With Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell as figureheads for your movement you’re never going to struggle for column inches in the national media. Indeed, if Kanye West decided to join, the Tea Party movement could boast having America’s most inflamatory orators on board.
With all these news stories circulating, it still remains to be seen how much influence the Tea Partiers have had on the coming mid-term elections, even if it’s quite obvious that the Democrats are going to receive a kicking. The problem of the Tea Party movement for the Democrats has not been the ground swell of opposition supposedly against them but instead how much they have allowed it to command the US media and the national discussion.
Last September I was in DC when the Tea Party held its first march on Washington, DC. The headline-grabbing slogans calling Obama a socialist, or in some cases much worse, were a troubling sight but talking and listening to the members of the crowd who had travelled to the capital it quickly became apparent that the signs were more a product of Fox News’ dominance in the market than the USA fostering a lot of bigots. That march in September 2009 was full of scared, hurt and angry people who didn’t know what was in store for them. The world had changed around them and blue collar workers no longer knew their place in a world of emerging markets like China, Brazil and India. Sadly ignorance borne from a lack of neutral facts coming from the USA’s biggest news channel and that detestable human trait of railing against what is alien to oneself in times of need is what most politico’s in DC saw that weekend and dismissed the rally as a vent of anger that would dissipate.
That dissipation never happened. The Tea Party movement has had effect in the political world by ridding the Republican party of the more liberal conservatives, with the election of “true conservative” Republican candidates in the primaries. The America outside the insulated political class had spoken and left its media arm amplifying the concern to epic proportions. According to the media, the great hope of President Obama was beginning to cave and, depending to your world view, America was about to take it’s country back or the yokels from Deliverance were about to take a trip to Washington.
With the Tea Party’s boot stomping through the political landscape, everyone has gotten muddy. Campaigns have been vicious. News investigations have been seedy and shallow. Political advertisements have been aggresive. Slogans have replaced policy. As a result, the Democrats have lost focus on the tasks they said they’d complete after Obama was sworn in as the 44th president. Too many times they have tried to defend themselves against media stories and rumours rather than listen and talk to the people they way they did on their way to winning the presidency.
For example, President Obama had strong support from the Hispanic community in 2008, an under-represented group in the US, after telling them that immigration reform was a priority. However, his party have been guilty of allowing too many Tea Party slogans to set the news agenda on the economy, overshadowing this discussion that in the long and medium term could benefit deficit reduction. In a YouGov poll, 31% approve of his handling of immigration, while 57% disapprove. It’s a trend that’s repeated across most public interest sectors. The Tea Party has had little to say about what they’d specifically do on anything due to the media’s agenda forcing Democrats to be defensive rather than confront the Tea Party head on. This is why the main political opponent to the Democrats this election has been the news outlets rather than the Republicans.
The Tea Party has undoubtedly re-energised a Republican party that looked dead in the water less than two years ago but their power and influence has been overblown by a hysterical media industry. The Democrats will not suffer because of the Tea Party’s grand plans for the nation being more popular; they will suffer because they spent too long listening to the news rather than the people. This has been the election between the TV pundits, not the politics.