A Tea Party in Peachtree City

A look at politics in the South

The president of the South Atlanta Tea Party is a gracious stay-at-home mother named Cindy Fallon, and a few weeks ago she was talking about taxes (especially their inverse variation with job-creating capital), Ponzi schemes (especially the federal government), and the proverbial toilet (toward which her three children’s proverbial futures are sliding). And that got her talking about angry carnivores.

“I think it’s kinda like how the mother bears are all cuddly and fuzzy till you come after their young,” she said gently. “That’s how it is for us right now.”

Us: a nonpartisan group of irate citizens, many of them never previously involved in politics, that the Economist recently called “America’s most vibrant political force.” About sixty of them gathered on a Thursday night in Peachtree City to extol the Constitution and gripe about healthcare. The median age was forty-six, or possibly fifty-one. The median race was white. The median man had a mustache.

“We’re working on a billboard that we want to put on I-85,” SATP board member Claudia Eisenburg told the crowd. “With the economy, the guys offered to rent it to us for 1,250 a month. And there’s a thousand-dollar art fee.” She needed fifty people to pledge $25 a month for three months. Who would appear on the billboard? His name needed no speaking. “It’s the policies that we’re attacking, not the person. I can assure you that this billboard will be very appropriate and very tasteful.”

The featured speaker: Ron Bachman, of Newt Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation. He asked for a show of hands. How many ex-military? About a quarter. How many connected to a small business? Nearly half. Mothers? Almost a third.

Bachman played a short film about personal responsibility. Two people stood on an escalator in a shiny office building. The escalator stood still. The people stood still.

“Anybody up there?” said a black man in a business suit. “Somebody! Hello! There are two people stuck on an escalator, and we need help! WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE DO SOMETHING?”

A white woman in a sweater stood a few steps behind him.

“I’m gonna cry,” she said.

The film ended, provoking a sizzling wave of applause.

“I think too many in this country are in this kind of mentality,” Bachman said, “and that’s what the Tea Party is trying to change.”

A toddler whimpered from the back of the room. Ehe-ehe-ehe-ehe. Her mother whisked her away. Bachman laid out a challenge: shifting the movement from irate to ideas, from success to significance.

A woman in a green T-shirt spoke up.

“Why is medication so much cheaper in every country but ours?”

A man with a mustache spoke up.

“I haven’t heard anybody mention tort reform.”

Actually, said State Representative Matt Ramsey, Republican from Peachtree City, who had stopped in for a brief chat, Georgia passed an aggressive tort reform measure in 2005. But it got hung up in court.

“That’s a little ironic,” someone said, and the room rang with sardonic laughter. A man toward the front had an idea for Ramsey.

“Can you, the legislature, remove the judges?”

Ramsey shook his head solemnly.

“No,” he said.

But Bachman saw reason for hope in the 2010 elections—a campaign platform  impervious to liberal attacks.

“There’s no stronger message than, ‘I’m a mom, and I’m worried about my kids’ future,’” he said. “Anybody who’d be against moms, they’re not gonna be around very long.”

Healthcare reform was another matter. At the time of the meeting, in the wake of Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, it seemed to be finished. Bachman still worried. “It’s like a snake,” he said. “You’ve got to keep stepping on it to be sure it’s dead.” He was more right than he knew.

Photograph by Caroline Kilgore