The Phony Populism Of The Tea Crusades

It is beginning to set in amongst some members of the press that the Tea Party “movement” is a mirage that attracts far more attention than its paltry numbers deserve. I wrote about this a couple of months ago in The Tea Party Delusion. It is more true now than ever, and it would serve the media well to acknowledge it and report accurately.

Polls show that Americans are divided on their opinions about Tea Baggers. But the more interesting statistic is that more Americans have either no opinion or have never heard of them at all. This finding is consistent across most major surveys on the subject (all pdf files): NBC/Wall Street Journal: 48%; CNN/Opinion Research: 40%; CBS News: 69%; Washington Post/ABC: 64%; even Fox News/Opinion Dynamics: 44%.

Nevertheless, the media treats this ephemeral blur as if it were a political tsunami. They apparently aren’t reading their own polls. The Tea Baggers Ball last weekend brought about 600 registered attendees to the Opryland Hotel. The National Wild Turkey Conference next week is expecting 40,000 at the same venue. Yet there are no news networks camping outside the hotel salivating at the prospect of interviewing turkey aficionados in Revolutionary War garb.

The good news is that some in the media are starting to emerge from their comas. And it isn’t just a few predictable liberals at the Village Voice. Entrenched establishment pundits like Joe Klein and Mark Halperin have begun to recognize that the reality of the Tea Crusade doesn’t remotely resemble the mythology that has been dominating recent coverage. In a comparison of Sarah Palin to the Tea Partiers, Halperin notes that

“Both have far less support in the country at large than a gullible Old Media seems to understand or suggest. […] Both are the subject of endless fascination by cable TV. […] Both benefit from the extraordinary promotional machine that is the Fox News Channel.”

That last point is particularly salient as Fox News plays a unique role in promoting Tea Baggers and Republicans like Palin. The strategy is to keep their base star-struck, ill-informed, and distracted by tangential, but emotional matters. That’s what makes Palin an important figure in the Tea Crusades. She has the celebrity, the ignorance, and that ability to inspire panic from trifles and lies. Joe Klein observed that what she offered in her convention speech was “drivel” and went on to castigate those who have fallen for her shtick:

“Those who celebrate Sarah Palin’s lack of knowledge as a form of ‘authenticity’ superior to Barack Obama’s gloriously American mongrel ethnicity and self-made intellectuality are representatives of a long-standing American theme–the celebration of sameness, and mediocrity”

President Homer SimpsonThis is something I called Elitistism: the practice of discriminating against those who are perceived to be elite. The goal of Elitistism is to drive from public life anyone who diverges from the sacred visage of American Averagism. Because everyone knows that the guy you’d rather have a beer with is the best qualified to be president. Although the cold brew may have been replaced by the tea bag, and the barfly by the Tea Hag™ (i.e. Sarah Palin). And whatever you do, don’t exhibit any qualities of excellence or intelligence. As I previously wrote, in today’s politics those are flaws that separate you from the masses:

“Education is a key component in this new paradigm. It is absolutely critical that you not have too much of it. And never, ever use the word paradigm. Once the American people get the impression that you know more than they do about issues like economics or foreign policy, you’re disqualified from service. Achievement and expertise only spotlight how different you are from ordinary Americans.”

Hopefully more of the media will soon catch on and realize that the Tea Crusades are a fabrication of lazy and/or biased reporting, and dishonest politicos seeking to exploit a disgruntled demographic. As it stands now they are mostly embarrassing themselves by fawning over fake people and phony populists. They spent tens of thousands of dollars on those polls, they ought to use them. It is time they try reporting on reality for a change.


10 thoughts on “The Phony Populism Of The Tea Crusades

  1. Anti-intellectualism is not exactly a new phenomenon in American politics and culture: historian Richard Hofstadter was writing about it in the early 1960s in his monograph “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.” Amazing how timely that book is almost 50 years later….

    • You mean I didn’t come up with it?

      I didn’t read the Hofstadter book but I think what we have now is worse than anti-intellectualism. It is a celebration of idiocy. But that’s not new either. In 1920 H.L. Mencken said…

      “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

      And it only took 80 years.

  2. I love his neologism: the boob-oisie!

  3. I can’t help but notice that the Illinois Primary has gone straight down the Memory Hole – the Tea Party-endorsed candidates for governor and senator both got curb-stomped.

    Add to that the fact that all the tea in the world couldn’t save Hoffman in NY-23 – some of the towns in that district hadn’t been represented by a Dem since before the Civil War.

    Add further the fact that Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell both ran to the center in their campaigns, and avoided Sarah Palin like the plague.

    Plus, the fact that Scott Brown is pro-choice and voted for Universal Healthcare in Massachusetts hasn’t created a blip on the radar. None of these facts get traction in the media because they fail to dovetail with the media’s pro-GOP spin.

    I hope that you are right that the tide is turning. Klein and Halperin are card-carrying villagers… And the simple fact is that Palin can’t go on forever without being asked substantive questions which would require answers she can’t fit onto the palm of her hand.

    • That’s why I was surprised by Klein and Halperin’s remarks. If they are starting to get, that’s a good sign.

      And you’re right…There’s still a long way to go. They still don’t provide the kind of context you described. And Palin has still never held a press conference.

  4. No matter how many testicle jokes the MSNBC clown brigade tells, no matter how many holier-than-thou articles Joe Klein dribbles out, no matter how much you try to ignore the street protests that drew hundreds of thousands of Americans, the Tea Party movement is here to stay. And it will grow exponentially.

  5. Two morons from every small town in America might add up to one-hundred thousand. One day the Tea Party movement will be written about in psychology texts to reveal how easily corporate propaganda can manipulate otherwise decent people into behaving like fools.

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