ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA: Where is the Tea Party when you really need it? Last weekend, Santa Barbara witnessed the rawest display of preemptive government police power ever with nary a squeak from anyone, let alone those ever-outraged contrarians favoring three-cornered hats. For one full day, a sizable stretch of the public’s beach — better known to Californians as “coastal access” — was declared totally off-limits to anyone and everyone in Isla Vista.
Fifty-nine gun-toting — and I presume muscle-bound — Sheriff’s deputies were deployed — and no doubt paid overtime — to enforce this edict. The imminent threat to public health and safety from which these stalwart deputies were protecting us was this year’s Floatopia, a drunken me-too bacchanalia in which thousands of college-aged individuals engage in self-destructive behavior that kills brain cells, celebrates the onset of spring, and culls the herd.
As one quasi-organizer, dressed like the Mad Hatter, informed me, the event allows Isla Vista residents and young people everywhere “to appreciate our natural habitat.” Last year, 12,000 showed up and expressed this appreciation by treating the beach like one giant toilet bowl. Not only did they leave the seat up, but they forgot to flush. Not so nice. In the process, some bottles got thrown, some heads cracked, feet cut, and a few inebriates — less than alert to life’s obvious perils — tumbled down the bluffs. Maybe a dozen were transported to Goleta Valley, where they were treated for stupidity.
You may surmise by my snotty attitude that where Floatopia is concerned, I’m not a huge fan. At the same time, I’ve never seen the authorities simply declare a large swath of public beach off-limits to the public. As a display of government muscle, that’s unprecedented in these parts. Maybe even statewide.
Astonishingly, civil libertarians put up no squawk about precedent. No doubt they were more worried about Baby Jesus figurines being displayed at some shopping mall somewhere that might have been built with the assistance of public funds. But what about our right-wingers? I guess they’re still hoarse from screaming about death panels, socialism, and health-care reform.
Astonishingly, civil libertarians put up no squawk about precedent. No doubt they were more worried about Baby Jesus figurines being displayed at some shopping mall somewhere that might have been built with the assistance of public funds. But what about our right-wingers? I guess they’re still hoarse from screaming about death panels, socialism, and health-care reform. At the very least, someone should have forced the authorities to draw a clear line in the sand as to when, where, how, and under what circumstances such exceptional authority can and should be invoked. If the cops can shut down the beaches willy-nilly, what’s that do to our property values? Will tourists still want to come here? But it’s hard to draw such lines in the sand when you can’t step on the beach.
This being Santa Barbara, of course, such oppression went off swimmingly. This year’s Floatopia — about 8,000 people “undressed with no place to go” — simply moved to Del Playa, where large quantities of cannabis and alcoholic beverages mixed with synthetic bull testosterone were ingested and a good time, reportedly, was had by all.
As a card-carrying member of the effete media elite, I confess to being somewhat mystified by the Tea Party. I figured it was just some convenient catch-all description by which the current eruption of angry white-wing dingbats could be handily dismissed. But it’s more complex than that. For example, Tea Party activists have refused to let Orly Taitz, mouthpiece for the “Birther Movement” — they’re the ones clamoring to see Obama’s birth certificate — speak at an event they’re hosting in Pleasanton, California, this weekend. I guess Birthers seem unhinged even to Tea Partiers.
They certainly seem unhinged to the Republican candidates now running for office who didn’t want to share the stage, let alone the same time zone, as Taitz. Likewise, Scott Brown, the celebrated Republican upstart who just won Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat, has made himself “too busy” to appear at a Tea Party convocation taking place in Beantown, lest he get tarred with the nut-ball brush. At the risk of being obvious, mainstream Republicans — whoever they are these days — have been doing a pretty good job of that on their own. I certainly don’t begrudge the Republican National Committee the $2,000 it spent on a few members checking out a lesbian-dominatrix club in West Hollywood. For Republicans, that’s grassroots organizing at its finest.
But when Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, a Republican, issued a proclamation declaring April to be “Confederate History Month,” I experienced serious cognitive dissonance. I thought Republicans claimed to be “the party of Lincoln.” I was taught that it was Lincoln — not Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy — who won the Civil War and preserved the union. And I thought it was Lincoln who freed the slaves, who, by the way, McDonnell never saw fit to mention — not even as an asterisk — in his remarks. McDonnell has at least conceded the point that he probably should have mentioned the slaves and has since expressed regret at not having done so. Rather than throw McDonnell a life preserver, fellow Republican Haley Barbour — Mississippi governor and some say a political genius — tossed him an anvil instead. Keeping the controversy gratuitously alive, Barbour opined that the criticism leveled against McDonnell for not mentioning slavery constituted a “nit,” adding for good measure, “that doesn’t amount to diddly.”
Having grown up in the D.C. area, I understand the weird politics of the Mason-Dixon Line, where seemingly rational, intelligent, and educated people still argue straight-faced that slavery had little to do with the Civil War. But even the most obtuse have learned to speak in oblique code. Rather than honoring the Confederacy in particular, they’ve opted to honor the Civil War dead in general. It’s safer that way, but everyone knows what they mean.
The fact that political pros like McDonnell and Barbour, who are neither color-blind nor brain-dead, have strayed from this time-honored dodge — just as nasty secessionist rhetoric has gone “respectable” — suggests to me only that an intergalactic meteor has flown perilously close to the Earth’s surface and has dusted us all with gamma rays, making the entire species cranky in the extreme. Otherwise, there is no possible explanation. In the meantime, should you find yourself on the beaches of Isla Vista, don’t forget to flush.