Hard Sell Soft-Pedaled at the Fire House? –Robert M. Shelby, 9-23-10.

Several weeks ago, local Tea Party Patriots met in a public rental room at N.W. Benicia’s Hastings Drive Fire Station. I counted about fifty people attending. Key members wore red tee-shirts with “Tea Party Patriots” printed in white letters on each front. I couldn’t guess where all the young people were. Maybe some other chapter? Another town? These folks were notably senior. I saw no more than ten people of age forty or younger. Some of these were children with their parents. Gray hair and eyeglasses typified this audience along with some extra weight. I noticed one, middle-aged black man and maybe half a dozen of intermediate color or Latino extraction. Most were lily-white. They looked like decent, well established folks, home-owners, half or more of them retired perhaps from small business, solid trades or professions. “TP Patriots” claim distinction from other TPs, such as the Tea Party Express, all non-partisan “educators”, to be sure.

I could well believe few if any regarded themselves as racist or intolerant, yet it was clear that members of local minorities and young adults were not drawn to this group or its goals. Benicia Tea Party Patriots claim not to be partisan or racist, but their only uniformity seems to be the red shirt. It doesn’t take deep research to find standard GOP and Libertarian notions and wishes behind the patriotic masks. It doesn’t seem credible that plain, old racism plays no part in all that detestation for Obama they can’t hide.

Peter Baker and his wife, who head the local group, were present but not introduced, to my recollection. The meeting began with a rather stumbling recitation at least twelve minutes long by an elder gentleman, of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death” speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses. First, I suppressed my laughter, then I suppressed my yawns. This was almost too stirring to stay awake for. Next, Mr. Scott Dupries, a local health insurance executive, spoke on the new Health Care Reform law. He was clear and non-pejorative. Though he felt opposed to much of it, he admired the orderly way it was set up to unfold through several years to come.

The meeting broke for refreshment and schmoozing. A final fifteen or twenty minutes after reconvening was to be devoted to open discussion. I felt no urge to sit longer in that folding chair and left, guessing the discussion would consist of whining, war-cry and no debate whatsoever. Later report from a friend verified a mild uproar ensued, putting me in mind of Patrol Room Meetings in my 1940s Boy Scout Troop monthlies; too unruly to be productive, much less fun for any but the loudest clowns.

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