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”
This 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.