, I had hoped polititians would be banned from microphones, but overall I think the message of accountability was heard by those in power.

I'm hoping this event was the pebble in the pond that creates a ripple effect that continues year round, and not a big rock that sinks to the bottom.

Posted by: michael at April 16, 2009 6:50 PM

It is too bad that the media can't find a better image to objectively characterize such a grass roots event, but I suspect that the emotions and reasoning that influenced so many to coalesce may not be immediately obvious to those who haven't been following the topical blogs and non-MSM news and commentary. I think those local and MSM who don't have an agenda will get it if you give them a bit of time.

For me the main theme that got me there is that objective, rational thought has been lost to ideologically driven "ends justify the means" and money driven "thinking".

I was not there for tax issues, per se, and was somewhat distracted that the taxes image of the Tea Party didn't characterize the constellation of my concerns which include:

a) Unconstrained spending (I believe spending is the root cause and taxes follow)
b) The fraud of Anthropogenic GW (which has a goal of "taxing" energy use via the CO2 excuse) with no due diligence by our "leaders"
c) Unconstitutional acts: Federal Reserve Bank; Energy and Education Departments (perhaps); Obama not being a Natural Born Citizen (for at least one reason- non-citizen father)
d) Improper/ineffective government oversight whether by fraudulence, ineptitude, or excessiveness.
e) Both parties failing to let principles come 1st.
f) Plans (??) for a "New World Order" led by an oligarchy of international bankers and such.

Posted by: Garacka at April 16, 2009 7:45 PM

The most obvious spin I saw was from Phillip Marcelo of the ProJo -
"Although the rally's promoters had predicted a turnout of 2,000 to 3,000, a headcount by The Journal indicated the figure was closer to 1,000."


Not only was he off on the headcount but he tried to make the "1000" look like a failure because we "predicted" more. In reality we predicted 500 to 1000 as recently as that morning - you can see a video of Doreen on The Rhode Show that day - http://www.foxprovidence.com/dpp/rhode_show/rhode_show_tea_party_protests_planned_tax_day_20094014

Trust me, if we thought 2-3000 we would have brought more supplies. Ran out of Tea Party shirts, tax pledge cards and sign up sheets by the midpoint.

Posted by: Bill Felkner at April 16, 2009 8:46 PM

As the person who is on the front of the ProJo, and a proud Republican, I understand and agree with all that has been said. While I was proud to be able to have spoken on Wednesday, I understand it was an event with people from across the political divide - and for the better. Only when people on both sides are ticked off about the direction our state is going in will we be able to bring real change to this state.

To this end, I was bipartisan in what I said, and spoke of the need for reform candidates, who will push agendas of change - and also pointed out that there are currently reformers on both sides of the aisle and that future reformers would come from both parties.

With all of that said, the real hero is Colleen Conley for organizing such a fantastic event. She should have been on the front of the ProJo, and deserves the recognition.

Dan Reilly

Posted by: Dan at April 16, 2009 8:55 PM

While I did not attend yesterday's event and do find the efforts of the organizers admirable, I really have disagree regarding the purported "non-partisan" nature of the rally .

Now while the crowd may have been non-partisan, the speakers' list, and thereby the messaging of the event, was decidedly so. The fact is, those who spoke at the event read like a who's who of GOP elected officials, former candidates, and conservative activists.

Dan Reilly proves this point. So does Travis Rowley. As does Jon Scott, Joe Trillo, and Bob Cushman. Throw in a former executive director of the RIGOP (Jeff Deckman), an incendiary right wing activist (Jason Matera) and one of the more influential members of the SKGOP (Adm. Middendorf) and you have all the makings of a partisan program.

Now, I'll concede that Helen Glover isn't technically on the RIGOP payroll, she was a recent speaker at the East Bay GOP breakfast. Neither is Bill Felkner's organization financed by the RIGOP, but it is an offshoot of a Grover Norquist effort, thereby placing it well within the reach of the "partisan" umbrella. Brian Bishop, also a speaker, it should be noted, is also listed as a "scholar" of Felkner's group -- as are Father Capoverdi and Adm. Middendorf.

Taken together, the only people missing from this list would seem to be Gov. Carcieri and Gio Ciccione.

I wouldn't expect to see too many labor types behind the dais, but can we please be honest enough to admit that while the composition of the crowd can be best described as unknown, the dominant voices of those at the center of the event were conservatives, if not registered Republicans?

Posted by: anonymous at April 16, 2009 10:26 PM

While I am all for giving credit where credit is due, and in this case it goes to the nonpartisan event organizers, I must say that an event can be "nonpartisan" in nature in that it was not organized by the RIGOP, the fact that the crowd supported and cheered on Republicans who were on the speaker's list is testament to the strength of their platform, not because the people showed up wanting to hear Republicans. Sen. Reptakis was on the schedule until he had to cancel towards the last minute. Senator Pinga was present to sign the "no new taxes" pledge. While these two individuals may not fit the build for the ultra-left side of the Democratic Party, they are, nonetheless, members of the Democratic Party, and were encouraged to attend and participate. If the Democrats focused on less taxation and more responsible spending as key tenets of their platform, then maybe they would be more inclined to participate in such an event. No one kept them away, nor will they be kept away from any future event.

There was one litmus test all politicians had to pass: to support the pledge for no new taxes. If you passed this, you were encouraged to be a part of the event. If you did not, then you were one of the people we were protesting. Plain and simple.

