WASHINGTON - From bailouts to boatloads of spending, there's no denying that Americans are mad.
Emotions are high at Tea Party protests across the country and now it's showing in the polls.They range from very angry, at 46 percent, to 25 percent being somewhat angry at current government policies.
"The government is imposing, overreaching, it's like a power grab and it's got to stop," one protester summed up at one of the many Tea Party rallies held throughout 2009.
Big Government Burden
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich points to the economy and President Obama's policies as major factors.
"I think there's a general sense that the system is out of control and how do I as a citizen make enough noise to get the attention of the people who currently have power," Gingrich said.
The signs at the protests say it all: "Throw all the bums out" "Stop wastin' my money" - a few of the tamer ones.
"What we are seeing now is the rise of big government, and so now big government is oppressing the American people with too much spending, too much taxes, too much regulatory burden," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told CBN News.
"Americans are very practical people in the end. We tend to want the government to work," Historian Michael Kazin, Georgetown University, said. "We rail at big government most when it's not working for us, when it doesn't seem to be following through on its promises."
White House officials have no plans to dial back on their agenda in 2010. They believe the bailouts, health care reform, and stimulus money for jobs are crucial to improving the economy.
But it's a risky strategy: if the economy doesn't turn around, the big government cry of socialism against President Obama could get even louder.
"I think in the elections of 2010 we will see a sweep of government officials out of office," Rep. Bachmann said. "I think we will see a tremendous sweep because the American people don't want to go down this road.'
The Imperial Government?
Speaking out against government in some fashion can be found throughout American history. Just choose your time period: economic unrest in the 1890s, McCarthyism in the 1950s, Vietnam in the 1960s.
Gingrich, however, looks at the Revolutionary period as the most appropriate because he says the Obama administration comes across as a latter day British government.
"There's a very similar pattern of the British government not understanding the Americans and the British government coming across as aloof and imperial and dictatorial and just made Americans madder," he said.
That rings true today for millions of Americans and for people who accuse them of being unpatriotic. Consider what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787: "and what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion."
"I think politicians underestimate the American people and underestimate their intelligence, underestimate how much they pay attention to what goes on in Washington, D.C.," Bachmann said. "The American people are paying attention more than ever and what they're saying is 'Look, buddy, you're not serving me. You're serving you.'"
Channeling the Anger
While this can be a good thing in a democracy, some of the rhetoric has been downright nasty at times. During protests last year, the President has been caricatured as Hitler. One man showed up with a gun in plain sight. And there have even been a few "Death to Obama" signs.
That nasty rhetoric, according to Gingrich and other conservative leaders, is wrong and hurts their cause.
"We know that much of the elite media is going to be deeply biased in favor of the left and to give them easy targets to attack is very unhelpful," Gingrich said. "I think actually the calmer, more reasonable, the more rationale we are, the greater the danger is for the left because it's harder and harder for them to demonize us."
So what does this all mean for the future? Not much if it doesn't translate to the ballot box in 2010.
"Now the question is whether there is a Republican Party which is equipped both to corral a lot of that anger and channel it to their benefit and also to speak to voters who are not that minority of people who are truly angry and are willing to act on that anger.," Kazin said.
No Slam Dunk for Change
This is no electoral slam dunk for Republicans. They have their own challenges, including the fact that some of those same Tea Party participants are aiming for big spending Republicans as well as the party in power.
The other challenge is to channel this growing dissatisfaction into voter turnout. Bachman says that begins with a fundamental understanding of what's at stake.
"The best piece of advice comes from the Bible where it's written that the men of Issakar, there were twelve tribes of Israel and one of them being Issakar and the men of Issakar understood the times and knew what to do," she explained. "The people need to understand the times that we live in, that government is trying to grow exponentially and take away the freedoms that we have been given."
Which has made a whole lot of people a tad bit upset.
*Originally aired January 4, 2010.