Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more educated than average Americans, and they are more likely than the average to declare that their personal financial situation is fairly good or very good, according to a new poll by the New York Times and CBS News. They also are inclined to approve of Medicare and Social Security. Yet they remain mad as hell and determined to blame President Barack Obama for all that irks them about America.
There is a creepy consistency to these polls that suggest the real problem with the political conversation in America is not rooted in economic malaise. Rather, it rests at the feet of a fractured and biased media.
That, at least, is the only way I can explain why people who are better off and, on balance, satisfied with the country’s most controversial forays into “socialism,” remain outraged at the performance of their government and determined to blame all of its failings on a guy who took office just weeks before Tea Party protests began – at which time when the wars were already started and the economy was already on its face.
The argument for media responsibility rests of two points. First, the Tea Party phenomenon has been consistently reported as a serendipitous, grassroots upswelling of public anger, notwithstanding the evidence that it has been organized, funded and promoted by highly partisan groups like FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity – both of them fronting for the deeply self-interested Koch Industries. If well-off and well-educated Americans are joining an angry protest, it’s at least in part because they have the impression that their well-off and well-educated neighbours started it. They have been suckered and the media have been part of the play.
The second argument for media responsibility goes back to some research that the Pew Center did a couple of years ago. Pew was looking at the partisan divide over climate change and found – shockingly – that better-educated Republicans were MUCH more likely to be confused about climate change. The only explanation for that confusion is that well-educated people also tend to be well-read. And in a fractured media marketplace, the well-read can choose their information sources with the biases already pre-loaded. Want to be doubtful about climate change? Read the Wall Street Journal. Want to be mad about government? Tune in Rush. Want a steady diet of stories suggesting that there may be problems with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – or even an international socialist conspiracy to bind all the world to the will of a single, carbon-constraining government? Watch Fox News.
Of course, the John McCains of the world also have to accept some responsibility for the current situation. Here’s a guy who was an early leader in tryng to move the Republican Party toward an honest and sensible policy on climate change. And now, putting his own political future ahead of the future of his children, he’s playing patty-cake with Sarah Palin and promoting the political divide.
If the Republican Party really wants to turn American governance over to Charles and David Koch, they should admit it. If not, they should start demanding a higher standard, from reporters on the beat and from one another. Otherwise, the tempest currently raging in the teapot is going to break out in a way that will do no one any good.