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I'd be more open to the claim that the tea party is really most sincerely dead if its critics didn't keep saying so. Their fidgety repetition of that mantra and their citing of off-point opinion polls allegedly proving the claim suggest they know the opposite is true.

President Barack Obama says practically nobody is paying attention to the tea party nowadays - which raises in indelible neon the question of why he is.

Discussing on NBC his view that there's no reason to discuss tea partiers, he tried to link them to moonshiners and the black helicopter set, dismissing them as people with "an anti-federal-government bent." The "vast majority of Americans" reject the idea that Washington has no part to play in economic growth, he said.

Unfortunately for the president and the straw men with whom he socializes, that's an idea that tea partiers reject, too. They can name a million things Congress might do to promote growth, starting with dismantling reams of regulations that keep a choke chain on the economy. (Think: Massive taxes imposed on U.S. companies that bring overseas earnings back home, perversely encouraging them to leave profits abroad rather than invest them here.)

In short, there's plenty for Washington to do if it'll just get busy. But of course, when Obama talks about Washington helping the economy, he means layering on more taxes and regulations, not tearing them out by the roots.

Happily, the tea party is not too concerned about the panicked assurances of its demise. The laughably idiotic hits it takes - terrorist, Nazi, etc. - diminish not one iota the fact that it is the most vital political force in America today. Even some liberals admit this.

"[T]he left has been outworked, outhustled and outgunned by its opponents," one professor wails in a column in the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. "Where is the broad movement among the left to match the enthusiasm, dynamism and resolve of the Tea Party?"

I know! It's stuck back in Jan. 20, 2009 - the last date Obama could plausibly claim his administration would not be a disaster of Carterian proportions.

But to the larger point, yes, tea partiers are alive and kicking hard, locally as well as nationally. They evidently spooked the daylights out of prospective tax hikers down the freeway in Whitfield County, Ga.

County commissioners had planned to try to slap a 1 percent sales tax increase on consumers via a November ballot referendum at the same time that the city and county school boards were jointly seeking approval by referendum for renewing a separate 1 percent sales tax.

Call them crazy, but tea partiers - and Dalton Mayor David Pennington - weren't convinced that high taxes were a jazzy idea in the midst of an economic meltdown and 12.6 percent local unemployment. (Pennington shrewdly pointed out that the county could attract consumers and economic activity by having a lower tax rate than surrounding counties - aka "the Costco effect.")

So the tea party served notice that it would do what it does so well: peacefully exercise its free speech right to oppose the tax measures.

If officials thought the tea party was a spent political force, they didn't let on. Commissioners unexpectedly entered talks with the city and county schools on delaying one of the two tax referendums for a year. Sure enough, the school boards unanimously agreed to rescind the plan for a vote on their proposed tax.

That means only the county tax referendum will be on the ballot in November. The schools plan to put theirs back on the ballot next year, though it's anyone's guess whether either measure will pass in a time when people aren't cheered by the thought of parting with more of their earnings to make government bigger.

It seems the not-so-dead-after-all tea party's message is still getting across - very nicely, thank you.

If Portland ain't a lot like Dixie ...

It's the gift that won't quit giving.

I refer to Outside magazine's grudging bestowal of the title "best town ever" on Chattanooga - a distinction that the magazine inexplicably lards with a host of Yankeefied reasons why Chattanooga is only modestly more inviting than the Killing Fields.

The article, which reads vaguely like the diary of Al Gore, was written by a resident of Portland, Ore., who is also the author of the upcoming book "Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession." He catalogues Chattanooga's presumed flaws, including "ubiquitous evangelical dogma," "a history of monstrous industrial abuse" and the inadequate trashiness of local women.

Having been given the delicate gift of a free - but full - portable toilet in handy magazine form, the city should have fun trying to market this latest jewel in its crown. At this writing, I don't see a link to the article on the city website, though it may be hiding in there somewhere. I suppose a redacted version would be poor form, and mighty short.

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