In the original "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, Alice attends a tea party thrown by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare.
Most readers think the Mad Hatter is rude to Alice and angry at the hare. At one point, after Alice scolds him, he responds with a riddle: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
To some, today's Tea Party movement reflects the rudeness and anger -- and even the absurdity -- of the scene in Carroll's book.
Less than 18 months old, the strongest citizen-driven force to come down the political pike in some time, the Tea Party movement is rockin'.
One was held in Merced last year on UC Merced's campus. At least 300 Mercedians turned out over the course of the day. Since then hundreds of other American cities and towns have staged their own tea parties.
Several hundred thousand Americans attended them.
Even Marin County, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, according to www.marinij.com, more than 600 people came together early this month around the theme "Conservative Groupa-Paloooza."
Predictably, the MSM (mainstream media) or "legacy" media, as the blogosphere likes to call us, have either ignored the phenomenon (although this column wrote about the UC Merced gathering at the time, www.mercedsunstar.com/2009/04/18/797942_p2/mike-tharp-normal-folks-who-are.html) or bashed it.
Typical treatment came from New York Times columnist Frank Rich whose Feb. 28 column was headlined, "Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged." Times reporter David Barstow penned a long takeout last month headlined "Tea Party Lights Fuse of Rebellion on the Right."
Many critics of the movement cite a recent Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report called "Rage on the Right." Its author, Mark Potok, wrote: "The 'tea parties' and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism."
In other words, tea partygoers are extremists.
I stopped believing most of what SPLC reports a long time ago. It's no coincidence that there are three -- not one or two -- places on its Web site for you to "DONATE." The outfit makes its living out of promoting fear and loathing with pseudo-scientific tours of the horizon of hate. It's hypocritical that the word "poverty" even appears in its name.
Reason.com, an L.A.-based think tank, said it well: "As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads, (John) Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary."
Unfortunately for clear analysis, a lot of the MSM take their cue from advocates like the SPLC and a generation of politically correct newsroom group-thinkers.
We do so at our peril.
The Tea Party movement is emblematic of heartfelt worry among many Americans about where we're headed. The anger at what people perceive as runaway spending and a public sector takeover of the economy thickens the air, whether in beleaguered Merced County or affluent Montgomery County, Md.
The movement is political in that it supports some policies, programs and politicians and opposes others. But it runs much deeper than politics.
In fact, the movement could be called apolitical. Our McClatchy Washington Bureau reported on a recent poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs: "An overwhelming majority of Americans think that their federal government is gridlocked by partisan infighting and turf battles and can't accomplish anything." Four out of five Americans believe that.