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Tea Party turns its sights from White House to Congress

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 28, 2009 - As at most St. Louis Tea Party events, the Saturday afternoon rally in Kiener Plaza featured some signs blasting Democrats in general and President Barack Obama in particular.

But more signs, and most of the speakers, directed their anger at both political parties and their incumbents -- reflecting a shift in focus lately from the White House to Capitol Hill.

"It's not Republicans, it's not Democrats," declared local bakery-chain executive Dave McArthur to several thousand like-minded conservatives gathered in Kiener Plaza.

McArthur touched off loud cheers as he added, "It's the system. It's broke!"

Michael Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association and executive director of the newly formed American Council for Affordable and Reliable Energy, asserted that passage of the cap-and-trade bill, aimed at curbing pollution, may prompt Congress to "tell you where to live, what to drive, what to eat."

The crowd shouted approval as Carey declared that the nation's economic future hinged on domestic energy sources: "Drill, baby, drill! Mine, baby, mine!"

McArthur and Carey were among a series of conservative speakers during the three-hour event, organized within the past few weeks to keep up the pressure on members of Congress, especially those who embrace the cap-and-trade or health-care proposals.

Attendees had been asked to bring Christmas cards, which were to outline their concerns, and then be sent to area members of Congress.

"Claire McCaskill is somebody who needs to get the message," said Carey in a interview after his speech. Carey said he has appeared at Tea Party events in several states, and strongly believes there's "absolutely no doubt" that the events are influencing the congressional debate.

Carey said some legislators are considering whether it might be best -- amid the debates over federal spending and the health care proposals -- to drop the cap-and-trade idea. Under cap and trade, the government caps carbon emissions, but allows businesses that need a higher cap to purchase credits (trade) from companies that pollute less.

Carey was among a series of speakers who: 1) Questioned whether global warming was really occurring; 2) derided critics who accused Tea Party activists of being racist or anti-Muslim; or 3) warned that the U.S. could end up like communist Cuba.

Saturday's audience included people like Bill Svejkosky and Mark Meschede, both of Hillsboro, but who were driven by different aims to show up in downtown St. Louis for a political rally just two days after Thanksgiving.

Meschede, 54, is a sign painter who lost his 14-year job with a major painting company on Wednesday. He blames rising corporate taxes and what he views as a misguided free-trade philosophy that he says is destroying the nation's middle-class.

Unrestrained imports of foreign-made products have driven many U.S. firms out of business, prompting the disappearance of good-paying jobs, Meschede said.

He also is concerned about rumors he's heard that China, which holds a large chunk of the U.S. debt, is getting ready to impose its own currency on Americans because "ours is collapsing."

Svejkosky, 75, says that so far this year, he's attended every St. Louis Tea Party event within 60 miles. He even made the trip in September to Washington, D.C. for a national rally against the federal energy, tax and health-care proposals that he believes will bankrupt the country.

Svejkovsky agreed with many of the speakers that Obama wasn't the chief reason the nation appeared to be in trouble. Many of the reasons go back decades, he said, but the public is just now waking up.

"I don't care who the president is," Svejkovsky added. "Congress is the problem."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.