The Left needs to stop getting distracted by the Tea Party
Sep 21, 2010

The Left needs to stop getting distracted by the Tea Party

One of the factors in this election cycle is the rise of a Tea Party movement that is gaining some relevancy. How the issues are framed - both by the Tea Party themselves and those on both the right and the left who oppose them - is going to be influential not only in the November elections but in policy beyond it. The problem is, the left is responding to this threat very poorly. Instead of focusing on the important issues of the day, the left is being distracted in its attempts to mitigate the political reality of the Tea Party.

Take Christine O'Donnell, the recent Delaware congressional  republican nomination winner, who has been dominating news and discussion this last week. Granted, the story is perhaps important as it testifies to the growing strength of the Tea Party however most of the left leaning media has been focusing on pointing out some of the outrageous comments and claims she has made both in the past and recently. The position of the left is all too often "well we aren't crazy like she is!".

That the other sides fringe group is indeed very fringe is not, and should not be, a persuasive presentation for ones opinion and we should not be surprised when it is met with apathy and disillusionment. There is an opportunity to counter the focus on the inanity of certain elements of the Tea Party by talking about the issues from the lefts perspective but instead the focus is just on consistently ridiculing the inanity over and over.

What we don't see is an attempt to combat this far right narrative by showcasing the statements by, say, truly progressive candidates. We allow the framing of the debate and the public narrative to be shifted to the right. By participating in the discussion of how justified or not Tea Party views are, we engage in a debate framed in their context. Instead it is up to the left, to liberals and to progressives, to frame the debate according to their views and have the actual issues from their perspective out and being discussed opposed to being drawn into the debate with the Tea Party framing.

Furthermore, while I have mentioned that a rising Tea Party is a political reality, I believe it is overstated in its media attention. While we should not forget it exists and present an opposing narrative, nor too should we overstate its importance. Because of the media attention it receives, there is now this illusion that it is a sweeping political movement that is poised to transform America - that is certainly what they would like you to believe. In reality, it still is undeniably a fringe group and while it will win a few seats and shift policy and rhetoric accordingly it simply isn't large and genuinely transformative in my view.  By indulging in the media's mockery if O'Donnell and others, we simply unduly strengthen the perception of the Tea Party's importance.  In comparison, genuinely progressive candidates similar to the Tea Party in the sense of being outside the democrat majority, receive almost no media attention outside their local jurisdictions. But then, they probably were not involved in witchcraft or thinking masturbation was a sin;)

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