“I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!”
That angry message in bold typeface; the glaring face of a retiree named Jack Gargan; his Jeffersonian list of grievances against Congress — it was all so familiar as I unrolled the poster, a relic from my childhood and the tea party’s ancestry.
Twenty years ago, Gargan used a series of newspaper ads to start a grassroots movement: T.H.R.O., or Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out. I remember the bumper sticker on my dad’s Buick LeSabre, the related parody from Fox 97’s Shower Stall Singers: “(Those Congress Checks Are Bouncing Like a) Red Rubber Ball.”
I came across a poster print of the ad while helping my parents move houses recently. Reading the list of indictments Gargan made against Washington, I could only reflect that the tea party came into being because so little has changed:
“I’M APPALLED,” he wrote, “that Congress continues to hock the future of our children and grandchildren. Our national debt is now over 3 TRILLION dollars, and going higher by the minute. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”
The debt has grown by $10 trillion since then; it rises by about $2 million a minute according to USDebtClock.org.
“I’M ANGRY that, after being told by the American public that their existing salary was already an overpayment on their abilities, [Congress] turned right around and arrogantly voted themselves the biggest raise in history!”
Since 1990, the salary of representatives has risen by 80 percent, and senators by 77 percent, to $174,000 a year.
“I’M LIVID when I recall how, in typically gutless congressional style, they let an ‘outside commission’ stick the younger American workers with a raise in Social Security taxes … knowing full well there will not be enough money to fund that same ‘baby-boom’ generation who will be footing most of the bill.”
The baby boomers are beginning to retire with Social Security afloat. But there is a change: Now Congress leaves it to the president to appoint a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
“I’M ENRAGED when I see money pouring in to incumbents from PACs, special interest groups who use their money to stifle public interest, to congressmen who will sell their soul for another term in office.”
Political action committees, or PACs, are still around. But the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law pushed much of their “soft money” into 527 groups that campaign with still more opacity.
“I’M DISGUSTED at the number of shady dealings by members of Congress …. Something’s mighty wrong with the system when 98% of incumbents are re-elected. The other 2% don’t lose. They either go out feet first, or in total disgrace for conduct too embarrassing even for congressional standards!”
In 2008, about 94 percent of incumbents who sought re-election won. Gargan’s list goes on, but you get the idea.
Since 1990, control of Congress has gone from the Democrats to the GOP and back again. But the lesson of Gargan and T.H.R.O. isn’t partisan.
After backing Ross Perot in 1992, Gargan’s movement slowly fizzled out. The disengagement from those who thought like Gargan was costly. By the time they woke up in 2009, we were close to the brink.
Whatever happens this November, constant Gargan-esque vigilance will be needed afterward. Two more decades of neglect, and we’re Greece.