With his neatly combed hair and soft-spoken, friendly manner, Carl Rullmann is the guy who comes to mind when someone says "retired accountant."

Ann Becker is a busy, hard-working, stay-at-home mom whose kids are 12, 8 and 5. She has a pretty smile and she smiles a lot.

George Nafziger is a retired Navy captain with a brushy mustache and a commanding, no-nonsense manner that demands full attention like a crisp salute.

To some people, they are scarier than the Taliban. Really.

The reasons are best left to psychoanalysts. But the trigger is no secret. It's two words that make Nancy Pelosi do Linda Blair eye rolls as if possessed by Bill Maher: "Tea Party."

Are they just ordinary Cincinnati neighbors? Or something to fear? You be the judge.

Rullmann calls himself a Tea Party "rabble-rouser" because he would rather go fire-walking in flammable clown shoes than wear the label of "community organizer." Becker and Nafziger are president and vice president of the West Chester Tea Party "” Ground Zero in the unofficial Butler County capital of conservatives in Ohio.

Voters in the 'Burbs

Republican politicians still go downtown to woo deep-pocket donors. But they know where the voters are: They live in the 'burbs: Clermont County, Northern Kentucky and Butler County, which is the power base of the Southern Ohio Tea Party.

So wh'™s afraid? At the risk of redundancy: liberal media; liberal academics; liberal Democrats, and the whole sardine-school of their activists, donors and bloggers.

Politics has become tribal warfare. There are the reporters and politicians who can't mention the Tea Party without using a winking insult, "Tea Baggers."

But Tea Party goals are far from radical. They are: 1. fiscal restraint; 2. limited government; 3. free markets. Eleven out of 10 signers of the Declaration of Independence would add their John Hancocks to that.

From the Tea Party side, the raw hostility is shocking. It confirms their worst impressions of media and politics. They try to make sense of it.

Conservatives Speak Up

"I think we represent a threat that's never been there before," says Becker. "Conservatives have never spoken up like this."

True. Protests are trademarked by the left "” animal rights, gay rights, abortion rights, homeless rights and anti-war. But when Tea Party protests erupted across America and thousands filled Fountain Square and Voice of America Park, the ground shifted.

"Before that, we were all just yelling at our TVs," says Becker, who got involved parking cars for a rally of 18,000 at Voice of America Park in 2009. "There was no outlet for us. But when we saw all those people on Fountain Square, we found out we are not alone."

"We don't have time to go out and occupy Wall Street," says Nafziger. "We have mortgages, jobs, bills to pay. But now we are a force to be reckoned with."

Suddenly, the "silent majority" that was presumed to be as extinct as woolly mammoths has trampled fragile shibboleths. Conservative protests became "scary."

Heartland v. Beltway

But the Tea Party is not what the media says it is.

It's not just R vs. D or left vs. right. It's also heartland vs. Beltway. Listen to the talking heads on cable TV, including conservatives and establishment Republicans, and you can feel the patronizing condescension. The Tea Party is not "in" with the Beltway elites because they are reformers, not pets of the GOP.

"Some of us are dissatisfied with Republicans as much as Democrats," Rullmann says.

They want to break the daisy chain of entrenched incumbents who go along with spending and government expansion that cause debt cancer. They want a balanced budget amendment, which Americans enthusiastically support.

When Tea Party conservatives hold politicians to their promises, most call that democracy. The New York Times callas it "stubborn barbarians at the gate, strong-arming their often-reluctant Republican colleagues by refusing to compromise on spending, taxes, debt or social policy."

When the Times condemns an "unyielding approach to governance (that) has contributed to legislative gridlock," Tea Partiers say gridlock is better than "cooperation" that puts America on a bullet train to Greece, as every "bipartisan" solution demands more money, more government, more debt, more taxes, more waste and less liberty.

The media tried to ignore the Tea Party. Then they mocked them as "angry white people" (and what are liberal union mobs?). Then they pronounced the Tea Party dead. Headlines asked, "Does the Tea Party Exist?" Late in June, Democratic activist James Carville declared, "The Tea Party is over."

