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Rally really a stage for Republicans

Matt Pommer

The anti-tax rally earlier this month at the state Capitol, encouraged by conservative radio talk show personalities, may be pushing the Republican Party to the far right.

The tone of the rally indicated what any Republican Party candidate will face in 2010. Given the anger at the rally, will it be possible for the party to nominate a fiscal moderate for governor?

Promoters tried to sell the rally as a grassroots movement, but it seemed more like a Republican event. You can’t blame Republicans for wanting some attention. Democrats have been elected president and governor, and Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and Congress. It is the first total domination by Democrats in Madison since 1986.

Among the speakers at the rally was U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is often touted as a potential 2012 vice presidential candidate. He said the U.S. is headed toward “big government, European-style socialism.”

The biggest socialism programs in the U.S. are Social Security and Medicare. Ryan has been pictured as wanting to curb spending in those areas, but he didn’t offer any details at the rally. George W. Bush proposed a privatization of Social Security to a Republican-controlled Congress, but it was dead on arrival among Ryan’s congressional colleagues.

There were senior citizens at the rally. Social Security benefits were increased 5.8 percent this year, and state government stopped any income taxation of Social Security benefits for the 2008 tax year.

Perhaps some of the angry rally participants are smokers. Both the state and federal government increased excise taxes on cigarettes. Maybe the higher taxes were eating up the Social Security benefit and tax benefit gains for older smokers.

The size of the rally was a testimonial to radio talk show folks who denounce taxes and Democrats.

Criticism was aimed at President Barack Obama, Gov. Jim Doyle, the news media, stimulus spending, proposed tax changes, the Federal Reserve, socialism and Marxism.

Criticism of Marxism probably was refreshing to conservatives who grew up when Joe McCarthy was one of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators. We haven’t heard much about its great dangers since the Russian government shifted gears in the 1990s.

Earlier this year national radio host Rush Limbaugh attracted attention, saying he hopes Obama “fails” in his presidency. While that wasn’t repeated at the Capitol rally, a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal captured something more ominous: One man, who said he owned a ceramic tile business, carried a sign that said “Obama is the anti-Christ.”

“He (Obama) needs to go. This is the first and last warning he’ll get,” the man said.

That kind of implied threat might worry the Secret Service, but will it concern the radio talk show hosts as they seek ever-higher ratings?

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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