Does the Tea Party Exist?
The Tea Party has been the motive force behind what have arguably been the biggest national political stories of the past two years: the 2010 midterm blowout and the 2011 debt-ceiling deal. That fact puts me in mind of 2009, when a faithful follower of mainstream-media accounts could have been forgiven for wondering weather the Tea Party existed at all, at least as a significant political force.
Rick Santelli’s rant-that-launched-a-thousand-tea-parties went down in February of 2009. National protests on tax day of that year were largely ignored by the mainstream press. The few tiny reports published were stuffed into back pages, often highlighting claims that the Tea Party was nothing but astroturf. A huge Tea Party rally in D.C. in September of 2009 got similar treatment.
At a moment when the Tea Party has trumped Obama in a major national showdown for the second time, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the media spent a year or so treating the most important grassroots movement in recent American history as if it barely existed. More than anything else, press failure to vet Obama in 2008, coupled with its treatment of the Tea Party in 2009, cemented the division of our media outlets into British-style warring political camps. Mainstream-media hatred for the Tea Party is still around, of course. But at least we now take it for granted that the Tea Party exists. In today’s media culture, that’s progress.