Thursday, April 8, 2010

Relentlessly ringing freedom: Northern New England's Tea Partiers go local

Published at

Amid relentless bell-ringing (“Let freedom ring!” chanted the enthusiasts as they deprived passersby of their hearing and sanity), the Tea Party came to Portland last week to greet President Barack Obama.

None of the folks at the Portland gathering were openly armed, and a walkthrough by a pair of Secret Service agents didn’t appear to draw their interest to anyone in particular. (Police later reported no arrests in any of the demonstrations — pro- or anti-Obama.)

But as supportive as they are of the Second Amendment, the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states powers not explicitly granted to the federal government, is as closely in focus as anything else. And while most mainstream media coverage of the Tea Party movement is related to national issues, the next frontier for the Tea Party is in the state capitals — and then in a town hall near you.

What happens there, though, is anybody’s guess, given the divergent and sometimes contradictory views from various folks at the rally.

Joe DeCoste, an unemployed Emden man, agrees with charity and community support for needy neighbors, but wants to do it through the church, not the government. “We do that in our community,” he says, unconsciously admitting that government support isn’t even close to enough for most needy families.

He suggested that Obama’s efforts to create jobs “is going back to the old ways that didn’t work,” arguing that “the government cannot actually create anything” without taking something from citizens. The job-creation schemes of government are really plans to “redistribute your wealth” hatched by officials who “have never held a job in the private sector.”

DeCoste suggested we model our society on the “cooperative nature of the Pilgrims.” Whether that was how they cooperated with the natives by bringing disease and endless waves of undocumented immigrants, or how they cooperated with dissenters like Roger Williams was unclear.

DeCoste did have an interesting suggestion: He suggested that if we took the “$45 trillion we spend on Medicare” (whose annual budget is closer to $500 billion) and set out to design a health-care system, we wouldn’t come up with Medicare. As an example of “how free markets work,” he offered the cosmetic-surgery industry, whose services are not often covered by insurance, and has high-quality, low-cost treatment options widely available.

Mary Ellen Farrell, holding a sign with a lengthy argument from Thomas Jefferson whose ultimate point was that consolidating government in Washington would make government secrecy easier, talked emotionally, with tears in her eyes. “I feel our liberty slipping away,” she said. “I’m afraid of government,” said the former social worker, because she saw “abuse of entitlement” by people on government programs. “Everything is a gimme,” she said.

Laurie Pettengill of Bartlett, New Hampshire, finished the argument. Wearing a replica Minuteman uniform (“I wore this to 9/12 in DC,” she declared proudly), she suggested all Americans “read the Constitution for themselves,” particular that 10th Amendment — the states’ rights one.

“We need to get enough people who believe in states’ rights” to let health care and other issues in each state, rather than in the nation as a whole. (Nearby protestors mentioned abortion rights, gun rights, and same-sex marriage as other issues that should not be decided federally.)