Are the Tea Parties Getting a Bum Rap?

Are the Tea Parties Getting a Bum Rap?



Mona Charen of National Review Online notes that major media outside of Fox News either ignored the tax day tea parties or took an adversarial tone in reporting on them. Charen rightly notes that part of the problem is that Fox News promoted and actively participated in the events, giving other news outlets the excuse that the tea parties were illegitimate. But does that make the frustrations of the attendees illegitimate as well?

Charen points out that maybe tea party participants deserve more credit for their concerns. Writing about a specific attendee who was confronted by a CNN reporter, Charen says:

Perhaps [the stimulus and tax credit don’t] buy his support because he is skeptical that his taxes can remain low when the federal government is embarked on a record-shattering spending spree. He may be offended by the bailout culture, and worried that the obligations of taxpayers cannot remain low when it seems that every irresponsible borrower, failed car company, and free spending state is being rescued by the federal government. Additionally, he may be dubious that the government will spend the money wisely. It has been rumored that government spending has produced waste, fraud, inefficiency, and corruption. But he also may simply believe that engorging the government and enfeebling the private sector — no matter who is writing the checks — is not good for the economic or spiritual health of the country.

Or maybe he believes President Obama is leading us towards a socialist, totalitarian state where capitalism will be discouraged and guns will be forbidden. And that’s the problem with these tea parties. From my observations, it’s hard to separate the reasonable complaints from the outlandish accusations. Too many people associated with these groups have reached for ridiculous rhetoric rather than formulating smart, convincing critiques.

That said, the reasonable pro tea party argument laid out by Charen is a difficult one to disseminate without losing people’s attention. Fiscal responsibility is not something on which great slogans or firebrand speeches are built (although Ross Perot did a pretty good job with the issue back in the day). Unfortunately, overstating the risks of fiscal irresponsibility ruins the credibility of the critic. As of yet, the tea party organization has not found the right balance between firing up the populace and presenting a consistently reasonable argument free from rightwing chicanery.

The good news for the tea parties is that they have time to perfect their message and move away from the controlling influence of Fox News and other powerbrokers who make the organization seem more like a coordinated campaign than a grassroots movement. It would be nice to see the group become an alternative to the sedentary, bitter, social-conservative dominated Republican Party. But the group could also just become a of the right — more partisan tool than positive force.

  • WhitneyD

    Honestly, I probably would have taken these groups more seriously (me, speaking as a liberal) had they not been affiliated so much by Fox News- who seemed to be steering the point of the tea parties from “taxation without informed representation” to a bunch of party-line rhetoric that didn’t entirely make sense.

    I love seeing people stand up for what they believe in. I’ll listen to anyone explain why they believe what they believe… so long as they understand it. Far too much of the coverage showed that there were people there who have little understanding about the government- other than that they want more military spending, but somehow want to pay less in taxes to get that accomplished.

    Hopefully they can break away from Fox and some of the more mainstream conservatives- so that they can actually start speaking THEIR message and not the message that Fox News wants to be heard.

  • karlub

    I have said this before, and I will say it again, until I am blue for lack of oxygen:

    Political figures, talk radio, and Fox were reactive to tea parties. Did they help gin up extra people? Sure. But they did not drive this bus. They got on to one that was already building up a head of steam.

    More tangentially, and less interestingly as media bias is a boring conversation, I like how the wingnuttier elements of public protests now speak for the entire group for many media organizations This is precisely the opposite of how it was for anti-war demonstrations.

  • kranky kritter

    I found one eyewitness account from a chap named dennis over at SF interesting:

    COMPLETELY different than the 60’s. Most of the folks I talked to had taken time off from jobs to be there. There were a couple of idiots (“look at me!”), but everyone ignored them as best as possible. The thing that really struck me was the sense that most of the folks I talked to were uncomfortable about being there. They weren’t the protesting type and didn’t want to be seen as idiots, but felt it was important enough to be there. The majority I talked to (20?) didn’t have a pat answer to what it was they were there for exactly. A lot of no tax signs, but the verbal conversations always fell back to fiscal conservatism. People are worried. Not so much about the present, the economy up here is still pretty good, but about the path we are likely to wind up on as a nation if we don’t reign in government spending. I think everyone I talked to realizes the complexities even they aren’t familar with them all. Not that I have any painless solutions, let alone anything that has an absolute guarantee of working.

    The thread is here

    I think that while funding by organized conservatives and plumping by Fox news is definitely worth noting, these facts do not comprise the long and the short of the story. They are relevant facts, _AND_ they are insufficient rrason to dismiss the movement.

    They will have staying power to whatever extent they have a legitimate beef and reasonable adherents with some resolve.

  • Justin Gardner

    But karlub, without Freedom Works this would not have been the event it was.

    Come back to me when you have a citizen funded, Ron Paul style movement and I’ll cover it with the seriousness that it deserves.

  • TerenceC


    If the majority of people spoken with (20+) didn’t really know why they were there – then where is the relevancy claimed so as to not dismiss the movement? That statement argues one point while corroborating another. If the big money and big media hadn’t been involved then most of these people wouldn’t have been involved either. So what was the event really about? Mostly just some angry people with no where to go and big money and big media taking advantage of the situation in order to create some news.

  • Kumbaya

    You know, I was thinking similar after talking to a die-hard anti-taxation advocate I know. She has long LONG been upset by taxes & government regulation of anything. Her philosophy is very much “you do what you want, I’ll do what I want, and neither of us will get in each others’ way”

    She once called me “Hillary Clinton” as a pejorative because I don’t expect businesses to pay a living wage out of the goodness of their hearts.

    She considered going to tea parties because she’s adamantly opposed to government intervention, not because she’s racist, homophobic, or dangerously religious. Ultimately, she couldn’t take the time off work.

    She’s just an anecdotal fer-instance, but I wonder how many other legitimately concerned voices got covered by the hype.

    Which then leads to the question; Did the hype actually hurt there cause?

  • Jim S

    Mona Charen of National Review Online notes that major media outside of Fox News either ignored the tax day tea parties or took an adversarial tone in reporting on them.

    If this was true she might have a point. But that wasn’t what I saw and since I was home from work ill I saw several different news reports on the local events.

  • kranky kritter

    Terence, I would never ever ever ever ever conflate “don’t have a pat answer” with “don’t know why they were there.” The world is full of all sorts of ideas and feeling that people are sure about but which they cannot express succinctly.

    Your inversion is the sort of rhetoric used by people who are very used to having blog discussions where their first objective is to win an argument. Or who have already made up their minds about something and placed everyone in the appropriate baskets.

    I think your re-frame actively subverts the spirit of the description that Dennis provided. And that’s a shame.

  • TerenceC

    You mean you’re accusing me of doing exactly what you just did – I see – what a shame. Don’t ever lecture anybody.

  • kranky kritter

    Sure, Terence. Exactly right. You win.

    I lose. For thinking you would understand why there is a world of difference between “don’t have a pat answer” and “don’t know why they were there.”

    But then you can’t speak to that, can you? Because I caught you red handed and you had no cogent response. So you turned it on me, like I’m the bad guy. Really skilled on your part.