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Published: Tuesday, 8/31/2010

Rally on the Mall

The rally last week at the Lincoln Memorial by Americans who called for a religious rebirth drew hundreds of thousands of people. Contrary to prior concerns, it did not result in confrontations between rival groups.

What was considered provocative by opponents of the Washington event's organizers was the fact that it was scheduled at the same site and on the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The problem for them was that the political aims of those who typically support conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, many of whom identify with the Tea Party movement, and the rally's prime speaker, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, are considerably at variance with the slain civil rights leader's.

The day's speeches were characterized by advocacy that was more religious than political in nature. They were free of attacks on President Obama and his policies, in contrast to Mr. Beck's on-air screeds at Fox News and some of Ms. Palin's speeches.

The U.S. Park Police are especially adept at maintaining peace and civility on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Washingtonians would say that a crowd there on a nice summer day is generally by its nature good-humored.

Political observers are still, nonetheless, scratching their heads about what drives the Tea Party movement and its adherents. An astute essay this week by New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich pointed out that it is financed in no small part by longtime, rich, industrial zealots.

They are not known for their sympathy for America's unemployed, low-income, ill, or elderly, many of whom nevertheless serve as the Tea Party's foot soldiers. That curiosity raises the question of whether those gathered at the Lincoln Memorial understood or care that the money behind the movement comes from people who may not have their interests at heart.

The Tea Party is in no small part a product of America's media, parts of which are always ready to pounce on and inflate any new political phenomenon. That occurred in the case of Ms. Palin as a vice presidential candidate and even Mr. Obama, when he came out of nowhere to run for president.

Most curious of all is that the core of the Republican Party has let its leadership be stolen to a considerable extent by the Tea Partiers. It is fair to assume that the GOP has long-term goals, and that it is aware that America's population as a whole is becoming less white, less black, more Asian, and much more Hispanic.

That would suggest that the GOP needs to be careful of the positions it takes and the image it projects in the 2010 campaign, not to mention farther down the road, unless it wants to condemn itself to a slow death by demography.



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