Monday, September 14, 2009

Tea Parties and Political Pundits

Reason had some eyewitness coverage of the big "tea party" in DC this weekend. The gist of it? The narrative of the mainstream media misses the point as this isn't about the birthers, racism, guns, or even Obama personally. These protests are a real grassroots reaction to big government and left unsaid by Reason's Matt Welch: While this is a pot that has just now come to a boil, the seeds of this very public reaction have been simmering for years now, well before Obama was even a presidential candidate.

Mick Gillespie's pictures tell more than words ever could, about the diverse nature of the crowd.

In terms of other reactions, liberal blogger Ezra Klein makes the important point that protests tend not to drive policy.

And perhaps making the opposite point of Klein, there was Rush Limbaugh, who I happened to catch briefly on the radio this afternoon. I know I've written about Limbaugh before and how it's disappointing that a guy I once found to be so entertaining has just gone so far off the deep end. According to Rush, these tea parties are about disgust with the Democrats and disgust with Obama in particular and the narrative that looks to these protests as bipartisan disgust with Washington is flat out wrong. Rush's evidence is the simple fact that these protests didn't happen where George Bush was president. The problem is, these protests did begin when George Bush was president, about a year ago when the financial bailout that came to be known as TARP was first put on the table. But Rush should also remember his own disgust- along with a great many other conservatives at the massive domestic spending of the Bush administration, Medicare Part D's prescription drug benefit in particular. As I said above, this isn't just anger about the Obama administration, this is grassroots reaction that's been a long time in coming.

In the past, I would have always said conservative if forced to pick between conservative and liberal, but the tact taken by many of the lead voices in the conservative movement is disheartening to say the least. Rush's take on the Democratic push for big government used to be, in essence, "stupid and misguided." But now I hear him regularly throw words around like fascism and totalitarianism and I hear him regularly tell his audience that Obama and his ilk are merely out to put more power in the hands of the government. It's not completely untrue, but it's a poor narrative, completely lacking in any nuance and far too adversarial for my liking. Yet this is what we've got from the conservative media (every time I see Glenn Beck, he's diagramming something on his black board about how our freedom is being taken away).

Protests are supposed to be be simple and reactionary. (Hence the best anti-war protests were the ones with normal folks calling to end the war and the worst were the ones where the crazies attempted to connect the war in Iraq to every other extreme leftist international issue.) What these protests need are spokespeople to put them into context, but instead what you get is Rush and Beck and Hannity and any number of others in the conservative media turning the whole thing into nothing more than a bash Obama and the Democrats session. It's dangerous because it reinforces the left's skepticism that this is politics and this isn't about ideas and even more importantly, it keeps free market ideas in the background.


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