What do you call a "movement" that's not actually moving? That's a question people are beginning to ask about the tea party movement. Defined mostly by those things they oppose, teapartiers -- almost by design -- don't really have any forward momentum. Like any other conservative, when the teabagger talks about change, it means they want to change things back. As a whole, conservatives always seem to see the future as a way to return to some perfect past. And that past is always mostly imaginery -- plenty of people have already written that the Ronald Reagan conservatives have made a saint is not the Ronald Reagan who actually existed.
But to answer the question, the word you use to describe a static "movement" is "dying." Where modern conservatism is backward-looking, the tea party -- by it's reactionary nature -- is trapped forever in the present. There is a future they look forward to, but it kind of skips a step; we undo everything Obama has done, get sufficiently insane candidates in office, and everything becomes perfect forever. This Utopianism ignores the fact that everything was massively screwed up before their hated Obama ever took office. So returning to the past is returning to an extremely FUBAR situation. They're against what exists right now, but they aren't actually for anything to speak of -- unless it's the polar opposite of whatever comes out of the current president's mouth.
On Monday, I wrote about the big Uni-Tea rally the tea party threw to demonstrate their non-racism and diversity. "The crowd was pretty thin, which suggests to me two explanations, to be taken either in combination or separately," I said, "the average teabagger finds a rally without all the racism no fun and/or the tea party is suffering from outrage fatigue and losing steam." Turns out I'm not alone in that assessment.
Yesterday, Media Matters' Eric Boehlert also wrote about the Uni-Tea event. But he went further and compared that with other recent rallies. His conclusion: "The Tea Party movement has collapsed."
And its collapse means it's time for the press to rethink the way it covers the political equivalent of the Pet Rock, a fad that appears to be in its waning days of popularity.
I'd suggest that for more than a year the Beltway press has spent far too many man-hours obsessively chronicling the conservative Tea Partiers. Part of that overindulgence has been fueled by the bullying GOP Noise Machine, which has demanded around-the-clock Tea Party coverage as proof that journalists aren't liberally biased. And part of it has simply been the media's attraction to a political story that was new and rather unorthodox.
But it's time to pull the plug, or at least it's time for the press to tell the truth about the Tea Party's rather sad state of affairs.
Recent tea party events have had attendance numbers ranging from small-city street fair to company picnic. And part of the reason is that the tea party's record has been a record of failure. Boehlert give as examples the facts that Health Care Reform became law and the Stimulus Package went through, as did Financial Reform. I'd add that Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy are probably on their way out, same-sex marriage just became legal again in California, the "Ground Zero mosque" is going ahead as planned, and Elena Kagan -- like the vilified Sonya Sotomayor before her -- has just been confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice. In addition, as Boehlert points out, because of inept tea party candidates like Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, "Democrats might hold onto control of the U.S. Senate only because of the Tea Party and its weak, inexperienced candidate" (I think that's overstating the case a bit -- Republicans didn't stand much of a chance to begin with -- but there ya go. In any case, the three aren't helping their cause much).
But simple explanations aren't often good explanations. Another nail in the coffin is the racism. The tea party is on the defensive on that front and they don't like it much. While teabaggers like to say they represent all races, the fact of the matter is that they exist mostly as an anti-Obama movement -- a case of political sore-loserism. Given the president's still astronomical approval numbers among African-Americans, the claim of diversity rings more than a little false. The math just hates that assertion.
Attempts to plug this particular hole in their rhetoric have been lazy and half-hearted at best. In addition to the failed Uni-Tea event, teabaggers recently assembled a group of champions to defend them. "[A]fter the implosion of Mark Williams, spokesman for the Sacramento-based Tea Party Express, conservatives are still bristling at the charge of Tea Party 'racism,'" writes Dave Weigel. "On Wednesday morning, Williams' old organization organized a two-and-a-half-hour event at the National Press Club in order to rebut the charge the best way it knew how -- with a chorus line of black conservatives attacking anyone who dared call the Tea Party racist." The problem: these were all familiar faces to the African-American community. They've been ignoring these pundits' arguments for years. To make matters worse, birtherism reared its empty head. Needless to say, progress was not made.
The tea party's reactionary nature is becoming its undoing. By being against everything, it's come to stand for nothing. And it has nowhere to go.
That is, nowhere but "away."
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