I was talking politics the other day, talking politics with a real politician. He and I, both amateur radio operators, were making a pilgrimage to Dayton for that city's annual "Hamfest" and the two-plus-hour drive each way afforded lots of opportunity to gab radios and realpolitik.

Much of my interest was on the recent party primaries and what the results, particularly in the far more interesting Republican contests, might mean about national sentiment and the situation going into next fall's elections. Was the hyper-reactionary "tea party" movement real? If it was real, had it peaked too early? Where was it all going?

"Was the hyper-reactionary "tea party" movement real? If it was real, had it peaked too early? Where was it all going?"I didn't think the movement was real. Or, that is to say, I hadn't wanted to believe it was real. I had suspected it was little more beyond a media invention, something to spice up the airways and sell newspapers. But, I told my friend, I wasn't so sure any more.

I'd been catching snippets of conversations on the street, even in "liberal" Bloomington (which had recently even hosted a Tea Party rally), real conversations that echoed the sentiments I saw on the nightly news shows and talking-head segments. Sentiments that gave a bit of firmament to the polls. Sentiments that said this thing might be a little real.

But, if real, what of it? A sound and fury, signifying nothing, or a bona-fide populist movement portending a sea change, or at least a neap tide, come November? I wasn't sure and I couldn't quite figure it all out.

Chillin'

What, after all, was the point? What was the agenda? There did seem to be anger, there seemed to be energy, but what there didn't seem to be was a reason for either.

Taxes are too high? Okay, but when have they ever not been? Too much government control in our lives? Ditto. An unresponsive government? Maybe, but hadn't we just had an election -- an election that was, ostensibly at least, democratic?
"There did seem to be anger, there seemed to be energy, but what there didn't seem to be was a reason for either."
Why here? Why now?

I spent a few hours wandering the outdoor flea market at Dayton, among a demographic that tends to be overwhelmingly white, male and older. In other words, my demographic. And also the prime demographic of the Tea Party.

But beyond the occasional radio tuned to talk radio, or the occasional fire-and-brimstone religious service, there wasn't much in evidence of a broad popular movement reaching down to the people. I even saw a few cars with "Obama" bumper stickers -- and only a single vehicle with a Bush sticker. But it seemed most people were more interested in finding the good value or the rare radio find than in politics. And, despite the condition of the global economy, vendors were reporting that business was good.

I did encounter one gentleman who was regaling a salesman with tales of the coming apocalypse, riding a warhorse named "Health Care." Look out, he warned, things are sure to go straight to hell in a hand basket, and soon. The salesman looked a little strained.

I listened for a while longer, pretending to sort through bins of electronic parts. I soon found my opening though, just after a particularly torrid exposition on how "Obamacare" would lead to higher taxes and lower medical care. "I like it," I said. "I think the legislation will be good."

He looked a little startled. And stammered something about how there was no doubt that something had to be done about our health care, but this wasn't the right thing. "How so?" I asked. "Well, just wait till you get your tax bill." "But," I said. "Haven't taxes actually gone down? Aren't they now the lowest they've been in decades?"

"Yes, but" he said. "Just you wait. Things are going to get really bad."

"I don't think so," I replied. "I think things are going to be just fine."

Gregory Travis can be reached at greg@littlebear.com.