Liberal Condescension Evident in Tea Party Coverage

Since Tea Party protests became an influential movement on the national scene last year, the left in general and the liberal media in particular have tried (unsuccessfully) to render it irrelevant in the eyes of the American people. By throwing around accusations of racism and dire warnings of impending violence, these pundits have tried, unsuccessfully to undermine the movement.

University of Virginia Professor Gerard Alexander explored this trend more generally in yesterday's Washington Post poses the question, pondering, "Why Are Liberals So Condescending?" In his column, Alexander details four types of condescension widespread among the far-left and omnipresent in its talking points. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all four have been employed by left-leaning journalists to bash the Tea Party movement.

"American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives," Alexander writes, "appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration."

Alexander goes on to describe liberal condescension in its various forms. Anyone who is reasonably conservative will likely recorgnize each of them. The first is dubbed, in the phrasing of the Clintons, who popularized this particular form of condescension, the "vast right-wing conspiracy":
This vision maintains that conservatives win elections and policy debates not because they triumph in the open battle of ideas but because they deploy brilliant and sinister campaign tactics. A dense network of professional political strategists such as Karl Rove, think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and industry groups allegedly manipulate information and mislead the public.
This narrative was in full force when, in August of 2009, Rachel Maddow tried to convince viewers that Tea Party protesters were tools of the pharmaceutical industry. She claimed that since FreedomWorks, one organization aiding in Tea Party organizing, was run by Dick Armey, a former lobbyist at DLA Piper for the Medicines Company, the protesters were "in the tank."

Of course she neglected to mention that DLA Piper, the lobbying company that employed Armey, "represents clients who support enactment of effective health care reform this year." The Medicines Company, for its part, "has not opposed any of the pending health care reform bills, and has not in any way supported any efforts to disrupt open debate about health care reform." (The much-hyped notion that big business and the GOP are in cahoots has been thoroughly debunked by, among others, Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney.)

So much for that vast right-wing conspiracy.

The next dubious narrative the liberal media attempts to push can be called "what's the matter with Kansas?" Referring to Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank's bestselling 2004 book, this form of condescension holds that Americans are too dumb to know what's good for them, or have been duped by a scheming Republican Party, and hence vote against their own interests, usually because they are clinging to their God and guns.
This form of liberal condescension implies that conservative masses are in the grip of false consciousness. When they express their views at town hall meetings or "tea party" gatherings, it might be politically prudent for liberals to hear them out, but there is no reason to actually listen.
When CNN's Carol Costello claimed that the Republican Party had "used the President’s strategy [of deferring to Congress on health care] to create fear and confusion among voters" which "fueled the tea party movement," she was fully buying into this narrative.

Alexander devotes the fewest words to the third form of condescension, which he dubs a more "sinister" form, though it is perhaps the most widespread in the liberal media's coverage of Tea Party protests. "Republicans win elections," goes this narrative, "because they tap into white prejudice against blacks and immigrants."

From Maddow likening attendees of the recent National Tea Party Convention to the Ku Klux Klan to Janeane Garofalo calling the whole protest movement a "white power movement", accusations of racism concerning Tea Party protesters have been widespread. Time Magazine's Joe Klein has consistently claimed that Tea Parties are bigoted, knee-jerk responses to the nation's first black president. ABC has made similar charges, and NBC has parroted the ridiculous claims from former president Jimmy Carter that the protests are motivated by race. And of course, Keith Olbermann weighed in, saying that a Tea Party protest looked like a "pro-Apartheid rally".

The fourth type of condescension Alexander describes has also been widespread in Tea Party coverage, and in many cases went hand-in-hand with charges of racism. This one, as Alexander describes, holds that "conservatives are driven purely by emotion and anxiety -- including fear of change -- whereas liberals have the harder task of appealing to evidence and logic."

Talk of anger and the potential for violence at Tea Party protests are symptoms of this narrative. The narrative shows itself in attempts to tie the Tea Party movement to a supposed rise in militia activity in the nation. New York Times columnist Tom Freidman compared the oppositional atmosphere in the coutry to that in Israel before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. ABC's Bill Weir worried about the "anger" and loss of "civility" at the Tea Party protests.

All of these examples should serve to remind anyone who doubts Alexander's arguments that you need not look any further than the recent gatherings of disillusioned Americans to see the disdain the far left holds for its political opponents. Even many of the self-declared objective observers in the mainstream media found reasons to write Tea Parties off as somehow illegitimate. These criticisms fit perfectly into Alexander's characterization of the condescending left.