Tea party activists agree that the federal government is too big, and taxes are too high. But they don’t agree on whether comparing President Obama to dictators of the past is justifiable.
Activists affiliated with the tea party movement are split about the controversial billboard in Iowa that likened President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin.
The billboard, which was removed last week, showed an image of Obama beneath the words, “Democrat Socialism.” On either side of Obama were pictures of Hitler, the infamous German dictator, beneath the words “National Socialism” and Lenin, who led the inaugural Communist regime in the Soviet Union, beneath the words, “Marxist Socialism.”
The billboard said, “RADICAL LEADERS PREY ON THE FEARFUL & NAIVE” and “LIVE FREE OR DIE!”
Members of the North Iowa Tea Party paid to place the billboard message in Mason City, Iowa, early this month. Their message attracted national media attention as well as criticism by some fellow activists who considered it excessive. The outcry eventually led to the North Iowa Tea Party taking the billboard down.
“To me, that’s a little over the top,” said Tom Marcelli, 56, of Bethlehem Township, Ohio, who says he agrees with the “tea party ideology of smaller government, less taxes.”
“Anytime you see people with signs similar to the ones you quoted, I kind of walk on by and ignore them and do my thing,” said Marcelli. “ ... that’s not mainstream, and it’s certainly not mainstream for tea party people.”
Marcelli said while he disagrees with Obama’s policy, he has no personal animosity against Obama and doesn’t think he’s an evil dictator.
Navarre, Ohio, resident Patty Colucy, who organized a tea party rally in her town late last month, said the Iowa billboard’s message doesn’t reflect the sentiments of the movement.
“It’s not anything I want to be a part of,” she said.
Colucy, a hairdresser who also operates a few tanning beds, starting this month must charge her customers a 10 percent federal tax for the tanning as a result of the recent health care legislation backed by Obama. While she detests higher taxes, “he is the president. We have to show our respect.”
She says many in the tea party aren’t seeking to demonize Obama.
“We are just Americans. We get together and we can express concerns about the direction our government is headed,” she said. “I like less government control. I think our government has made our people too dependent on big government.”
Scott Rader of Clinton, Ohio, who organized a bus trip so he and activists could attend a rally in Washington, D.C., last September, said those behind the billboard were “invoking their right to free speech.”
In an e-mail he wrote, “(Their) concern, obviously, is that they see our country being led in (a) socialist direction. ... I neither support nor condemn the billboard.
“The billboard may be found to be offensive by some. However, many things are offensive to others. There have been plenty of signs comparing (President George W.) Bush to Hitler.”
Tom Manely, 62, a tea party member and owner of the Flashback gas station in Navarre, agrees with the billboard.
He says he has a sign in his gas station regarding Obama that says, “Hitler gave good speeches, too.”
“I’ve taken that to tea parties,” he said. “People ask, ‘How can you compare Obama to Hitler, and I say ... ‘Well Hitler came out of nowhere like Obama. Hitler gave good speeches like Obama does. Hitler is a socialist like Obama. Hitler believed in centralized government ... just like Obama ... and Hitler had the Brown Shirts and now you’re hearing about the youth corps. How can anybody deny the comparisons?’ ”