At Capitol, tens of thousands protest Obama’s initiatives

Bearing signs that said “Enough! Enough!’’ or “Go Green Recycle Congress,’’ tens of thousands marched in Washington against the president’s health care plan and federal spending. Bearing signs that said “Enough! Enough!’’ or “Go Green Recycle Congress,’’ tens of thousands marched in Washington against the president’s health care plan and federal spending. (Jose Luis Magana/ Associated Press)
By Emma Brown and James Hohmann
Associated Press / September 13, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of conservative protesters, many complaining that the nation is racing toward socialism, massed outside the US Capitol yesterday, angrily denouncing President Obama’s health care plan and other initiatives as threats to the Constitution.

The crowd - loud, animated, and sprawling - gathered at the West Front of the Capitol after a march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Invocations of God and former President Ronald Reagan by an array of speakers drew loud cheers that echoed across the Mall. On a windy, overcast afternoon, hundreds of yellow “Don’t Tread on Me’’ flags flapped in the breeze.

“Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,’’ declared Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, urging protesters to call their representatives. The demonstrators roared their approval.

“We own the dome!’’ they chanted, pointing at the Capitol.

The demonstrators are part of a loose-knit movement that is galvanizing anti-Obama sentiment across the country, stoking a populist dimension to the Republican Party, which has struggled to find its voice since the 2008 elections.

With Democrats in control of Congress, battling the president legislatively has been difficult. But after a spring of antitax rallies and summer health care protests proved to be effective, a growing number of GOP leaders are dropping their wariness and seeing the political possibilities of latching onto this freewheeling coalition. Others are cautious about embracing views that can be seen as extremist.

No official crowd estimate was available, but yesterday’s throng appeared to number in the many tens of thousands. The sound system did not reach far enough for people at the edges of the rally to hear the speakers onstage.

“You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government,’’ Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, said of the Obama administration, drawing raucous applause.

“Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom,’’ Price said. “Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.’’

The group’s sponsors included FreedomWorks, a Washington-based group headed by former House majority leader Richard Armey, a Texas Republican, and the groups Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet. They and others involved in the rally comprise a loose coalition of conservative groups that helped organize the health care and antitax demonstrations in the spring and summer.

“Health care is not listed anywhere in the Constitution,’’ said Brian Burnell, 45, who owns an insurance company in Maryland. His placard read, “How Is That Hopey Changey Thing Workin’ Out For Ya?’’

“You want socialism?’’ said Susan Clark, a D.C. resident marching with a bullhorn. “Go to Russia!’’

The White House declined to comment on the demonstration, but Democrats said the rally and other protests in recent months represent a small minority of voters and will not slow Obama’s proposals.

Yesterday’s demonstrators spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama, including opponents of his tax, spending, and health care plans, and protesters who question his US citizenship and compare his administration to the Nazi regime.

Most signs were handmade: “Socialism is UnAmerican,’’ “King George Didn’t Listen Either!’’ “Terrorists Won’t Destroy America, Congress Will!’’ and “The American Dream R.I.P.’’

Dozens of signs mentioned Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who heckled Obama during a Wednesday night speech to Congress. Dee Meredith, 62, of Callao, Va., said she had never heard of Wilson before he shouted at the president, “You lie!’’ At the rally, Meredith waved a placard: “Thank You Joe Wilson.’’

“We’re the forgotten people,’’ she said, “and he’s given us a voice.’’