Friday, September 17, 2010

In Fairness to the Tea Party

Daniel Larison makes a point worth noting,
It’s also a fairly low blow to claim that Dinesh D’Souza’s atrocious “anti-colonialist” nonsense has something to do with “the Tea Party style.” As Weigel has pointed out, D’Souza’s horrible arguments about Obama are part of an entire career of horrible D’Souza arguments about a variety of things. Gingrich’s embrace of this nonsense is a function of Gingrich’s enthusiasm for all manner of ignorant demagoguery. Obviously, Beck loves this nonsense and has been pushing it on his show. That’s the only real connection with Tea Partiers, it’s one Brooks doesn’t make, and it would be a case of guilt by association if he did.
Some have a tendency to point to every crazy idea on the right and declare "Tea Party!" Perhaps when Brooks wrote,
I asked the election guru Charlie Cook if there were signs that the Tea Party was scaring away the independents. “I haven’t seen any,” he replied. I asked another Hall of Fame pollster, Peter Hart, if there were Republican or independent voters so alarmed by the Tea Party that they might alter their votes. He ran the numbers and found very few potential defectors.
he should have considered that the Tea Partiers and those who know them are aware of the distinction between what they believe and what Dinesh D'Souza believes, or for that matter between what they believe and what a (some faction of the) Tea Party-endorsed candidate believes.

Perhaps it's fun to think of the Tea Party as "crazy", or to want to attribute D'Souza's bad scholarship or Gingrich's nasty, shallow opportunism (or, as Larison puts it, his "enthusiasm for all manner of ignorant demagoguery") to something other than their own, personal failings. But that doesn't make it true.


  1. Hey Aaron,
    So the distinction is between the things that people say on behalf of the Tea Party and what large numbers of Tea Partiers believe. This seems right, but at this stage, there's not much we know about the Tea Party other than the things they (or at least those to whom microphones are given) say. The movement is still in its infancy, and so there's no core platform. But until people within the Tea Party actually start overtly disagreeing with and correcting the likes of D'Sousa or Gingrich, we don't have much to go on. It'd also be nice if folks in the Tea Party would spell check each other's signs.

  2. Scott, you're right. I'll risk overstatement and cynicism here: part of the problem seems to be that nobody really cares what the Tea Party as a whole thinks. You can get a general idea from survey data, but when the media "covers" the Tea Party they (as usual) tend to prefer the sensational - the guy who says a stupid thing, carries a stupid sign or wears a silly costume. The survey data and the public image are at odds with each other.

    Let's say you're a member of a truly grass roots "Tea Party" group, not affiliated with one of the opportunistic / parasitic national organizations. You know that the public image is wrong (danged 'liberal media') because you know who you are and you know what your peers believe. How do you get in front of a microphone and set the record straight? Besides, you're being lionized on Fox, so why does it matter what the rest of the (danged 'liberal') media has to say?

    Meanwhile you meet periodically with your fellow concerned citizens and lament how the (danged 'liberal') government is undermining capitalism, creating a socialist welfare state (the size and scope of which threatens your Social Security and Medicare - and those aren't welfare, because you spent a lifetime paying for them through payroll taxes), and is bankrupting the nation.

    I don't believe that the Tea Party can survive trying to form a coherent national platform any more than the Reform Party could survive when it tried to transform itself from a protest vote into an actual political party. (See also the Libertarians.) So those benefiting and profiting from the movement aren't going to press for that type of coherence. Sure, if it doesn't coalesce into something more significant than anger at 'big government' and 'socialism' it will eventually dissipate; but right now it's creating a high level of energized protest that very much benefits the Republican Party and certain right-wing talking heads, so they'll keep fanning the flames. (Only a few people, such as David Frum and Michael Gerson, are sweating over possible consequences to their party when the flames go out; as a whole, the party is focused on short-term gain, and I can't say that history would indicate that they're wrong to do so.)

    Frankly, if I were part of the grass roots movement, looking at the national figures who claim leadership roles, the national organizations claiming to represent Tea Party views, and the crazies with their signs who are depicted as representatives of the movement, I would rebrand.

  3. I should have added in relation to the specific issue of D'Souza's allegations, as Larison observed, there's no reason as of yet to attribute D'Souza's views to the Tea Party movement.

  4. "...I would rebrand."

    Even if your message isn't coming across the way you want, it has to be flattering to have the media describe how powerful and influential your movement is. Abandon the name and you're out of the movement: you're just a small group of angry people nobody cares about.

  5. I sense that, whatever else is going on, the Tea Partiers are pretty united in their sense of Obama as "the other". Other than the health care plan, his "objectionable" policies are a continuation of those originated by Bush.


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