It seems to me that those critical of the Tax Day Tea Party went very quickly from "this event will be a total failure - no one will show up" to "well if 3,000 people showed up its because they were duped by Republicans into thinking it was a nonpartisan event." I was there - I got a great look at the crowd, and people were not leaving in droves either when myself or any other registered Republican got up to speak. In fact, more people were coming in.

Posted by: Dan at April 17, 2009 1:01 AM

Of course, I agree with what Dan said. To address some of the partisan / non-partisan questions further. While there certainly may have been "conservatives" there, please do not equate that term with "Republican." Although there is often overlap, they are certainly by no means synonymous.

For instance, I am a conservative who happens to be, for purely practical reasons, a registered Republican. To be perfectly honest, if we had a Parliamentary form of government, I would be a member of the most conservative party, not the Republican Party. However, because I actually want to work and contribute towards getting people elected, which generally requires a "majority," I choose to work within one of the two major parties that actually stands a chance of getting people elected -- in this case, the one that is closest in its ideals to my personal views, the Republican Party.

As for some of the speakers. Since I know most of them personally, I'll give a brief "insider's take" on them:

Dan Reilly was not on the original speaker's list. He was used as "filler," because the scheduled speakers were speaking too fast (nerves?), and it worked out wonderfully. Great A-1 coverage, too.

Travis Rowley. Again, wasn't on the original list; filler. Great extemporaneous remarks. Thought he did the best as letting the crowd know what Republicans should be standing for, and why some people there should be Republicans. However, our brand is currently in the tank, because we haven't always held to those beliefs (which is why we got clobbered). Very forward looking speech.

Jon Scott, is Chairman of the Board of OSPRI, the primary sponsor of the RI Tea Party. Great on policy stuff, not so great winning his own elections (he knows that).

Joe Trillo was completely unexpected. He was allowed to speak briefly because he decided there to sign the ATR "Tax Pledge" right there. Quid pro quo, you betcha.

Bob Cushman is a registered Democrat, not a Republican, who most recently was on the Warwick City Council. However, he was easily more conservative than the mayor. I'll stop it at that.

It's true that Jeff Deckman was the former RIGOP executive director (I think for 9 mos., about 4 years ago). He spoke as a businessman.

Jason Mattera is the spokesman for Young America's Foundation, and graduated from RWU. I've known him a long time; he's a conservative way ahead of being a Republican. I'm glad he's channeled his energies into more productive uses.

Adm. Middendorf doesn't live in SK, does he? I think he's from Little Compton, but don't quote me. He was the Secretary of the Navy, an Ambassador, and ran much of Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign. His life experience is unmatched by virtually anyone still left in Rhode Island. He's also on the OSPRI board.

Just because people have had past or current activity in politics, does not necessarily make what they do at an event "partisan." If anything, I thought the partisanship was played down a little too much.

Helen Glover was a recent speaker at the East Bay GOP breakfast. I wouldn't be surprised if she came to our next one on Saturday. She's a conservative.

Bill Felkner's organization is an offshoot of a Grover Norquist effort. By the way, Americans for Tax Reform is non-partisan. They are issues-based. They don't care about the party, if you agree with their stand on tax issues. It's like the NRA.

Brian Bishop, Father Capoverdi and Adm. Middendorf are all members of the OSPRI board, which is largely why they were afforded speaking roles. They each had their own stories to tell.

Gov. Carcieri was not invited to speak, because he included tax and free increases in his budget. As far as I know, Gio Cicione is still on vacation in AZ away from all this. The best decision he made was to nix the RIGOP-only Tea Party in Warwick, and encourage those people to support the Providence one.

I wouldn't expect to see any labor types behind the dais, because they are opposed to fiscally responsible reform for the most part. Again, this was an issues based event .. if you don't agree on the issues, you didn't get a chance to speak. The dominant voices of those at the center of the event were conservatives, but not necessarily Republicans. I believe almost exactly half of the speakers were Republican, with most of the rest Unaffiliated, and I think two Democrats.

Please keep in mind, that virtually everything regarding this event in Rhode Island was put together within just the last 3 to 4 weeks. Bill Felkner offered his help to Colleen, who spearheaded this from the get-go. When they were looking around for speakers, I think it was perfectly natural for them to seek out people they knew. Since OSPRI "paid for that microphone" to use an old Reagan phrase, I think they got a lot of say over the speaking program. It worked out great for them.

Again, the program was intended to reflect a spectrum of "center-right" thought within Rhode Island, which mainly focused on issues related to taxation, borrowing, and spending. It was not intended, nor do I think it did reflect the Republican Party one way or the other. That being said, because the RIGOP had a very passive role in the event, it allowed a few of our rising stars to shine on their own.

Posted by: Will at April 17, 2009 1:58 AM

We are issue driven, not party loyalists. The tea party movement is about liberty. The vast majority of participants are just as disgusted with bush era erosion of civil liberties as we are about Obama communalism.

Neither party is a champion of liberty. In fact, this movement seeks to undermine the stranglehold on our lives that both parties exercise. The true enemies of our movement are those who have been in power, see the tide turning, and now want to ride our wave to maintain the two-party status quo. Do not be tricked into believing that this is anything but a grass roots, bottom-up movement with goal of restoring goverment to its rightful place.

Posted by: blake at April 17, 2009 2:54 PM

Klamkin would not know good journalism if it kicked him in the groin. The man is a sensationalizer, and a poor one at that. As for WPRO and the rally, I found DePetro's comments surrounding foreclosures in Providence as shortsighted and ignorant. When will people realize that you and I are adversly effected by those who fall into foreclosure. It destroys our property values and is going to contribute to revenue shortfalls and higher taxes.

Posted by: Nh22 at April 17, 2009 3:34 PM
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