A couple months ago, after CNBC's Rick Santelli launched an on-air rant against government bailouts of homeowners, a spontaneous movement took off: Grassroots "tea parties" protesting the stimulus package and other government spending. In New York City, a couple hundred people gathered in downtown Manhattan to vent. Addressing the group were, generally speaking, a few leaders of anti-tax groups, local Republican clubs and heads of related causes.
Today, on Tax Day, several times as many protesters are expected to show up at that same location in New York's City Hall Park.
Across the country, there are expected to be, literally, thousands gathering in hundreds of sites. Why the big change? Well, it's partly political physics -- every action creates an opposite, if not equal reaction. In February, it was primarily the stimulus package and bank bailout that garnered attention. Since then, Congress has passed a $410 billion supplemental spending bill and Obama has introduced a $3.6 trillion 2010 budget.
More significantly, big-name Republicans and conservative organizations have grabbed onto the grassroots nature of the tea parties and taken it to a new level. In February, only the Dick Armey-affiliated Freedom Works was connected to the tea parties. Today, Americans For Tax Reform, the National Republican Congressional Committee and other groups are showing their support for the concept.
And the speaker role includes the speaker -- Newt Gingrich, who will be attending the Manhattan event. Other guests include South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (in his home state), Fox anchor Sean Hannity and columnist Michele Malkin. Many Democrats and liberals are dismissing the events as lobbyist-organized "fake" grassroots gatherings.
Obviously, the Republican Party has a stake at seeing these rallies across the nation appear to show a popular uprising against Obama's policies. But, the fact is that one can never predict when a spark will inspire the populace to decry economic issues. In 1992 -- as Gingrich has pointed out -- it was Ross Perot zeroing in on the problem of deficit spending. By capturing 19 percent of the vote that presidential year he put both parties on notice about the salience of the deficit issue. Santelli may have unwittingly done the same with his impromptu Mercantile temper tantrum.
Given that Republicans haven't exactly come up with a great idea of their own, they may as well ride the crest of this current wave.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.