Despite all the political posturing and made-for-television-rubric that accompanied Wednesday’s “tea party” protests in Maine and across the land, they got their basic message across: People are madder than hell and want something done. Pronto.

The tea parties merely gave times and places for widespread, volcanic emotions to erupt; they were billed as Tax Day protests, but their true colors bled through as participants voiced their displeasure with everything from taxes to stimulus, debt, bailouts and even visitation rules in federal buildings. Maybe it is best described as a national day of venting.

About the only thing immune from criticism was the weather, as it was a nice day in Maine for some populist outrage.

And why not? America is experiencing unprecedented times, caused almost entirely by actions in a financial stratosphere way above that of the average Joe. (Or Joe the Plumber, who was, until Wednesday’s protest, the nation’s pre-eminent manufactured populist symbol of working-class anger and resentment toward government actions.)

A little fist-shaking and primal screaming about the current, messy state of affairs was more than warranted. If we met the AIG executive responsible for green-lighting the credit-default swaps, we would get steamed under our collective collars and unleash a blue-language salvo their way. At least we’d get something for our donation to the bailout.

Which is, we think, the message of the tea parties. America is an angry nation; angry at ourselves, for buying bills of goods sold by Wall Street and mortgage brokers, at brokers and bankers for selling them, and angry at the government for subsequently bailing them out. This anger is not bound by party or ideological lines. We’re all pretty much ticked off.

(In fact, the tea parties – though almost entirely composed of communal catharses by crowds of conservatives – still had a decidedly left-wing vibe, with their Internet-based organization and copious media buzz. In another year, under another federal administration, this type of event would have been sponsored by MoveOn.org.)

What’s bothersome is the partisan bickering. Yes, the tea parties were flogged without end by right-wing mouthpieces. And yes, the majority of the nation – according to polls – supports President Barack Obama’s plans for recovery. Some also have insisted on seeing the tea parties as further evidence of the weakening of a minority ideology, or further fracturing of our political society.

It was neither of those. If taken as a general statement against government spending, both parties should assume guilt, as the Bush administration started this trend, which has continued unabated under President Obama. A pox on both their houses, as it were.

Some good, old-fashioned populist frustration manifested Wednesday in the time-honored tradition of sign-waving and speech-making. Looking too deep into tea parties mises their meaning. America is angry.

Sometimes, we need to show how much.


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