A drastic shift in the media stereotype of the tea-party movement.
By James Taranto
There was a time, oh, a week or two ago, when the mainstream media portrayed the tea-party movement as an assortment of crazed angry extremist redneck racist idiots. What changed?
The headline we've given this column is a phrase coined by the conservative writer Tom Bethell to refer to the media's attitude toward conservatives who veer leftward. What we're about to describe is a bit different: more an epiphany on the media's part than a change in the object of coverage. It seems unlikely that the tea-partiers have suddenly become mainstream.
Yet that's what you'd think from reading some of the recent coverage. The Christian Science Monitor, which a month ago baselessly labeled Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell a "right-wing extremist," begins a Saturday story by rehearsing the stereotypes but then cautions that "political experts say that many such criticisms are near-sighted, if not outright inappropriate--and ultimately may miss the point":
Indeed, polls suggest that tea party activists are not only more mainstream than many critics suggest, but that a majority of them are women (primarily mothers), not angry white men.
What's more, the release this week of the top three planks of the "crowd-sourced" Contract From America project, to some activists, shows a maturation from sign-wielding protesters to a political reform movement grounded in ideas.
The top three vote-getters among 360,000 respondents on the Contract From America website: Calling for an enumerated powers act to force lawmakers to check the constitionality [sic] of new laws; requiring a two-thirds majority in Congress for any tax hike; and a legislative backstop to prevent the EPA from "backdoor regulating."CNN--which became notorious a year ago for its hostile coverage of the movement, including the use of antigay slurs--carries a report titled "Disgruntled Democrats Join the Tea Party":
Some Americans who say they have been sympathetic to Democratic causes in the past -- some even voted for Democratic candidates--are angry with President Obama and his party. They say they are now supporting the Tea Party--a movement that champions less government, lower taxes and the defeat of Democrats even though it's not formally aligned with the Republican Party.Another poll, however, suggests this is less of a dog-bites-man story than CNN makes it out to be. "Four in 10 Tea Party members are either Democrats or Independents, according to a new national survey," reports the Hill:
To be sure, the number of Democrats in the Tea Party movement is small. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that while 96 percent of Tea Party activists identify themselves as either Republican or Independent, only 4 percent say they are Democrats.
The national breakdown of the Tea Party composition is 57 percent Republican, 28 percent Independent and 13 percent Democratic, according to three national polls by the Winston Group, a Republican-leaning firm that conducted the surveys on behalf of an education advocacy group. Two-thirds of the group call themselves conservative, 26 are moderate and 8 percent say they are liberal.
What truly sets the Tea Party apart from even Republicans or conservatives broadly is its commitment to economic conservatism. Tea Party members, like voters overall, are very focused on the economy and jobs; some 36 percent say it is their top issue. Yet while only 6 percent of voters overall say that the national deficit and spending are their top issues, that number spikes to 21 percent among Tea Party members.
The Tea Party is a movement defined by its preference for fiscal restraint and low taxes. Presented with two competing proposals to create jobs, over four out of five Tea Party members say tax cuts for small business will create more jobs than increased government spending on infrastructure. When the options were expanded, tax cuts still were chosen as the top job creator, but are closely followed by "expanding development of all energy resources." Interestingly enough, the next runner up--"cracking down on illegal immigration"--was not more popular among Tea Party members (19 percent) than voters overall (16 percent).
When it comes down to it, the Tea Party does not appear to be focused on economic conservatism as an end in and of itself. When asked in the January survey if they favored "reducing unemployment to 5 percent" or balancing the budget, 63 percent chose reducing unemployment--a negligible difference from the 64% of voters overall who agree. Jobs are the goal--items like tax cuts and balanced budgets are a means to achieve that goal.It all adds up to a remarkably broad-based and nonideological movement--one that has gained strength as the Democrats who currently run Washington have proved themselves to be narrow and ideological. Had President Obama governed from the center--above all, had he heeded public opinion and abandoned his grandiose plans to transform America, he might well have held the allegiance of many of the people who now sympathize with the tea party.
How is it that the media's approach has changed so dramatically in just the past couple of weeks? Perhaps the Democrats simply went too far when they claimed that tea-party protesters had shouted racial slurs at black congressmen during the ObamaCare weekend. The media, of course, repeated these claims, but no evidence has surfaced to corroborate them, and Andrew Breitbart makes a very good case for skepticism:
The proof that the N-word wasn't said once, let alone 15 times, as Rep. Andre Carson claimed, is that soon thereafter--even though the press dutifully reported it as truth--Nancy Pelosi followed the alleged hate fest, which allegedly included someone spitting, by walking through the crowd with a gavel in hand and a sh---eating grin on her face. Had the incidents reported by the Congressional Black Caucus actually occurred the Capitol Police would have been negligent to allow the least popular person to that crowd--the Speaker--to put herself in harm's way.Reader Taylor Dinerman notes: "Part of the function of a political media operation is to make the other side despair, lose hope, feel bad, etc. It's one of the reasons I gave up reading the New York Times. In one of Isaac Asimov's Empire series, he describes a drug called 'desperance' whose function is to make whoever takes it despair and be ready to kill or commit suicide. The bad guys feed it to someone they intend to use to murder the galactic emperor."
Tales of tea-party racism could have been calculated to demoralize America's anti-ObamaCare majority by presenting them with an ugly choice: accept the fate the Democrats have imposed upon us, or side with (as the Christian Science Monitor puts it) "neo-Klansmen and knuckle-dragging hillbillies." The strange new respect for the tea-party movement suggests that this approach is too invidiously partisan even for the mainstream media.