Dems' Risky Tea Party Smear Strategy
I was sitting in my office, checking my email, minding my own business, when I was suddenly assaulted by a most bizarre news item: Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) had blamed the Tea Party for S&P's downgrade of America's credit rating. No, Kerry didn't blame President Obama, or Congress, whether the current divided Congress or past Democrat or Republican Congresses, or even President Obama's favorite culprit: George W. Bush. He blamed "the Tea Party."
My initial thought was that Kerry's allegation was fortunately so absurd that even the most emotional, robotic liberals would not buy this whopper. But then it happened:
Mere seconds later, I started reading the responses to an article I had just posted on Vice President Joe Biden allegedly calling Tea Party members "terrorists." And there, at the top, was this reader response:
The Tea Party is responsible for our country's credit rating being downgraded because they are unwilling to offer a solution to our current budget problems. They can't offer a plan to cut enough money to balance our budget, and they won't compromise on any tax increases to add revenue. Now we are faced with poor credit that is going to cost taxpayers even more money, making the already terrible situation even worse. They in fact are terrorists. They are doing everything they can to destroy America.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The reader's comment shows the power of influence that resides with public officials. When they make extreme allegations -- no matter how unfounded - -they have a direct impact on the public, especially those blindly loyal to their political party.
Of course, what's worse is that Kerry, Biden, and other Democrats are intending precisely this impact. As Senator Charlie Schumer (D-NY) recently let slip in a radio interview, there's a concerted effort by Democrats to demonize the Tea Party.
But what of such a campaign? Will it work?
In part, yes. The Tea Party has been steadily declining in favorability rankings by polling groups, particularly since the Democrats' spring offensive. Liberal Democrats have raised themselves a demon, and with considerable success.
And why wouldn't their efforts be a success? After all, what, precisely, is "the Tea Party?" Who runs it? Where is it headquartered? Where are the membership cards? How do members pay dues? Who is their candidate for president in 2012? Who is their candidate for vice president? Who is their candidate for local dog-catcher?
If I were a producer at NPR or CNN or Fox, and I wanted the "Tea Party person" on my show to ask the location of the party's terror cells, who would I call as an official spokesperson?
Or consider the logical extension of the reader's comment above: How do "they" in the Tea Party "offer a solution" or "plan" to the "current budget?" How do "they" "compromise on any tax increases?" Are there official Tea Party members in Congress, working aside members of the Republican Party and Democratic Party, who could do this?
My point is that the Tea Party isn't really a political party, certainly not when it comes to the kind of enormous powers liberals are magically ascribing to it. It is a movement more than a party. And rarely has a movement been so anonymous, so faceless.
Alas, that leads me to two conclusions:
First, this anonymity is a key reason why the Democrats' demonization campaign is bearing ugly, bitter fruit. After all, "the Tea Party" can't respond to the character assassination. There's no character who can respond.
In that sense, the Democrats' strategy seems smart.
Yet, there's also a major risk in the Democrats' gambit, which brings me to my second conclusion:
As initial survey data showed (click here), a sizable portion of the Tea Party movement is non-Republican. A Gallup poll from March 2010 found that 50% of "Tea Party identifiers" were Republicans while 43% identified as independents and 7% as Democrats. That's a perfect 50:50 split.
Of course, it was the huge swing group of oblivious independents/moderates who in November 2008 made Obama president, and elected the Pelosi-Reid Democratic Congress.
Well, in part, it's these individuals -- so-called "crossover voters" -- that Democrats are assailing when they trash the Tea Party. If Democrats lose these folks in November 2012, as they did in November 2010, they'll lose the presidency and Congress. I know people in the Tea Party, and they are hardly terrorists and racists; they are very offended at being so maligned.
If you're a conservative Republican, the Machiavellian in you might say, "Keep it up, Democrats!"
Well, they're keeping it up. In fact, they're ramping it up.
Gee, whatever happened to those calls for civility?
It looks like Democrats have decided the best thing for their party and their country right now is to tar and feather the Tea Party -- whatever they imagine it to be. Good luck, folks. Be careful what you wish for.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.