Tea Party rally: It's not as extreme as Democrats would like it to be.

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March 31 2011 7:40 PM

Shutdown Syndrome

The Tea Party isn't as "extreme" as Democrats would like it to be.

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"Cut it or shut it!" yelled some protesters near the front of the stage. "Cut it or shut it!"

But Martin was one of several Thursday rally speakers who reminded the crowd that Howard Dean had said he'd be "rooting for" a shutdown if he was still DNC chairman, and that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had been encouraging Democrats to call every GOP cut "extreme."* The idea that the Democrats were playing the Tea Party activists was so offensive to them—the Schumer quote was already legend, repeated without prompting by several protesters I spoke to—that it kept them on the reservation.


"I keep hearing that the Tea Party is going to rebel against the Republicans," said Ron Kirby, a retired electrical engineer from Alexandria, Va., who held an American flag in one hand and a Gadsden flag in the other. "Whatever it is they get, I'll support them." That was a common sentiment, even if it hasn't been tested yet.

John Lonsiak, a Fredericksburg, Va. activist, put the potential blame for a shutdown on the Democrats but basically agreed with Kirby about the risks. "The government is so big, and has so much inertia," he said. "Nobody's going to die in the street. Nobody's going to starve to death. Nobody's going to miss a mortgage payment that isn't missing it already. The stock market's not going to crash. We must just be a little bit hungrier."

These are the opinions of people who don't think the government should do so much. They're not the intended audience for Democrats. But they hint at the strangeness of the Democrats' focus on the Tea Party over the specifics of the CRs and the risks of a shutdown.

If the plan is to trap Republicans and slowly to build momentum against a shutdown as the government stays stalled, that's a pretty big roll of the dice, and it depends on the GOP and its allies playing looser than they have so far. In 1995, one of the turning points that helped Bill Clinton "win" the shutdown was a Christian Science Monitor breakfast at which Newt Gingrich suggested that the president should have come back and talked things over when the two of them were on Air Force One. That story was the source of the New York Daily News' "Cry Baby" cover cartoon of Gingrich. That's the sort of mistake that Democrats need to count on. So far, neither Republicans nor members of the Tea Party are making it.

Correction, April 4, 2011: This article originally misidentified Chuck Schumer as a Republican. ( Return to the correction.)