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Friday, December 9, 2016

It’s not every day you walk into your local baseball park and see a beauty queen — in this instance, Mrs. Ohio — posing with Ben Franklin and Uncle Sam for a photo.

It’s happened to me exactly once, last Saturday, after I walked through the gates of Ohio’s only stop on the cross-country Tea Party Express.

Ben, Sam, and the missus were standing arm in arm at the entrance, smiling for a couple of people with cameras. In full costume, in 90-degree heat.

Now, that’s patriotism.

Promotions for the tea party event promised thousands of activists and maybe appearances by former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Victoria Jackson and a couple of presidential candidates, too.

It didn’t quite turn out that way. Jackson was a no-show, as was every presidential candidate. The throng of rumored activists stayed home, too.

I counted fewer than 450 in attendance, and that included vendors, volunteers, onstage performers, and two policemen.

In fairness, I should point out that some reports offered different attendance numbers. Avon Patch put it at 500. The Chronicle-Telegram reported “hundreds.”

A local radio station that features shows by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh claimed that 1,000 showed up.

A local daily newspaper in Lorain, Ohio, The Morning Journal, reported a whopping 2,000.

Two thousand.

Now, it’s possible that the Journal thinks one conservative equals five liberals, hence the funky math. I’m sure it has nothing to do with Journal Editor Tom Skoch, who penned a column last spring titled “Demand Congress dismantle Obamacare scam.”

I can’t tell you how touched I am that Skoch tweeted this on Saturday: “Heard … columnist Connie Schultz was checking out the Tea Party rally in Avon today and was treated well. Of course.”

It’s not really true, but it’s so nice to be noticed by people you had no idea even cared.

Women who approached me at the tea party event were universally nice. Even when they made clear that they took issue with some of my opinions, they did so with respect and provided their names whenever I asked. I thanked them for reading my column, and then we talked about grandchildren and shoes.

Now, the men were different. With the exception of a self-identified fellow pug lover, most men who approached me acted as if they were scared to death. I’m not sure why, but I was definitely flattered.

Three men suggested I leave quickly, “if you know what’s good for you.” A few came up to me and shouted, “Hey! Connie Communist!” Because they’re just that clever.

Interestingly, not one of these guys — except for the pug lover, who wanted me to know he regularly yells at my picture in the paper — would give me his name. Brave little boys.

The mother of a Navy SEAL who died in Iraq gave the most moving talk from the stage. She sounded like every grieving military mother I’ve interviewed, full of love for her lost child and her country.

The longest and most fiery speech of the day came from Apostle Claver T. Kamau-Imani of Raging Elephants.

He hails from Texas, and he’s not keen on compromise.

“We do not stand for bipartisanship,” he bellowed. “Do not be yoked together with nonbelievers.”

The list of heathens is very long in Apostle Claver’s world:
Liberals.
Democrats.
Socialists.
Communists.
Small-dog owners. (I may be mistaken about this.)
Oh, and this: “I have nothing in common with someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Big applause.

Until I started asking some of the merrymakers whether they agreed they should avoid associating with nonbelievers — Jews, for example.

To a person, they looked shocked by the question.

When I read back Kamau-Imani’s words about Jesus, every last one of them assured me that he or she didn’t agree “with that part” of Apostle Claver’s creed.

I believed them all, too.

After three hours, I left the tea party event with two impressions:

Most of the attendees were patriotic Americans who have more in common with people like me than they want to believe.

All of them deserve better than the extremists claiming to be their leaders.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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