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Fizzled Fireworks

Conservatives declare their independence -- from reality

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On July 4, 1776, a brave group of British subjects, outraged by the abuses of their government, created a new nation. This July 4, conservative leaders, outraged by the results of last year's election, created an entirely new universe.

Or so it seemed if you were in attendance at the Schenley Park Independence Day "Tea Party."

Compared to similar gatherings held around tax time this year, the July 4 event had a family-picnic vibe. (A young girl next to me, for example, was playing with a balloon her parents had labeled "Warning: Contains CO2 emissions.") With the exception of a couple nutters, the audience was low-key: Organizers estimated attendance at 1,100, but I'd put the number at half that.

Then again, I wasn't counting the voices inside the guest speakers' heads. Every political demonstration attracts some crazies -- but only rarely do they end up at the podium.

You know you're in for a ride when the opening prayer pleads, "[A] major concern is taxes, Father, across our land. It's coming to the point of real confiscation in many instances, Father, without representation at all." God, of course, is omniscient, which means He can probably read the IRS tax code. So He knows federal tax rates are lower than they've been in decades. Even poor sinners like me, in fact, have noticed that their paychecks are a little heftier recently, thanks to an income-tax break.

But what do we know about our own economic situation? Maybe you're uninsured, but take it from the event's emcee, Glenn Meakem: "U.S. health care is the best in the world. ... When your mother in Canada gets ill with cancer, do you leave her in Canada?"

Well, maybe -- and not just because I'm a liberal who, by definition, spits on my mother, the flag and apple pie. Canada's life expectancy ranks in the world's top 10, and our own government's figures show the typical Canadian lives three years longer than we do. (Life expectancy in the U.S. ranks 50th in the world, behind most of the industrialized nations, and not much higher up than Cuba.)

I also didn't hear any great solutions if my mom can't afford health care down here. The event's health-care expert, Hans Lessmann, of the Society for the Education of Physicians and Patients, seemed to oppose both the current health-care system and any government attempt to improve it. Lessman's answer? Take a cue from the Amish, who pay for health care based on "prayerful consideration by leaders." To me, that sounds a lot like government rationing of health care. Maybe it doesn't count if you pray first.

And if prayer doesn't work, you can always wish the problem away.

Global climate change? "Anyone who lived through the last week ... knows the truth," Meakem said. "Man-made global warming is a fraud." Got that? Just ignore the vast scientific consensus on this point: The weather was cool last week, so global warming doesn't exist. (You should store up water anyway, though: Since it didn't rain on July 4, we're probably in the midst of a drought.)

No, the real problem, keynote speaker Grover Norquist contended, is that Democrats "don't like America as it is, they don't like us as we live, and they want to use the power of the state to change us."

At least Norquist, a conservative powerbroker in the D.C. political scene, knows how the rest of us felt during the Bush years. But we worried about stuff Bush was actually doing. Norquist, by contrast, darkly speculated about "what [the Democrats'] real agenda is when first they think it's necessary to take away our guns." This despite the fact that Barack Obama recently signed a bill allowing citizens to carry firearms into national parks -- reversing a gun-control measure signed by Ronald Reagan.

Here's the thing. Lots of people are justifiably unhappy with bailouts of Wall Street firms. A lot of us -- on the left too -- gripe about Obama's policies. But it's hard to take conservative "leaders" seriously when their political program depends on: a) scaring people with problems that don't exist, and b) ignoring problems that do. It's as if the Founding Fathers decided not to declare independence from King George, but to declare war on dragons instead.

What would have become of the American Revolution then? I'm guessing those patriots would have wasted years of their lives, tramping about in the wilderness. Not coincidentally, that's exactly where many conservatives find themselves today.

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