by Joe Shea
September 18, 2010
CRASHING THE TEA PARTY
BRADENTON, Fla., Sept. 18, 2010 -- I saw a curious thing today. There was a small blue insect with a hard carapace that was going up and down the screen on my lanai, which is almost 8 ft. high, apparently searching for a way to get out to the world of wind and stars and trees and fellow bugs.
After watching for 20 minutes or so, I realized that I held the key to an exit. There was a swab of clear nylon adhesive tape about an inch square covering a small hole in the screen that was caused by hanging a small flag with a little safety pin. Now I stick the pin through that tape first and it doesn't tear when the wind blows. The hole's big enough for a small bug to get through.
But how to get the bug to it? She was very hard to catch in my hands; I'd tried the day before with the same bug and finally caught her and threw her into the lanai storage closet, where I knew there were exits to daylight, but she was back today where I'd found her yesterday, running up and down the screen in search of an escape.
I finally got an idea. I peeled away the nylon tape and took a tiny little piece of banana out of my bowl of puffed rice and smeared it at the edge of the tiny break in the screen and sat back to watch. It took a good half-hour for her to scour the 40 square feet of screen. I tried to catch her to put her near the hole but couldn't, so I just gave up and waited, reading a great new South Florida mystery story called Wyatt's Revenge (Oceanview Publishing, 2009) as I did.
I saw her stalled at the bar that runs along the bottom half of the screen; when I looked up 20 minutes later she was all the way to the top of the lanai screen, above the banana bait and the hole. She continued searching, almost frantically it seemed, for what I thought her sense of smell must have picked up. A few minutes later, she found it. She was hungry, I think, because she started working on the banana bit and stuck with it for a good 10 minutes, attacking it from every angle, even with her tail in the hole in the screen.
But what, I wondered, would happen if she ate so much banana that she couldn't get through the screen? What an irony that would be. Freedom would be close at hand, but perhaps infinitely far away. In the end, though, after finishing off the banana and then strolling about a little less frantically for exercise, she returned to the hole and flew through it into Paradise.
I am like an awful lot of people on this side of the screen. Perhaps someone way up the food chain can see a way out for me, but often, I can't. Meanwhile, my food pantry is groaning under the weight of two fully stocked shelves of dry goods, soups and everything a generous allotment of food stamps can buy. And at 295 pounds (up four pounds from this morning), I can't possibly eat it all without killing myself. I need to tear myself away from it.
But since there's no cash allowance with that largesse, and my Social Security check can't cover the most basic bills, like that little blue bug I have no way out. I can't afford more than a gallon of gas at a time, and when I want to go to the movies I usually can't afford it. I have all the clothes I'll ever need, and all the luxuries of a real, paid-for home, yet my homeowner fees go unpaid and a lien looms. Looking for a job is a little tough because I have no phone, either. I rely on dirt-cheap Skype calls and email to communicate.
It's the paradox of being poor in Paradise. I look out the window past the green lawns of the golf course, out toward the clean blue sky and beautiful sunset to the twinkling stars above, and there's no question I am a very rich man. On my table (or in the fridge or pantry) is heaped roast beef, turkey, veal, lamb, soup, rice, beans, cereal, milk, orange juice, rolls, bread, coffee, tea and more comestibles than I care to think about it. Yet where can I go from here? Americans are clever people. They have dealt with bad luck and lost fortunes many times with success, and so have I. Given just some of that ingenuity that paved a vast continent and then filled it with cars, trains, planes and everything mechanical that moves, with houses and condos and skyscrapers, there's nothing Americans can't do if unleashed. I'm looking for a job. That's what most Americans, sated on food stamps, really want - a job is our way out. And with all that said, it's time to get to the Tea Party.
The Tea Party is the first really important grassroots party movement since the states' rights revolt of the late '40s, and it has the potential of the Bull Moose Party, Teddy Roosevelt's answer to the corruption and conniving of Republican Party elders back in 1912. My grandfather, then the Sheriff of New York, was a delegate to that convention that rejected Roosevelt in favor of the sitting President William Howard Taft.
Roosevelt jumped out of the GOP and formed the Bull Moose Party, named after his famous observation that he was "as strong as a bull moose." He ended up splitting the party's vote, defeating Taft and electing the brainy Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic college professor from Princeton. After 1912, according to Wikipedia, the Bull Moose Party fared poorly in the 1914 elections, and dissolved amid a nomination struggle in 1916.
I think this analogy to the Tea Party may be incomplete because I doubt that Bull Moose Party candidates were anywhere near as loony as those the Tea Party has captured Republican nominations for. The Tea Party candidate for governor in Colorado, for instance, has turned out to be so crazy that after he won the nomination, the state party abandoned him. There, their only choice is another loony-tune, ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo. The guy they nominated in Florida, Rick Scott, is a billionaire health care guy with a $1.7 billion federal fine behind him. I preferred him in the Republican primary here (I'm a Democrat) because he was the better of two crooks.
And while Christine O'Donnell, like Sarah Palin, is an absolute doll to look at, she can see Russia from Delaware. With Palin at the top of the GOP's 2012 ticket - she said yesterday she might "give it it a shot" - the Tea Party's more likely to shoot the GOP in the head, perhaps mistaking it for a moose. People like Sharron Angle of Nevada, Jim Maes of Colorado, Carl Paladino of New York and Delaware's O'Donnell, nominated to carry the Tea Party's banner in the GOP parade, are scary, untrained, poorly socialized people whose appeal is narrow and whose gait is slow. These are not powerful warhorses like Teddy Roosevelt but skittish racehorses - the kind that drop dead on the first turn.
And yet - and yet - I think this is terribly unfortunate, no matter how well-deserved by the "No, Nothing" GOP (and yes, I know who the Know-Nothings were). The Bull Moose Party was a lot more liberal and idealistic than the Republican Party of 1912, just as the Tea Party is thought to be more conservative than the mainstream of Republican thought. But they both had promise and energy and new ideas America needs - that it needs desperately.
The Tea Party's underclass carries a genuine fervor for change within it, but the terms of that change were force-fed to them by folks in the upper reaches. FixNews, with their Australian and Saudi bossmen, and the Koch brother billionaires handed it down from on high, and it became no good. Glenn Beck Fox-channeled their dreams and turned the Tea Party's authentic support into the New Billy Graham Crusade.
The desire for change is a good thing until it's twisted into a desire for changing back to being ruled by giant insurance companies, hospital chains, pharmaceutical firms and investment banks. As an impulse, it is what makes America move, but as it has become, it's a funny jerking motion at the end of a puppeteer's string. There is nothing more desperately needed in this country than the Tea Party, and no promise, no hope was ever more swiftly crushed.
I couldn't do that to a bug.