To hear the press tell it, the tea party movement is one of the most mysterious forces ever to surface in national life. Since February 2009, when CNBC’s Rick Santelli urged his listeners to dump unfunded derivatives into Lake Michigan to protest the developing culture of bailouts, they have been nothing but open about their fears of insolvency, their discomfort with increasing size of the government and their terror of deficits.
The press listens closely to all these objections, and decides they must mean something else. They say they fear debt, and the press insists that they must fear Hispanics (why they hate Marco Rubio), that they fear blacks (why they hate Thomas Sowell), that they fear strong women (why they want Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin to be sent back to the kitchen in chains).
Much as the Republican win in the 1994 midterms was dismissed as a ‘tantrum’ by the late Peter Jennings, they are described as being driven by inchoate anger, but the spin on their nature has tended to change.
First, they were described as an ignorant rabble, much as the Washington Post had once pegged evangelicals. Then polls showed that they were a rabble that was better off and better informed than the public in general, and they became a selfish and privileged rabble: a privileged rabble parading as populists.
“An aggrieved elite,” sniffed Dana Milbank. “Race is part of the picture,” E.J. Dionne noted. “The tea partiers aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up to the little guy,” complained Peter Beinart. “The tea partiers favor the economically and racially privileged. ... What the tea partiers dislike about Barack Obama’s economic policies is that they don’t do enough for the rich.”
What tea partiers dislike about Obama’s policies is that they’ve tripled the national debt.
“Something unique happened in Obama’s first year,” writes Daniel Henninger. “The veil was ripped from the true cost of government. This is a ghastly nightmare the Democrats have needed to keep locked in a crypt.”
Obama began with a $787 billion stimulus package (which most economists have now dismissed as a failure), passed a 2010 Fiscal Year budget of $3.5 trillion, passed a 2011 Fiscal Year budget of $3.8 trillion, and passed his health care reform bill, for additional trillions whose scope we don’t know. Henninger pegs this year’s spending at $9 trillion.
This is a popular — not a populist — movement, a grassroots uprising against the cost and expansion of government power. It fears that the debt has become unsustainable. Do not expect Dionne or Beinart to recognize this.
Don’t expect from New York’s John Heilemann either, who told a panel on the Chris Matthews program that the protesters’ motives were all Greek to him. “What is the focus, what is the cause of this? You think back to 1994, there was Ruby Ridge. There was Waco. There were triggering incidents. There’s been nothing like that.
“The only thing that’s changed in the past 15 months is the election of Barack Obama. As far as I can see, in terms of the policies that Obama has implemented, there’s nothing,” he said.
Under the heading of “nothing” would be debt in the trillions, Greece going bankrupt, California tanking under the weight of public service unions and their extravagant benefits, other states foundering, and massive entitlements being added on in the midst of a recession.
Other than that, of course, there’s nothing to see here. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”