tea party 4_15_2010Patriotic, salt-of-the-earth. Or misinformed and angry?

On tax day we took our politically diverse Teen Square meeting on a road trip – a few city blocks down the road anyway – to the Tallahassee tea party “We the People” event. We asked this group of every flavor of political orientation and demographic to take a Rorschach test of sorts: What did they see when they looked at the tea party and how might they have seen something different had they brought with them a different set of political opinions to see it through?

We looked for the wholesome family-oriented tea party. We looked for the kooky, angry tea party.

Of course, as you would with any large group of people, we found them both.

Pre-Village-Square, the chance that I would attend a tea party was near zero. I am offended by the characterizations of President Obama. While I relate to fiscal conservatism, I think too many tea partiers have long ago left planet earth in their assessment of our president’s bio and motivations.

But texture disappears in looking at anything from afar while it is immediately apparent when you take a closer look. Had I gone to the event to confirm my bias, it would have been a stretch. This tea party on this day seemed conscious of how they looked to the outside observer, the mood was more picnic than fury, the signs communicated a perspective far more than they offended and even the opinion was more diverse than you’d expect.

Agree or disagree with the politics of the tea party, you have to give it to them on at least one point: It’s hard to argue that we don’t have a national fiscal crisis.

I was approached with literature for a city commission candidate running against a friend of mine. He told me his candidate was giving the liars on the commission hell. I told him that he wasn’t correct that his candidate was running against someone I personally know is honest and honorable. The man sincerely apologized. I hope he at least considered our conversation as he approached the next group of voters. These are the conversations that never happen when we spin entirely in our own ideological circles.

I caught Fox News discussions touting new polling indicating that tea party supporters are, on the average wealthier and more well-educated than the average American.

Then I flipped the channel to MSNBC to hear Lawrence O’Donnell (Keith Olbermann’s stand-in) describe the very same poll:

“A remarkable poll gives us a solid picture of just who the tea party movement is. They are older, they are whiter than America. They earned more money and are better educated. That’s right, they’re the elite, well-off intellectuals of sorts who are out of step with the real America and they are very deeply confused.”

So the national food fight continues, the twisting and contorting of complexity to fit this or that predetermined black and white version of reality. I have a hard time envisioning how this will end in a way that doesn’t truly damage the country we all claim to love. If “We the People” continue to lap it up, maybe we deserve what we get.

As for me, I’m going to keep taking road trips.