- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010

Among the thousands of “tea party” protesters that gathered Thursday at Freedom Plaza, a stone’s throw from the White House, were dozens of signs directed at President Obama, some demanding “Listen To Me!” others asking “Why Can’t You Hear Us?”

But the president never heard a peep from the mob of boisterous Americans, most of whom deplore the spending binge he and the Democratic Congress have been on of late. He headed to Florida to praise $6 billion in spending for NASA, just about the time the first speaker was taking the stage in the square, which Mr. Obama can see from his back porch.

The president was scheduled to return to the White House in the dark, after another planned protest, this one by the Washington Monument, had ended.

Chuck Douty, a resident of Maryland who was holding the “Why Can’t You Hear Us?” sign, didn’t know Mr. Obama was not in town.

“Huh,” he said when told. “That’s not surprising.”

Meanwhile, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also left town before the protest began, heading to Bethlehem, Pa., to celebrate a $6 million grant of taxpayer money to a technology company as part of the Recovery Act.

But back on the president’s side yard, upward of 5,000 protesters gathered to object to what they believe is a government run amok. The protest was peaceful and polite, with people carrying hundred of signs, many of them quite creative.

One featured a stack of money with googly eyes - just like the one in GEICO insurance TV commercials - and said, “This is the money you could’ve saved if you hadn’t voted for Obama.”

Another said: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying taxes.”

Other signs were a bit cruel.

“Having government manage your health care is like having Michael Vick watch your dog,” said one sign, referring to the NFL quarterback convicted on charges of holding illegal dog fights.

“Harry Reid Needs a Good Waterboarding,” said another, referring to the Senate Democratic leader. “Perp Walk Pelosi,” said a third, implying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a criminal.

Dismissed by some in the mainstream media as “birthers” who don’t believe Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii, another sign fed right into that stereotype.

“One Rotten Kenyan Spoiled the Whole Bunch of Democrats,” it said.

The loose-knit group of grass-roots protesters appeared a bit sensitive, even defensive, about charges that it is racist and homophobic. Two congressmen, one black, one gay, said tea party protesters hurled racial and sexual epithets at them last month during a Capitol Hill demonstration against health care reform.

“Political Dissent Is Not Racism,” one sign said. “Not Racist, Not Hateful, Just Sick of the Spending,” said another. “It’s Not About Racism, It’s About Policy,” said a third.

Martin Deitmer of Wheaton, Ill., held a sign that responded to plans by a group called Crash the Party to portray tea party supporters as racists, homophobes and “morons.”

“Not a Racist. Not a Homophobe. A Moron? My Wife Says ‘Maybe,’ ” the sign said.

“People have been saying those things, and I’m here to tell them we’re not,” Mr. Deitmer said. “You see a lot of that in mainstream media.”

And the tea party supporters gathered Thursday don’t like the media.

“For More Information on This Story, Avoid NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN,” said a sign. “The Real Problem Is the Lapdog Media,” said another. “Axis of Evil: ABC, CBS, NBC,” said a third.

On this, the tea partiers aren’t just being paranoid. The Big Three television networks virtually ignored the tea party surge in 2009, and so far this year have maligned the movement as teeming with racists and violent fringe supporters, according to a new report by the Media Research Center.

There was much talk of conservative darling Ronald Reagan, calls for killing the Federal Reserve and one sign that hearkened to tea party icon Sarah Palin: “Reload.” A coalition of tea party groups also used the day to announce a “Contract From America,” which demands a repeal of government-run health care, a balanced budget and an end to runaway government spending, as well as reform of the U.S. tax code.

But on the sun-splashed day, few protesters felt like mixing it up with detractors. When a group of about half a dozen Obama supporters marched by carrying a sign that said “The Other 95 Percent Say Thanks For Our Tax Cuts,” no one harangued them. The only thing overheard was a taxi driver, who sniffed: “Six? Is that all they could get? They must not have jobs.”

Still, one moment encapsulated the movement and its visceral support and opposition. After the end of the rally, a double-decker tour bus headed up Pennsylvania Avenue. About a dozen tourists sat on the top deck, basking in the sun.

About half held their thumbs up; the other half responded with thumbs down.

Seems about right.

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