Why the Tea Party will keep delivering surprisesPosted on September 9, 2010
Have you noticed that every time the Tea Party succeed in something – getting huge numbers of protesters out, beating Republican establishment candidates in open primaries – it is greeted with shock and amazement by British commentators? Time and again the Tea Partiers are defying expectations for one simple reason: British media expectations and understanding are wrong.
Some of the misleading portrayal of the Movement is undoubtedly deliberate – when the Today Programme referred to the Tea Party as a “rebel yell”, for example, it was a sly smear intended to suggest Confederate and therefore racist associations.
However, much of the misreporting is inadvertent – and comes about for the same reason that the Republican establishment and the Democrat Party as a whole have failed to get a handle on the Tea Partiers.
A typical example is the repeated suggestion that Sarah Palin is somehow the leader of the Tea Party. Barely a news report goes by without either a clip of her or a reference to her involvement, but she is loosely associated with it at most. Indeed, the Tea Party is much more popular than she herself.
So far, the British media has struggled and failed to develop a plausible narrative for the Tea Party. It’s obvious how many would like to paint it: borderline racists, “only in America” nuttery, an unelectable lunacy dragging the Republicans away from the supposedly hallowed centre ground, a fringe group out of touch with most Americans and based exclusively in Hicksville.
But that doesn’t stand up. There is a strong thread of radical live-free-or-die libertarianism, there are chapters all across the USA, over 50% of the American electorate self-identify as members or sympathisers with the movement and as for being unelectable, the Tea Party’s “unelectable” Marco Rubio has now opened up a 15 percentage point gap over his mainstream Democrat rival in Florida.
It’s understandable why London-based media elites fail to get what the Tea Party is about or why it is proving so popular. To an extent it’s because the individualist, small state tradition in America is expressed very differently to the way it is here in the UK, but more importantly it’s because well-paid media folk in North London dinner parties struggle to accept the idea of a popular, atomist, leaderless uprising that wants lower taxes and a smaller state.
It’s easier and more comfortable to assume this is a lunatic fringe that is of no importance other than as a source for footage of occasional fancy dress protesters. But as long as people in the media keep assuming that, they will keep getting shocked and shown up.