By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES ~ Add taxes to the things I hate – Valentine’s Day, toll roads, pasta salad (not a pasta, not a salad). Now there’s taxes too.
I’m a yankee-doodle cheapskate, from way back. I’m so tight, you could mint pennies between my fingers. You could press nickels between my toes.
So it is with much emotional heat that I enter this anti-tax tea party, held Friday evening in the foothills above Glendale.
“It’s a $10 donation,” the nice woman at the entrance says.
There they go, reaching for my moolah.
You might have caught wind of this tea party movement, sometimes dubbed TEA (Taxed Enough Already). It first appeared in late February, with scattered protests around the nation, then grew to a reported 500 events on tax day, April 15. The grassroots movement has sort of taken off, becoming more than a hiccup and less than a full-fledged revolt.
There were 1,400 tea party rallies scheduled across the nation this Independence Day weekend, billed as non-partisan efforts to rein in tax-and-spend politicians.
Significant? You be the judge. Honestly, I could come down two different ways on all of this: In times so tough, isn’t it a little cold-hearted to complain about paying your fair share? Or, are people so fed up with dishing out huge chunks of their income – and receiving so little visible benefit – that they think their “fair share” isn’t so fair anymore?
That’s what we’re here to find out, at this rally on the grand lawn of a Los Angeles area estate.
“Horrendous income taxes have caused Americans to take notice,” says speaker Jeff Davis. “There are hidden fees in everything we buy.”
Davis – dressed very dark, like an undertaker – is one of a dozen or so speakers on a four-hour program that features under-the-radar actresses and assorted aluminum-tongued political types, including one dude playing Abraham Lincoln (who always dresses like an undertaker).
“If you can name one thing that doesn’t have some kind of associated tax, I’d like to know about it,” Davis says, goosing the crowd.
If you’ve never been to an anti-tax tea party, here’s the deal. There are a lot of good Americans – about 500 at this rally – sitting around a stage in moulded plastic chairs trying to stay awake. Tea is in short supply, and oddly, there is no beer (Huey Long would have sent a Budweiser truck).
But the burgers are good, and the music – some live, some recorded – is stirring. What more does a political rally need?
A few characters.
Yes, there are those. Davis is sensible and well spoken, and car dealer Steve Bussjaeger tells a story about losing a family dealership that breaks your heart.
But then there is Mike Benoit, who tells the crowd: “I’ve been a tyranny fighter in San Diego for a long time” before launching into a rant about the things he spots down there on tyranny’s scary front-lines.
“Income taxation is an institution of slavery” that the founding fathers would’ve found unacceptable, Benoit says.
He is not without company.
“Our elected officials are not listening to us… They are not listening to us,” says actress/activist Chelene Nightingale, in a passionate speech during which she repeats a lot of stuff, then touts a petition to end benefits to illegal immigrants.
They are followed by the lively Victoria Jackson, the former Saturday Night Live actress with a voice like a yard sale violin.
“I’m really excited to be with my people,” she squeaks.
Jackson goes on to call for the impeachment of President Barack Obama – “There, I said it” – then does a handstand on stage that she dedicates to the men and women of the US military.
In fairness, I can understand the frustration of the good folks here at the anti-tax rally. Most, like Terry Mossler, only want a fair shake. They sincerely believe the government has overstepped on taxes. They worry for their kids. They worry for their grandchildren.
“I feel like people are starting to take action,” Mossler says.
It’s not like Americans don’t have cause for concern. The day before, the state of California began issuing IOUs. Suddenly, California seems one rusty tank from becoming a banana republic.
Thing is, we’re all slicing the ham a little thinner these days – Republicans and Democrats. Many of us, the ones who are working, don’t know how long the job is going to last.
Folks without work have it far worse. They look at the calendar and wonder when … when will the phone ring? … when can I sleep through the night again without being eaten alive by worry?
Have you looked at a dollar bill lately? George Washington is weeping.
In such a climate, it strikes me as … well, almost un-American to be griping so vehemently about helping those less fortunate. Were this a war, we’d all dig a little deeper to buy guns and battleships.
Well, we’re in a war, and we’ve got to dig a little deeper to provide jobs and economic band-aids. We will. When pressed, we are a pretty amazing country.
But I’m glad I came today. I didn’t sign any ballot petitions, and – hard as it was – I walked right past the guy who wants to eliminate the Fed (“It’s time to allow competing currencies,” his brochure said).
But Victoria Jackson held that handstand for, like, almost a minute – strong and proud. In my book, that’s worth 10 bucks alone.
Erskine can be reached at chris.Erskine@latimes.com.