One by one, like tent revival preachers warning of the fires of hell, the speakers stood to alert us to the eternal blazes that soon await our freedoms if we don't repent.Looking at the assembled conservatives a couple of hours before Thursday night's rally in front of the State House, Del. Patrick McDonough told them they were "the last sentries in the watchtowers of freedom in America."
The congregation,eating sand-wiches and drinking sodas in a lounge of the Senate office building in Annapolis, nodded along.
When McDonough said "the sleeping giant in America" had awakened,a woman called out, "Amen."
Her voice shaking,73-year-old Helen Ryan of Abingdon said:
"We are the ones who know what America was,could be and should be.
And if we don't teach the ones behind us that message,then God help the country."
If the resemblance to a church service was not clear enough, a woman then began the Lord's Prayer - "Our Father, who art in Heaven …" - and almost all of those present bowed their heads and joined in.
For many of the hundreds who came to Annapolis last night, and thousands more like them, the "tea party" movement is far more than a debate about the role and size of government.
It's almost a holy mission. As people said over and over again, it's about "taking our country back."
But from whom? And why can't we get it back by, you know, voting for the other guys?The anger and fear seem puzzling. Politics is cyclical; our last three two-term presidents have been Republican, Democratic and Republican, and the latter has been followed by a Democrat, Barack Obama.
But many conservatives said they worry that ever-accelerating increases in government's size and scope can't be undone, that once you create a government program you can't kill it. There's a lot of unfocused anger at incumbent politicians."We feel like we have a ruling class now," said Patrick Budowski of Edgewater.Yes, but didn't we elect them and keep electing them?
"A lot of the anger, yeah, is maybe misplaced," Budowski admitted. "We're really angry at ourselves for sleeping on the job."Yet at the pre-rally service, there was talk that bordered on revolution.
Among the topics to draw derisive laughter or booing at the rally or the earlier gathering: global warming and Al Gore (jokes about how cold it was), illegal immigrants getting driver's licenses and voting (no one could point to any evidence of the latter actually happening, of course), same-day voter registration, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, speed cameras, Maryland's since-repealed 2007 computer services tax and the nation of France.
The rally bordered the yard of the Governor's Mansion. When I asked Gov. Martin O'Malley earlier in the day what he thought of the protest, he said: "We put Lawyers' Mall right in the center of the State House, the government buildings and the Governor's Mansion for a reason: We welcome dissent."
But O'Malley, noting the Obama-as-Hitler posters he'd walked past earlier, said he wishes the discussion were more civil.
SNIP (But) I think we should never lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together."
O'Malley and other Democrats, whose party has controlled Maryland's government for generations, ignore this movement at their peril.
Yes, the anger echoes talk-show rhetoric. But at its core is something real.
Those who came last week were mostly regular people like Ryan, who wore a red
"I Support Our Troops" sweatshirt and a
name tag that identified her as "Helen E. Ryan,nobody."