The Washington Post this morning had a story on the front page about how President Obama may be treating some states as a no fly zone during this election year because he is so unpopular in those states. And on page two, they have a big article titled "Anger Doesn't Stop at Health Care Reform," about all the conservatives so very, very angry at Obama over everything. And on page three, they have a big article all about the tea partiers because, well, I guess the Washington Post editors were just feeling like the tea partiers hadn't gotten enough attention.
As one of the first people to start warning my fellow Democrats (back in Feb of last year) about the foul mood voters were in because of a broken economy not improving fast enough and special interests still seeming like they controlled DC, I have to make the observation that the traditional media still is not getting the story right. Yeah, no kidding, there is anger out there, but it's not all anti-Obama, it's not all based in the tea party, and there is a lot more nuance to it than the traditional media understands.
Here are some things to keep in mind about the anger thing:
1. Obama's approval rating has been hanging around 50% for a long time, not great, but given a tough economy that's not bad either. In fact, the latest approval number I saw was 53% -- exactly the same percentage of the vote he got winning a big, impressive victory in November of 2008. His numbers are not plummeting, and most voters are in fact not incredibly angry with him. Mixed feelings, some disappointment, some discouragement, and a little cynicism for sure. But outside of the hardcore Republican right, not so much anger.
2. Speaking of the hardcore Republican right, there is nothing new or dramatic about the tea partiers. The same anger, the same demographic (white Christian men, tending more rural and older than the rest of the population) was around in 1993-94 when Clinton was in office, and the same demographic was the heart of the angry backlash against civil rights and peace protesters in the 1960s. The only thing new about this is the fact that the President is a black guy with an immigrant father might gin them up a little more than usual. But these angry white males (as the media called them in the early 1990s) represent about the same sliver of the electorate as they did then, maybe 20 percent.
3. To be clear, the tea partiers aren't the only angry people in America. There are plenty of working class swing voters who aren't inclined to buy into the tea party stew of racism, nativism, and Ayn Rand style libertarianism, but are deeply troubled that the jobs situation isn't improving and that no one in government seems to be looking out for them. There are plenty of progressive activists angry at the Wall Street bankers, the health insurance companies, and the other corporate interests that are screwing them, and are angry that too many politicians seem to be in their pocket. In both cases, Obama and his fellow Democrats still have the opportunity to reach them, still have the ability to make absolutely clear whose side they are on. If Democrats show those voters that they will reject those special interests, and fight hard for average folks' interests, they can still win this election. If they show voters that they are just as angry about what's been done to regular people as the regular people, they will have a better 2010 than anyone is predicting right now.
The media loves-loves-loves this tea party story, but the tea partiers really aren't anything new, and they don't represent a very big group of voters. There is a lot of anger out there, but most of it is righteous anger that Democrats can and should tap into -- anger that Wall Street and other bad actor big companies have been allowed to destroy our economy, and that no one is taking them on for it.
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