Thousands of Americans across the country showed up for tax-day protests on Wednesday, demonstrations seized upon by many prominent Republicans, some thought to be eyeing a run for president in 2012.
Protest organizers said the movement is nonpartisan and developed organically through on-line social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on the conservative Fox News channel.
But the likes of Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, and Republican governors in South Carolina and Louisiana were making overtly political appearances at some of the protests scheduled Wednesday on a symbolic day: the deadline to file US income taxes. All three are believed to be considering a challenge to President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
While clearly promoting their own fortunes, they and others seized upon the nationwide outpouring of dislike for taxation as a way to build momentum for their slumping party after dismal showings in the past two national elections.
Whatever the origins or final outcome of the protests, they brought citizens out in force to complain about how much money Obama is spending as he tries to pull the country out of a deep recession and near financial meltdown.
With a handful of American taxpayers standing behind him as he issued brief remarks in the executive office building adjacent to the White House, the president said he was working for "a simpler tax code that rewards work and the pursuit of the American dream." The appearance was clearly designed as a counterpoint to the national protests.
As he spoke, police moved several hundred protesters from Pennsylvania Avenue and out of Lafayette Park in front of the executive office building after some among them threw tea bags over the White House fence. A bomb crew later was called to check a box that was left behind. No explosive device was found.
The tax-day protests at state capitols and in neighborhoods and town squares across the country were designed to echo the rebellion of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 when American colonists boarded British ships and dumped tea into the harbor. Britain had imposed a tax on the tea that was bound for the colonial market, but the protesters took action because they had no representation in the British Parliament.
The Boston Tea Party is viewed by many historians as a key event as the American colonists moved toward declaring independence and the revolution against British rule.
The rallies were held everywhere from Kentucky, which just passed tax increases on cigarettes and alcohol, to South Carolina, where the governor has repeatedly criticized Obama's $787 billion economic-stimulus package that was passed by Congress earlier this year. Even in Alaska, where there is no statewide income tax or sales tax, hundreds of people held signs and chanted "No more spending."
In Atlanta, thousands of people gathered on the steps of the Georgia Capitol, where Fox News Channel conservative pundit Sean Hannity broadcast his show Wednesday night. One protester's sign read: "Hey Obama you can keep the change." Hannity's guests included Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, who made news during the presidential campaign when he asked Obama about taxes. The crowd cheered many of Hannity's stances against higher taxes and moves by the Obama administration so far.
The tea parties have also been promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House of Representatives majority leader Dick Armey of Texas.
Gingrich took the podium in front of New York's City Hall and urged a crowd of about 2,000 people to tell their lawmakers to vote against big spending or else "we're going to fire you." As he left after his 11-minute speech, passers-by yelled, "2012, Newt!" and "Run for president!" But when asked about a run, Gingrich shook his head emphatically and said, "I'm just part of a citizen movement."
Before Obama issued his statement on a more fair and less complex tax process, he met with several working families to underscore his efforts to make the tax code less burdensome. The president noted that he has asked his economic advisers to thoroughly review how to simplify the tax code and report back to him by year's end.
"We need to simplify a monstrous tax code that is far too complicated for most Americans to understand, but just complicated enough for the insiders who know how to game the system," Obama said.
He added: "It will take time to undo the damage of years of carve-outs and loopholes. But I want every American to know that we will rewrite the tax code so that it puts your interests over any special interest. And we will make it quicker, easier and less expensive for you to file a return, so that April 15 is not a date that is approached with dread each year."