|Tea For ’12: The Rumors of the Tea Party’s Death Were Premature|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, August 23 2012
Against the notion that innovation is synonymous with progress, one of the stronger arguments may be the current state of the American news media. Thanks to cable news networks, Twitter, talk radio and the blogosphere, we now inhabit the world of the 24-hour news cycle (upon observation, however, it becomes obvious that this is a 30-minute news cycle repeated 48 times). Never before in human history has the average citizen had such an abundance of information available to them on demand. And never before has more information yielded less knowledge.
The average product of the 24-hour news media is the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy: Upon contact, it stimulates and then immediately dissolves. So gorged are we on the news of today that we’d be hard pressed to tell you what happened yesterday.
Perhaps that’s the reason that the mainstream media can’t seem to wrap their collective head around the tremendous shift that has occurred in American politics over the past four years – a period simultaneously too distant for journalists and too near for historians.
Recall that in 2008, American politics was widely said to be primed for a paradigm shift. George W. Bush had supposedly left the nation’s well of affection for Republicans permanently dry with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the cascading financial crisis. Barack Obama, operating a cargo cult masquerading as a presidential campaign, offered a transcendent way forward.
Depending on which liberal pundit you talked to, he was either the second coming of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. Time magazine declared Republicans an “endangered species.” James Carville wrote a book touting a coming 40-year majority for Democrats. William F. Buckley biographer Sam Tanenhaus authored a volume entitled The Death of Conservatism. Newsweek defiantly announced on its cover, “We Are All Socialists Now.” This was the way “serious people” thought.
And then the wheels came off.
Whereas the Barack Obama of the campaign trail was a talented orator with a centrist mien and a conciliatory style, it turned out that the guy who moved into the White House was a listless speaker, a spend-it-while-you-got-it liberal and a thin-skinned pedant. His dramatic and rapid expansion of the federal government – embodied most vividly in ObamaCare – alienated independents and rallied previously dispirited conservatives around the small-government principles they had too often allowed to be diluted over the past decade. And thus was the Tea Party born.
The first warning shot came when Scott Brown, a centrist Republican who embraced the Tea Party mantle, pulled off an upset victory for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat previously held by liberal lion Ted Kennedy during the height of the public resistance to ObamaCare. At that point, no liberal castle looked unbreachable. The 2010 midterm elections would only reaffirm that point, with Republicans gaining 63 seats (and a majority) in the House and six seats in the Senate, numbers not seen since 1994’s famed “Republican Revolution.” The sea change was felt deeply in the states as well, with the GOP emerging with 29 governorships and more state legislators than at any time since the 1928 election.
Despite that track record – and despite the fact that Barack Obama continues to preside over the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, leaving him with approval ratings under 50 percent in three-quarters of the states in the nation – the media has had only two reactions to the Tea Party during this election cycle: Act as if it is dying off or ignore it outright.
Let’s review the facts: In Texas, former state Solicitor General, Ted Cruz, a rising Tea Party star, is set to the become the Lone Star State’s next senator. In Arizona, Jeff Flake, one of the most vigilant spending hawks in the House, also looks poised to join the upper chamber. In Indiana, Tea Party antagonist Richard Lugar suffered a primary defeat at the hands of State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who appears very competitive going into a tight November race. In Nebraska, Deb Fischer, a state senator endorsed by Sarah Palin, is currently up by 20 points over the state’s former veteran lawmaker Bob Kerrey.
This is not a movement on life support.
Even the presidential race offers hope. While Mitt Romney was not widely considered a Tea Party favorite during the Republican primaries, he has hewed to a conservative line on the campaign trail, a trait that was dramatically underscored by his selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Four years ago, Ryan was little known outside of the circles of those who would become founding members of the Tea Party. His ideas for reforming entitlements and balancing the budget – to the extent they were acknowledged – were regarded as exotic at best and dangerous at worst by the mainstream media. Today, even the most stalwart opponents of those ideas are forced to concede the intellectual vigor with which they’re presented.
In the end, that may be the Tea Party’s biggest accomplishment. Four years ago, we were talking about how government could spend us out of a recession. Now we’re talking about balancing budgets, scrapping the tax code and eliminating entire cabinet departments. Four years ago, Barack Obama wanted to reengineer the entire energy economy through a cap and trade program. Now the Republican presidential nominee is seriously discussing eliminating alternative energy subsidies outright. Four years ago, “too big to fail” was a national imperative; now it’s a national punch line.
Thanks to the Tea Party, conservatives are shifting the debate. That’s not quite the same thing as winning the vote – but it usually preceeds it.
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