Wishful Thinking?

Bad timing, say local leaders. Wishful thinking. Just a day later, the Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling that affirmed Obamacare, which was like a nitro boost.

Burr Robinson, vice president of the Cincinnati Tea Party, says the decision caused frustration, then motivation. "If it had gone the other way, liberals would be bashing the Supreme Court for fanaticism. But instead it has focused conservatives to organize and act. Overall, that's a positive."

As if to prove his point, a crowd of about 400 "” almost twice what was expected "” packed a hot room to the walls at Sharonville Convention Center for a Tea Party rally on the evening of July 10.

"NOOOOO!!!!" they yelled when asked if Obamacare was "OK."

"On June 28 the world changed," Cincinnati Tea Party president George Brunemann told the crowd. "The Supreme Court failed to do its job. Liberty died . . . And liberty will be lost forever if we don't take back the Senate, hold the House and defeat Barack Obama." Cheers shook the chandeliers.

By no coincidence, Mitt Romney donations passed Obama in June, $106 million to $71 million. Adages about sleeping giants come to mind.

"People are very upset about it," Becker said. "I have gotten a huge response from Tea Party members.  But I have also gotten calls, e-mails and text messages from friends, who know I follow politics, but aren't members of the Tea Party.  They were angry, but then they were resolute. They realized that the Supreme Court was the last chance to stop it, and now Obamacare is real. It will affect their lives and businesses. They are all very concerned and ready to do what they can to make sure it is repealed."

Maybe the pundits' mistaken "flat-line" was just an unplugged media monitor. The Tea Party has no national spokesman or headquarters. But it is spontaneous and powerful, as demonstrated in the national wave of support for Chick-fil-A, when customers waited in line for hours to show their support of CEO Dan Cathy's pro-marriage stand and express their disgust at the intolerance of political correctness.

Tea Party people don't protest for the press. They rally to encourage each other and recruit volunteers. They were not sunk. They submerged like a nuclear submarine.

"We didn't die. We just changed to become more effective and work within the system," says Becker.

Difference in Process

It's a difference in process as much as policy. While the left plays for public opinion, Tea Party groups take a wrench to the machinery of the system.

They elected precinct leaders, then township and county leaders, then right up the political assembly line. They organized conferences to teach Politics 101 and recruit workers and candidates. Soon they were manufacturing victories. In 2010, the Tea Party led a Republican sweep of all statewide offices plus Ohi'™s House and Senate.

One of their biggest wins was Issue 3 in 2011: A landslide 66 percent of voters passed a constitutional amendment to block Obamacare mandates in Ohio.

In Indiana, the Tea Party removed Sen. Richard Lugar, a moderate Republican who has been in Washington since senators wore togas. Locally, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt lost an upset in the Republican Primary to Tea Party candidate Brad Wenstrup.

Then the biggest win of all: Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan, a Tea Party hero for having the guts to propose serious budget reforms to prevent entitlement bankruptcy, as his running mate.

"They have to come to us now," Nafziger says. "They know we're a factor."

But if the Tea Party is the elephant in the kitchen, the donkey in the dining room is Obama. The rally crowd erupted at lines such as "Take back America." Bumper stickers in the parking lot said, "Give me liberty, don't give me debt," and "Repeal Obamacare."

They see it as a battle for America. "You've heard it before," says Cincinnati Tea Party founder Mike Wilson, "but this time it's true. This election truly is the most important in our lifetime."

Nafziger makes the point another way: "I have a 10-million mark note from my grandparents that is blank on one side because it cost more to print than it was worth in Weimar, Germany," he says.

"If spending is not brought under control, we will see the chaos of Weimar," when runaway inflation destroyed the German economy after World
War I.

"We have to fight in the arena of ideas. What else can men and women in their 60s do?"

Rullman answers: "Vote, baby."

To some people, that's scary.