The coverage of the Tax Day Protests of 2009 proved depressingly emotional and self-serving, either inappropriately supportive or embarrassingly contemptuous. The conservative media unabashedly cheered and shilled for the "Tea Parties," while, on the other end of the ideological spectrum, the mainstream media lambasted the grassroots restlessness with unrestrained glee. Far too much of the coverage from both camps was silly, exaggerated, disingenuous, hostile, puerile, and juvenile.

On days like Wednesday, reasonable people say a prayer of thanksgiving for C-SPAN.

Ignore when possible; lampoon when not.

The loudest voices in opposition to the so-called Tea Party protests bristled at the suggestion that real Americans were driving the movement. Skeptics asserted that the protesters were dupes of the Republican Party, corporate interests, and crazy right-wing fat cats like Richard Mellon Scaife.

Reacting to the potential interpretation that the numerous rallies across the country reflected "grassroots" unhappiness, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi cleverly characterized the protests as merely an "Astroturf" movement. The Speaker suggested that the wealthiest people in America had financed a synthetic spectacle designed to preserve tax cuts for the rich rather than tax fairness for the great middle class.

If these were real people out in the streets, they hailed from lower intellectual orders. "This is the Ron Paul crowd," Howard Fineman said. "This is about racism straight-up," said Janeane Garofalo, cable news analyst; this is all about rednecks wanting to hang a black president. She went on to explain that conservatives have different brain structures incapable of processing reasoned argument.

"The numbers were disappointing." If artfully compared with the anti-war protests of 2002-03, some of April 15th numbers seemed insignificant. Talking heads reminded us regularly that hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of New York, San Francisco, and Seattle in opposition to the "war for oil." For obvious reasons, metropolitan areas like NYC proved much more capable of producing bigger waves of humanity in aid of left-wing political activity. On the other hand, I can offer anecdotal evidence that crowds in a place like my hometown, Waco, Texas, proved much more impressive last week than they were during the anemic protests running up to the war in Iraq.

Notwithstanding, those two similar frustrated cries of collective helplessness provide a constructive comparison. In both cases, protesters emphasized deep displeasure and emotional sloganeering over reasoned and systematic critiques of a crossroads moment.

True Weakness of the Tea Party Movement.

The most reasonable and trenchant criticism of the Tax Day Protests of 2009 concentrated on the sprawling uncertainty and disunity of the message. Even from the point of view of a small-government conservative sympathetic to the American tradition of patriotic resistance, I could never quite absorb the true purpose of the protest. Was it taxes? And was that too much taxation or too little? Government spending? the Leviathan? the loss of individual liberty?

They were mad as hell--but could not quite put their finger on why. Or who to blame. George Bush? Barack Obama? Nancy Pelosi? Barney Frank and Chris Dodd? Wall Street? the rich? the elite? the Fed?

I am NOT one who doubts that the sentiments were genuine or grassroots. The protesters were sincere, but mostly they were dazed and confused. The lack of direction and coherency proved frustrating and hard to follow. The unhappy demonstrators did not know what to do, but this was something. If the protests had been more like they were initially described in the mainstream media (the product of a vast right-wing conspiracy), the demonstrations might have been more satisfying. The unruly events needed some genius behind the scenes to orchestrate a unifying theme.

For that reason, the self-titled Tea Party analogy misses the mark historically.

The historic Boston Tea Party (Dec. 1773) occurred at a point much closer to the culmination of the Imperial Crisis, which was already eight years in the making. The Patriot cause in 1773 was actually quite mature and ready to break across the "national" scene as a sophisticated colony-wide movement. The illegal attack on private property in Boston Harbor provoked the British government into the Intolerable Acts and led to the First Continental Congress and the short ascent to full-blown Revolution.

If anything, this modern Tea Party movement is more like the spontaneous, unfocused, and out-of-control reaction in Boston (and other places) to the Stamp Act, which proved the first act in the three-part, decade-long Imperial Crisis. The uncontrolled mayhem in 1765 gave rise to the Sons of Liberty and leaders like Sam Adams and John Hancock to guide and regulate the unrestrained and unnerving expression of popular anger (and violence).

Our current headless massive unease needs a Sam Adams to bring some order and clarity to all this emotion. More importantly, the protest needs a John Adams and a Thomas Jefferson with the skills to catalog and articulate the problems, outline a set of principles, and propose a plan going forward.

What Next?

It is entirely possible that the Tax Day Protests of 2009 will fade away quickly into the recesses of our collective memory--never to be heard from again in a serious way. On the other hand, and here is where the opponents underestimate the potential of this angst, there are very serious elements of concern. The problem of sustainability is not going away. Five and ten years from now the problems of debt and savings and unmanageable liabilities will likely be more dire than today.

If the Tea Party is indeed a significant movement, it is currently in an inchoate stage. We are very early in the game. If our colonial history is a guide, it is UNlikely that our current president will even be around when the full brunt of the frustration finally boils over into a politically employable form.

But that is NOT to say such an eventuality falls beyond the realm of possibility.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers.

UPDATE2: reading these thoughtful and insightful comments (the best set I have ever read on one of my posts) gives me hope about the future of this movement. I heartily recommend the comment thread to all readers.