Thursday, March 21, 2013

Catch of the Day

How about one for Conor Friedersdorf, who today looks back at the demonization of opponents of the Iraq War during the run-up and early stages of that conflict.

It's a good item. I do want to think about this stray point:
You know the conservative account of how the media covered Tea Party rallies, heaping disproportionate attention on offensive signs and crackpot attendees, as if the least defensible elements of the protest movement represented and defined the whole? That's basically how the pro-war faction covered the protest movement that opposed the war.
I think that's basically fair -- but also unfair. With the anti-war protests, it was pretty clear what the main point was: they didn't want the United States (and allies) to invade Iraq. Reasonable coverage of those protests could have started and ended with that; making hay over crackposts in the crowd was clearly superfluous.

I'd argue that the same was not true about Tea Party rallies. Within the Tea Party movement (or whatever you want to call it), there were certainly some people with coherent policy demands or ideologies. But as a whole, it was extremely difficult to figure out what the Tea Party was about. And not just from a few people carrying crazy signs; there was plenty of stuff from the podium that was, well, pretty goofy. It was in fact perfectly plausible to hypothesize that, say, bigotry against Barack Obama was a significant part of Tea Partyism. And that therefore the more explicit evidence was a plausible clue to what was going on.

That's not to say that the bigotry theory was necessarily correct, and it's certainly not to say that the coverage never took isolated or out-of-context evidence and generalized inappropriately. It's just...look, it's usually a good idea in politics (if not in political analysis) to ignore motives. Arguments stand and fall on their merits, regardless of why they're made. That's why I usually defend hypocrisy; in politics, hypocrisy is at most a very minor sin, if that. But the Tea Partiers, at least in my view, practically begged us to consider their motives, because much of what they were saying on the surface just didn't make any sense (as in the iconic "keep government away from my Medicare").

I'll stop there...I'm not sure I have a final point. Just that the situation is complicated.

Oh, and that has almost nothing to do with what Friedersdorf is up to on the post overall, for which I only need to say: Nice catch!


  1. As they were just forming, it was probably fair to say that the Tea Partyers didn't know what they were about either, certainly not as a group. These things take time to sort out.

  2. This is probably even more true of Occupy protests.

  3. And, in the case of the Tea Party, subsequent research (you know, of the type Coburn likes to de-fund, except this wasn't NSF funded) has demonstrated racial antipathy to be a statistically significant predictor of Tea Party support.

    1. Which isn't the same thing as saying that "the Tea Party are a bunch of racists" or that the guy with the horrible sign is a typical Tea Partier. But nevertheless is part of the story.

  4. "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" is a good example of how signs in a crowd can be relevant. For the past few years, the Tea Party leadership--and indeed, much of the GOP establishment--has been denouncing Obamacare as a "government takeover of the health-care system" while at the same time attacking it for its cuts to America's actual government health-care system. Some of the statements by actual Tea Party leaders have been almost as nonsensical as that iconic sign--witness Michelle Bachmann's warning that Obama intends to turn Medicare into Obamacare (which would actually mean privatizing it along similar lines to Ryan's plan, but never mind). It should be little wonder that some Tea Partiers are apparently under the impression that Medicare is a private program while Obamacare is a public one. That's what much of the propaganda on the right has been designed to make people think. So highlighting that sign isn't, in my view, making a cheap shot based on one ignoramus in a crowd; it's illustrating something that's been coming straight from the top.

  5. What was there to post about that wasn't crackpots in Tea Party rallies?


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