Tea Parties a Wake-Up Call for Obama and the MSM

Wednesday's tea parties affirmed certain obvious but underreported (at least by the mainstream media) political developments in the era of Obama. For Democrats, and the president specifically, it should be a wake-up call.

First, the supposed advantage in social and new media which the Democrats enjoyed in the November 2008 election is being eradicated. Just as Republicans falsely believed that the "micro-targeting" perfected during the Bush years gave them some lasting advantage in get-out-the-vote efforts, Democrats may have been under the illusion that the 2008 campaign established their dominance in new media. But largely through new media, conservative and libertarian activists organized a single day of protest involving hundreds of thousands of people. Lesson: whoever rests on their technological advantage gets left in the dust.

Second, just as George W. Bush galvanized the Left, Barack Obama is generating not just political opposition but anger. The Columbus Dispatch reported on its tea party, which was attended by 7,000 people:

The message was simple: The federal government, already bloated by decades of growth, now is gorging on the next generation's earnings with a stimulus plan that relies on billions of dollars in borrowed money. ...

Although all of the political speakers were Republicans and the message was conservative, some attendees said they didn't show up for partisan reasons. H.K. Zolg of Columbus noted that some Republicans backed Obama's stimulus plan and have not hewed to a hard line on spending.  "We're scared for our country," Zolg said. "This change is a change in the wrong direction."

Obama spent part of his final weekend as a candidate addressing a larger, supportive crowd on the same Statehouse lawn. In yesterday's gathering, bitterness at the new president was palpable. Some carried signs with slogans such as "Commander & Thief" and "Impeach Hussein Obama."

Dana Milbank also noticed it:

Without the spectacle of a 1773-style tea-bag dump in the square, the handmade signs became the focus of the event. Though ostensibly an anti-tax protest, it was more of an anti-Obama festival. Among the messages: "The Audacity of the Dope," "O Crap" and Obama as an acronym for "One Big Awful Mistake America."

It seems these people are very, very mad. Lesson: anger against bailouts, big government, and debt accumulation is building and the president -- not Wall Street or AIG executives -- is the focal point.

Third, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, when in power to duplicate the same energy, enthusiasm, and determination among grassroots supporters as those who are angry about the direction of the country and looking to topple the "establishment." Obama and the Democratic Congress are now "the government" and "the Washington insiders."

The contrast between the anemic efforts of the Obama campaign offshoot, Organizing America, to affect the budget debate (even with the built-in advantage of a ready-made and professionally operated campaign-like organization) and those of scrums of activists and ordinary citizens who were able to amass in hundreds of locations all over the country on a news-creating single day is startling. It is no wonder that Obama desperately wants to re-enact campaign-like rallies and photo-ops. But doing so effectively and retaining popular enthusiasm are struggles. His opponents, just as he did as a candidate, now can tap into popular discontent and Americans' traditional animosity toward powerful institutions -- now including the White House. Lesson: the perpetual campaign has its limits if you are the incumbent.

And finally, the tea parties revealed once against how inept and ideologically-blinded the mainstream media is. From the embarrassing display of antagonism toward those protesters CNN was supposed to be covering, to the juvenile taunting on MSNBC, to the simple inability to cover events in hundreds of locations, the MSM suggested that they simply aren't up to the task of covering the news as it occurs in the real world.

The Christian Science Monitor reported:

"Who's actually reporting on this?" says Michael Patrick Leahy, a Nashville-based blogger and tea-party organizer who will appear today on PJTV, a Web-based, right-leaning news channel. If there is slight media coverage of the tea parties, he says, "we may well look back historically and determine that April 15th, 2009, is the day the mainstream media died."

While the tea-party protests may reveal hypocrisy on both sides of the blogosphere, the coverage of on-site citizen reporters should be welcomed, not feared, by mainstream media organizations, says Ms. [Jen] Reeves [journalism professor and new media specialist]. If news organizations ignore or downplay such events, they risk missing the conversation that Americans are having day to day.

The growth of information is an organic process, she says. "I feel as if journalists -- if we don't try to learn how it works -- we are missing a backchannel of life."

Lesson: when Huffington Report does a better job covering the tea party protests than CNN and the New York Times, the old media is revealed as the proverbial emperor with no clothes.

Does all of this amount to a game-changer in American politics? It is too soon to say. But it should at least shed doubt on some assumptions that the Democrats and mainstream media have relied upon. Conservatives can and already have figured out how to politically organize using new media. People are angry -- at Congress and the president. You can't easily duplicate the fervor of a campaign once you are in office. And the mainstream media no longer has the patina of competence or objectivity -- even among sympathetic observers. Whoever internalizes those lessons and avoids the temptation to ignore unpleasant truths will prosper. And those who put their fingers in their ears and sit on their laurels will learn the hard way that nothing in politics -- or media -- is permanent.