This helps. A reader writes:
I live in Kansas and have several family members who fit the mold of these Tea Partiers. The sense I get from them is much like what I felt after the 2004 election - absolute disbelief that this country could make such a decision. The reason that my relatives are so concerned is that Bush stood for everything they truly believed in - US primacy, nationalism, God (the Christianist version), guns, no gays, no illegals, where criminals get a fair trial before we hang them. In their mind, Obama repudiates all of that.
These rallies are an effort by a group that feels highly marginalized to find some comfort in the company of others with similar beliefs, and to express their fear and frustration over what they see happening to their country. At least, that's why my uncles and grandparents will be there.
I agree that it's a tantrum, but not over the issues you mention. Their issue is far more about their world-view than any one of these policy concerns. In their minds, this is the "conservative" equivalent of the Watts and Stonewall demonstrations. And when you (and others) dismiss these concerns as "adolescent, unserious hysteria," it only hardens their resolve. What will make this go away is time, and the realization that America has "survived" the threat posed by a President who represents so much that they find threatening.
It does make much more sense when you see it that way. If you're concerned, as I am, about the reach of government, you might think that Bush's supension of habeas corpus, claimed right to suspend the First and Fourth Amendments and authorization of torture would have concerned them. But nah. If you're concerned about spending and borrowing, you might imagine they'd have been in the streets against Bush in 2003, instead of rallying behind him. If you're concerned about pork, then the obvious culprits were the Bush Republicans. If you're concerned about spending, then you'd be campaigning against Medicare, Medicaid, and defense spending. But they're having an ostensible tax revolt just after the Democratic candidate offered, against his party's liberal base, a tax cut for middle class Americans! And they have taken up revolt against government spending at the very moment that even conservative economists think a little relaxation of fiscal discipline does more good than harm.
The whole thing is mystifying unless you see it as a tantrum designed as therapy. I'm just waiting for them to get serious about the debt and start proposing real spending cuts that will actually do something. That's a tea-party I'd happily join. When is it scheduled?