The Democrats' Biggest Mistake

The mainstream media’s bias towards the Tea Party movement has been undeniable since its emergence in February 2009.

It has been systematically ignored, belittled, marginalized, and ostracized by political, academic, and media elites who have portrayed the movement as being driven by racism, bigotry, and white supremacy.

Indeed, Kate Zernike’s coverage of last Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall for the New York Times, is no exception from that of the media and political elites who continue to denigrate, minimize, and marginalize the importance of what has become the most potent and powerful movement in America.

Zernike’s piece contains an array of the unfounded and unsubstantiated claims such as: “even if Tea Party members are right that any racist signs are those of mischief-makers, even if Glenn Beck had chosen any other Saturday to hold his rally, it would be hard to quiet the argument about the Tea Party and race,” notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary.

Instead of focusing on the explicitly apolitical nature of the rally or the lengthy tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, she discussed the alleged beliefs of unnamed Tea Party “critics” who “say they hear an echo of slavery, Jim Crow and George Wallace.”

Who are these “critics”? When and where did they say this?

And given the overarching non-political agenda and of the event, it remains fundamentally unclear why Zernike chose to reference “Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky, said that he disagreed on principle with the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required business owners to serve blacks.”

Indeed, Zernike coverage is littered with allegations of racism that are not only unsubstantiated, they make no sense.

At one point, she went so far as to suggest that the anti-systemic, anti-Washington, pro-Constitution, fiscally conservative values of the Tea Party movement are actually a manifestation of deep-seated racism because “the government programs that many Tea Party supporters call unconstitutional are the ones that have helped many black people emerge from poverty and discrimination.”

Not only are the various activists, members, and supporters of the Tea Party movement are united behind a simple set of principles – advocating limited government, limitations on the recently passed health care reform bill, and deficit reduction, and a return to Constitutional principles – so too is a broad-based, ideologically, political, racially, and economically diverse majority of the electorate.

What Zernike wrote just isn’t true. Why indeed is the Tea Party movement indistinguishable from the issue of race? Is it because it is predominantly comprised of white people? Eighty percent of America is white. Why does this make it racist?

Put simply, and to be crystal clear, the Tea Party movement is not about politics or class or race. It is, above all, about upholding fundamental American values.

Indeed, the ordinary citizens, a large percentage of whom have never been in politics before, that congregated on the Mall this past Saturday represent a broad-based national movement whose scope and breadth and depth of support has been unappreciated and fundamentally not understood.

While traveling this past weekend, I was stopped by a couple in the Dallas airport who very kindly said that they enjoyed watching my commentary on "Hannity."

They were an interracial military couple -- one is serving in the National Guard, the other is in active duty.
Both are supporters of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement – and had attended Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall.

They wanted to set the record straight that “any effort to brand the Tea Parties as racist or hostile is just absurd. We aren’t racists or bigots. We revere Dr. King and respect everything he did in to achieve his dream for our country. And we certainly are not puppets of some right wing political agenda. We are ordinary Americans who love our country but believe that we need to return government back to the American people. Washington is broken, and both parties are equally to blame.”

The bottom-line conclusion is clear. Despite efforts by many in the media and political class to demonize the Tea Party movement, the real issue driving the movement is not partisan rage on the right, nor alleged racism, but a profound crisis of governmental legitimacy.

Having spent the past 18 months chronicling the rise and the influence of the Tea Party movement along with pollster Scott Rasmussen for our book "Mad As Hell," I have seen firsthand the extent to which the Tea Party movement has already fundamentally altered American politics and will almost certainly affect both the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election.

Indeed, the Democrats' biggest mistake has been to underestimate the importance of a movement that is of unprecedented and potentially of fundamental importance to the American political system.

Attacking dissent may feel good in Washington, but efforts to demonize the movement on unfounded accusations of race, all the while ignoring the fundamental concerns of a majority of the electorate is a prescription for disaster.

Douglas Schoen is a political strategist and author of the forthcoming book "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" to be published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins on September 14.

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