The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Democrats Find Their Own Version of the Tea Party Movement

Day Four of the Trump Administration. Sky status: Intact.

The Democrats Find Their Own Version of the Tea Party Movement

If the Tea Party movement had held its first rally on January 21, 2009, instead of midsummer of that year, would anything have changed?

Probably not, as the Obama administration and the majority of Congressional Democrats were hell-bent on passing Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, their version of the stimulus, and so on. Scott Brown’s improbable Senate victory in Massachusetts didn’t drive them to the center, so it’s unlikely that any outside force could have spurred them to rethink their approach to governing in the opening years of the Obama presidency.

Critics argued that the Tea Party movement was driven by a panoply of issues: opposition to Obamacare, outrage over the TARP bailouts, the threat of tax increases, the growth of government, concern about the national debt, among others. It was a fair criticism, but it was ultimately moot. Most members of the Tea Party unified around the idea of staunchly opposing what that guy in the Oval Office is doing.

The Women’s March on Washington Saturday certainly had its own smorgasbord of concerns: abortion rights, racial profiling, gay rights, opposition to deporting illegal immigrants, opposition to Islamophobia, workers’ right to organize, concern over global warming…

But as much as we on the right might chuckle at the contradictions – a lot of labor unions work in the industries that environmentalists would like to see shut down, and a lot of Muslims have views on gay rights that this movement would oppose – the people involved in Saturday’s marches will unify around the idea of staunchly opposing what that guy in the Oval Office is doing.

Fear is a powerful motivator; fear gets people’s butts up off their couches. When you have more people caring about what’s going on in Washington, you have more people who become interested in running for office. In 2010, Republicans suddenly had bushels of candidates – usually good ones – in places they rarely had one before: “After surpassing a goal to recruit 80 candidates in key races, Leader Boehner set a more ambitious objective of 100.  At the end of the day, McCarthy and the team at the NRCC were able to help get a Republican on the ballot in 431 of the 435 House congressional districts.”

The Tea Party movement gift-wrapped a message for Republican candidates: Democrats in Congress had grown arrogant and out of touch, and were completely oblivious to the growing anger and dissatisfaction in their districts:

The townhall protests that erupted in August 2009 provided the first visible signs of the anger and frustration that Americans of all political parties were feeling.  While Speaker Pelosi and other Democrat leaders criticized these citizens as “un-American,” the NRCC embraced the movement and highlighted the rude awakening that vulnerable Democrats were receiving with daily emails entitled “Recess Roastings.”  Events held by Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Steve Driehaus (OH-01) and others became instant YouTube sensations and were proof that Democrats had a much bigger problem on their hands than they originally expected.

Throughout the Obama presidency, the Democrats desperately yearned for their own version of the Tea Party. They envied the crowds, the passion, the visible signs of grassroots opposition, cropping up across the country. You only demonize something if it matters.

It now appears that as the Trump presidency dawns, angry liberals are building something akin to the Tea Party movement. It will look different, it will be geographically concentrated in different areas, and of course, it will get much more sympathetic media coverage. But it will be there, and it could be a big factor in 2018 midterms.

It’s also worth remembering that the Tea Party was ultimately a mixed bag for the Republican party. Yes, it brought them Mike Lee, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Paul LePage, Trey Gowdy, Ron Johnson, etc., but it also brought Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, and Richard Mourdock. An impassioned grassroots movement giveth, and an impassioned grassroots movement taketh away.

If You Want to Speak in Front of a Memorial Wall, Remember Where You Are.

Here’s the video and full speech transcript of President Trump’s remarks in front of the Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The Memorial Wall has 117 stars, each honoring a CIA employee who died in the line of service. Just 83 of them are identified. The others are individuals whose identities were so consequentially secret, they cannot be named even after their death. This location is akin to Arlington National Cemetery or the Vietnam War Memorial. You simply must behave a certain way in its presence; the space demands reverence. Marc Barnes recently wrote, “Reverence is an emotion that responds to the presence of a value higher than ourselves – a  value that exists in its own right and does not need us.”

Here is the sum total of what Trump said about the wall behind him in his remarks: “And the wall behind me is very, very special.”

The president went on to boast about how many votes he received in the intelligence community, the Senate confirmation process, how young he feels, the crowd size at his campaign stops, how we should have kept the oil from Iraq, how he has “a running war with the media,” the crowd size at his inauguration, and how many times he’s been on the cover of Time magazine.

Whether or not you agree with the substance of Trump’s remarks, I’d like to think a broad bipartisan swath of the public can recognize that you don’t give those remarks at that time and place. We on the right have fumed, rightly, over comments and behavior that politicize events and locations that should be beyond politics – Paul Wellstone’s memorial service, the Tucson memorial service, the memorial service for the slain cops in Dallas. This is not a case where we can righteously argue that if a Democrats and a Democratic president could do this, Republicans and a Republican president should be able to do the same. This is not about what we expect of them; this is about what we expect of ourselves.

ADDENDA: Coming today: the 100th edition of the pop culture podcast! Thanks to all who have listened for the past two years and change.

For the milestone, Mickey and I took a look at the state of the pop culture.

Nielsen reports that the average household has 189 channels. (They watch 17 of them.) Then there’s streaming services Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and so on. There are more movie screens in America than ever before, more than 40,000 of them. The latest figures are still a few years old, but the iTunes store has 575 million active user accounts. 43 million songs. 190,000 TV episodes. 45,000 films.

So the good news is, barriers to bringing your artwork to an audience has never been smaller. The options for the audience, have never been greater.

You would think we would be deliriously happy with entertainment, and never bored. But obviously, we aren’t. In some ways, with the explosion of options, it’s probably never been more challenging to sort through all of those options and find the ones you really love. (This is a part of what we do on the podcast, but I wouldn’t say it’s primarily what we do.)

We have a million producers of art and entertainment, but it still can feel like we’re in a demographic Hollywood isn’t interested in reaching. Our podcast isn’t that political, but because of what I do at NR and what Mickey does at Red State and formerly Ricochet, every once in a while we’ll get a listener who says they expected more discussion of pop culture through a political lens. We do that every now and then, although I think if we spent too much time saying, “those darn liberals in Hollywood,” the show would get boring and predictable.

It feels like a lot of the people professionally employed to create entertainment are out of touch with the rest of the country in ways that go well beyond politics. You don’t see a ton of workplace comedies that feel like they were written by someone who worked in an office, like Office Space. You see a LOT of shows and movies set in New York and Los Angeles, and a lot fewer in places like Cleveland or Omaha. (For cost reasons, you don’t see much on-location filming of places like that.) If you see entertainment about a world you inhabit – in my case, Washington or journalism – you see a wildly-distorted funhouse mirror. I’m sure real-life cops, lawyers and doctors feel the same way about the endless a police, legal, and medical dramas…

Finally…. Oof! Rough way to end the season, Packers and Steelers fans. It’s a testament to the expectations of those franchises that losing in the conference championship game counts as a disappointment.