The "Tea-Tards" Guy and the Failure of Fake Shutdown Outrage

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 17 2013 1:41 PM

The "Tea-Tards" Guy and the Failure of Fake Shutdown Outrage

For a few minutes on Tuesday, everybody hated David Roper. The U.S. Army veteran showed up at an Organizing for America rally against the shutdown, an event that wasn't destined to get a ton of coverage. He unveiled a sign, white type on red, that screamed, "THANKS TEA-TARDS."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Immediately, he was condemned by the House Disabilities caucus, with Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry insisting that "President Obama needs to call out his supporters at the DNC and OFA for condoning this insensitive and hurtful message during their protest." Roper called it a non-story.

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"I made the sign as a joke," he wrote in an email. "As I have said (and has been documented on the internet etc) my 'real' sign was the one I was holding at the WWII Memorial this morning, which said, 'VETERANS AGAINST INSANI-TEA.' The second sign was supposed to be a humorous play on the words 'Tea Party' and 'retards' and I took it out for a few minutes on the Capitol steps before going home."

He explained himself with these citations:

“It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what?” - Stephen Fry
"Do you want me to apologize after every joke? If it doesn't offend somebody it's probably not a joke. It's probably an observation that's not funny." - Jeff Ross

Having once indulged in a similar misuse of portmaneau-fu (I ironically used the term "Paultards" to refer to how Fox News covered Ron Paul's movement), I saw where Roper was coming from. In my mind, he became the last icon of the shutdown's many, many bouts of false outrage. This ranged from the Republican sputter-and-point at an anonymous quote in the Wall Street Journal to the appearance of a man holding a Confederate flag at Sunday's rally outside the White House. Roper's position: Everybody, chill out about these pointless distractions.

"I wasn't at the White House on Sunday so I don't know what message [flag guy] was trying to send, but he's got a right to hold whatever flag he wants. Both of our demonstrations were pretty innocuous yet have been blown out of proportion, so we've got that in common I guess."

But it was all blown out of proportion. That Sunday rally began as a protest against the closure of the World War II Memorial, something that prevented exactly zero veterans from seeing the thing. Republicans, who expected to "win" the shutdown as voters outside D.C. learned that it wasn't so bad, ended up playing an inside game and hyping day-to-day outrages, day-to-day "piecemeal" bills, to win back the storyline. It didn't work for Mitt Romney. Why did they think it would work for them?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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